Not many people think about antique doorknob identification as being a hobby, but for those who collect them, it is a passion. Each doorknob tells a story about the architecture, era, and location of the building it was once a part of. Each collector has a deep desire to ferret out the details of that story by examining the worn finish and intricate surfaces of the knobs.
When someone finds a crackled porcelain doorknob in the dusty corner of a thrift shop, they may pass over it without a second thought. The words that may echo through their minds are things like, old, trash, or junk. When a collector sees the door knob, he sees a piece of history, and the piece of castoff architecture whispers a story that he can hear.
Doorknobs from Commercial Buildings
One of the most interesting things about antique doorknob identification is that the experienced collector can tell the difference between a doorknob belonging to a commercial building and one belonging to a residence. This is especially so for doorknobs from the Victorian era, when architects had doorknobs designed to compliment the style of the building they were creating. The hardware might be inspired by Moorish, French or Medieval influences, or perhaps carries the seal of the city or the building's monogram. Companies that owned commercial buildings often had their initials intricately carved on the doorknobs themselves, as part of the design.
An example of this is the intricate StN woven into the design of the doorknobs of the St. Nicholas Hotel, built at the height of the Golden Age in 1894. The knob is slightly oval, with a beaded design enclosing the initials. A Celtic knot type woven design encircles the outside edge of the knob.
The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton, Alberta, was completely restored and reopened in 1991. This gorgeous piece of architecture was originally known as The Grand Trunk Pacific Hotel. As part of the historical restoration the guest rooms were each fitted with doorknobs that were original to the hotel, and had been lovingly restored. The doorknobs still bear the Grand Trunk monogram.
There are many more antique doorknobs that have unusual and beautiful designs and monograms that may be difficult to trace. Large apartment buildings, hotels, and even banks, often used a design particular to their company. While one might be able to identify a percentage of these, some are impossible to trace but can be enjoyed for their unique beauty.
The first doorknobs, in Colonial times, were made from wood and purely utilitarian. By the Revolutionary War doorknobs on important homes had become round is shape. Until the Centennial Exposition in 1876 approximately 95 percent of knobs and door hardware were being imported. After this, the American manufacturers began manufacturing knobs and hardware of all types and designs. Because of this, the design of the doorknob can give you a clue to its age:
- Pressed glass was popular from the 1820s to the 1850s.
- Cut glass was popular from 1860s through 1910.
- Wooden knobs were used from about 1885 though 1910.
- China knobs were imported from England and France through the 1850s.
- Cast metal became available in the mid 1840s.
- In 1870, a method for compression casting allowed the Victorians to have the more detailed hardware that they craved.
Between 1830 and 1870 there were more than 100 patents granted for knobs. So far collectors have cataloged more than 1,000 different patterns, with more coming to light every day. Doorknob designs belong within fifteen basic categories, and are separated by:
- Design patterns
During World War II, people took the brass doorknobs from their homes and gave them to the various government drives to help with the war effort. Since so many of the brass knobs were melted down, having a brass knob that was created prior to World War II can be very lucrative. As with any collectible, the more rare something is the more desirable.
Resources for Antique Doorknob Identification
A collectible price guide is an important part of learning about antique doorknobs. Spend some time to browse the internet and see what is being sold, and the price it is selling for, and compare it to the book. Here are some other excellent resources for collectors of antique doorknobs:
- The Antique Doorknob Collectors of America. PO Box 31, Chatham, New Jersey. (973) 635-6338. Fax: 973-635-6993.
- Antique Hardware Price Guide, by H. Weber Wilson
- Decorative Hardware: Interior Designing With Knobs, Handles, Latches, Locks, Hinges, and Other Hardware, by Liz Gordon and Terri Hartman
- Web Wilson has an enormous amount of information and image galleries about antique hardware.
- Historic Home Hardware sells items, as well as giving detailed identification criteria and images on the site.
Visiting an antique auction is a good way to see and learn about antique doorknobs. Other places to view the vintage artifacts are museums, old home tours, and even thrift shops. Be sure to do some research before you buy so that you understand the value of the antiques. Antique doorknob identification takes time to learn, but it is a rewarding hobby and a fascinating pastime.