ANTIQUE DOOR KNOBS
“Real Estate Jewelry” for the Home
by Brad Kittel
Men and women buy gold, silver, and precious jewels for the ones they love in order to show their affection and appreciation. This not only decorates their mates and makes a special impression when others see these adornments, it exemplifies the love one has for their partner and is a symbol of a successful relationship, such as an anniversary present, for example. Historically, people who loved their houses also bought beautiful jewelry to decorate their home and make it more attractive so as to impress those who came to visit. It is interesting that while people’s “estate” jewelry has continued to be popular throughout the last century, there is a dramatic revival in the popularity and value of the antique “real estate” jewelry that once adorned the mansions and the finer homes of our upper class. For nearly forty years it was almost forgotten and often lost or thrown away, it if finally coming back into fashion and quickly going up in value.
This “real estate jewelry” includes many categories: stained glass, elaborate doorknobs, hinges, ceiling tin, and a variety of hardware and woodwork that will add beauty to any home. These are true forms of industrial jewelry at its finest, but not the kind worn on the body. Doorknob collectors were once thought to be a strange group limited in numbers, but their pursuit is rapidly becoming more in demand than ever before. The most recent trend, though, is for average collectors to display their knobs on the doors of their homes.
In the late 1800's, the elite were building incredible homes and the best were filled with many architectural delicacies. Doorknobs were the most accessible and commonly handled of these “jewels. Modern doorknob designs may be all too plain and mundane, but that was certainly not the case back then.
There were thousands of patterns, shapes, and designs of unique and gorgeous door hardware to choose from, most of it made by artists and craftsmen whose pride and quality cannot be matched today. Not limited to porcelain and brass, there were also hand cut leaded crystal knobs with facets like diamonds and beautiful controlled bubble glass knobs that filled one with wonder at how they must have been created. Rich deep colors like ruby red, emerald greens, sapphire blues, obsidian, and topaz ambers were all available. While these jewels were the equivalents of precious stones in the home, there was also the ornate compression cast brass and bronze doorknobs of the times that were as beautiful as any precious jewelry. From figures of lions, dragons, angels, eagles, Indians, and famous people, to mountain scenes, flowers, and butterflies, the hardware was incredible.
Taking an extreme example, the most recent record price was the “Doggie knob” that went for over $8,300. Besides the realistic figural images of life, there were the architectural patterns from the Greek, Romanesque, Gothic, Oriental, French as well as Italian, German, and English Renaissance, to mention only a few. The designs ranged from simple asymmetric motifs to complex 12-fold patterns, as well as emblematic and fraternal designs such as the Masons, the owner’s initials, or family crest. Finally, if the patterns weren’t enough, there were also many doorknob shapes to choose from ranging from: ovals, barrels, squares, hexagons, domed tops, filigreed, and levers to name just a few.
Amazingly, in spite of the tens of thousands of doorknobs that were thrown away or donated to the government for the “brass drives” during the WWII, many of these jewels survived. As a consequence there is a limited supply and a growing demand that is driving up prices as people rediscover and use these architectural treasures in their modern homes as well as in "Old House" restorations. These samples of house jewelry are certainly hard to find and only the largest of architectural antique stores will have a big selection.
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