A History Of Locking Door Knobs

When choosing your front door and picking out all the finishing touches such as door knobs, knockers, letterboxes and other door furniture items, do you ever wonder what their origins were? In the modern age we all take for granted front doors for security and privacy purposes and ever since the first civilisations appeared in the world there have been basic dwellings - but at what point did people add a front door and then all the trimmings such as locks and knobs? Let Premier Door Handles take you back in time and find out where your humble door knob actually comes from...

It’s interesting that the first ever patent for a locking door knob in Western civilisation was actually granted in 1878 in America and was considered at the time to be an exciting invention for door closing equipment. It was created by African American Osbourn Dorsey, and we can thank him for the door knobs available today. However, despite his ingenuity the first door handles and doors were actually made by the Egyptians over 5,000 years ago - which we know because of paintings found in the tombs of rich Egyptians. There is also evidence that door hinges were used in Roman and Babylonian times so it is quite possible that these civilisations used doors as well. There isn't a lot of archaeological evidence for the use of door handles or doors until much later on in the Middle Ages and even then you had to be particularly wealthy to afford a proper locking door knob.

Door Lock Systems

Before the locking door knob only those who could afford it had a door lock. If they couldn’t afford it they needed somewhere to hide their valuables so they would stash away their jewellery and money in locking boxes and hide the key, sometimes wearing it on their person or hidden in their clothing. In fact, before locking systems appeared the very rich and those of noble backgrounds employed a special officer called a Chamberlain who would be in charge of managing household finance, and who would often be given the keys to these boxes to keep safe. Those who didn’t have the option of a proper door lock would rely on a latch string, which was a bar which slid across the door from the inside denying entry to anyone from the outside unless they requested it. Latch strings used a leather piece or cord which looped around a bar and then when the cord or leather piece was pulled, the bar lifted allowing access.

Later on, latch strings were made of brass or other metals and evolved into latches which are still used today on very traditional looking doors - for instance the Ludlow Foundries LF5548 Suffolk latch is a wonderful example of a stylish black antique latch.

Ludlow Foundries LF5548 Suffolk latch (available to buy from Premier Door Handles)

Of course, a latch string or a lock and key was only used for the exterior door because before the Middle Ages, people generally lived in one large room open-plan where they ate, slept and relaxed. The only door on a property was the front door and it wasn’t until the late 1500s that individual rooms started to appear. The first rooms were built in the royal palaces but over the years, new houses - particularly those for wealthy citizens - were increasingly built with individual rooms. And with the new fashion of multiple rooms, people needed doors! To begin with, people would use large pieces of woven material which were often intricately decorated as partitions, but eventually solid wooden doors began to appear and were fixed to the stonework using strap hinges. The first wooden and metal latches then appeared in the 16th Century and very quickly, wrought iron and brass rim locks appeared. These rim locks were typically only purchased by nobility and wealthy businessmen because they were hand-made by the local blacksmith so were very expensive. Less wealthy people either still used latch strings or if they could afford it, a cheap locking wooden box lock which used wooden turned knobs.

The Industrial Revolution And Explosion Of Door Knob Materials
It took many more years before door knobs evolved further and it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution of the 18th Century that steel door knobs appeared and began to be produced in larger quantities therefore making them more affordable for poorer people. In 19th century Western countries such as Great Britain and America door knobs were becoming more and more popular (thanks to the aforementioned inventor Osbourn Dorsey) and pressed glass door knobs began to appear. Pressed glass door knobs were particularly popular in the mid 1800s and were relatively cheap and quick to manufacture. The French and English started to export china and ceramic doorknobs around the same time as industry grew and metal door knobs appeared in 1846 - when the popularity of wooden door knobs started to decline due to the availability of other more robust materials. Cut glass door knobs started to appear in the early 20th Century and there are still many versions of cut glass door knobs available today because of their chic beauty. In addition to cut glass door knobs, porcelain became increasingly popular and for a long time many porcelain door knobs were decorated with pretty painted feminine designs.

Carlisle Brass DK34PW Porcelain Door Knob (available from Premier Door Handles)

Decorative Door Furniture

In the late 1800s it became very fashionable to have decorative door furniture - and it is still very much a fashion statement today to have ornate door furniture particularly for those who own a traditional or classically designed home with a wooden front door. We can thank the Victorians for their cast bronze door knobs and elaborate designs which are still well-regarded today. During the Victorian times it was considered extremely smart to have a heavy wooden door decorated with intricate cast bronze or brass door knobs and door furniture - traditional Victorian door knobs can still be found today in well-preserved Victorian houses.

Credit: http://www.jonathanelwellinteriors.co.uk/georgiandoors/georgiandoor-geo-06-black-1.jpg

Modern Times

Today, almost all door knobs come with a locking mechanism inside and usually it is a spring lock which is a round button in the middle of the door knob responsible for the bolting system. Some door knobs also come with a dead bolt operated using a key - and who knows what the future of door knobs may be?

At Premier Door Handles we are passionate about all door hardware - check out our range of door knobs, knockers and door furniture in period designs and modern styles, where you will find something to suit every home.

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