Wood, glass and brass antique doorknobs

“BOARD OF EDUCATION • CITY OF CHICAGO” is inscribed on the antique doorknob displayed by Anderson Lock tech Dave Satterthwaite, who received permission to keep this collectible old piece of hardware after removing it from a door in an old Chicago Public School building.

Thousands of similar doorknobs, made by Russell & Erwin Mfg. Co., were installed in Chicago schools in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

In 1873, Russell & Erwin published a catalog titled, “Real Compression Bronze Door Knobs & Escutcheons,” which featured similar knob designs, a popular choice for commercial structures at that time. Architects designed made-to-order doorknobs and specified them in building blueprints.

Doorknobs from schools, government agencies and railroads, that have survived demolition, are prized by collectors because they capture an ornamental piece of architectural history, pointing to the era and location of the buildings where their intricate surfaces first opened doors.

Gene Anderson’s father, Arnold “Andy” Anderson, collected antique doorknobs, keys, hinges, and other types of decorative door hardware. He mounted many of the brass, bronze, glass, porcelain and wooden pieces on weathered barn boards salvaged from Gene’s father-in-law’s Iowa barn.

A vintage starburst escutcheon is partially shown in the lower left photo that features a pressed glass knob with an ornate back plate. Concentric patterns form the detailed design on a knob believed to have been removed from an old Chicago hotel, but the origin of the six-sided brass knob, mounted with its hexagonal brass rose, is unknown.

Gene’s copy of “The Antique Doorknob,” by Maud Eastwood, considered to be “a foundational book for doorknob collecting” supplied fascinating information for this blog. This now out-of-print paperback book was purchased shortly after its publication, in 1976. It is still available online as a digital download. In addition to hundreds of photos of doorknobs, of all shapes, materials and designs, are lists of early American doorknob manufacturers and results of the author’s patent research.

If you are interested in learning more about doorknobs, you may want to visit the “Lock Museum of America” in Terryville, Connecticut, or join the Antique Doorknob Collectors of America, a “non-profit organization devoted to the study and preservation of ornamental hardware.”

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