Where To Find Them

Today, salvaged glass doorknobs are easy to find. But there are important points about fit, style, and construction to consider before buying.

If you are looking to replace a single knob in a set, always bring along the mate, since there are more than 100 glass-knob patterns to choose from. You'll also want to bring the spindle. Doorknobs manufactured after 1900 have threads inside their shanks that fit square, threaded spindles. Glass knobs made before the turn of the century were typically mounted on unthreaded spindles with holes in either end. In both cases, the knobs are secured to the rods with small setscrews. Be sure to fit the spindle to the knob before you buy because threads and setscrew sizes can vary widely.

For pairs of knobs, you'll want to measure the door's thickness and compare it with the span between the knobs to ensure a snug fit. Though spindles are rarely too short, threaded ones are sometimes too long and may require cutting down with a hacksaw. Avoid pairs that are missing their spindles or setscrews. And be wary of knobs that turn inside their metal shanks, which can't be fixed. "If you get a spinner, it's worthless as a functional knob," says Kittel, who has tried in vain to reset the knobs with glass epoxy. "It works for awhile but it always comes loose again."

Prices for vintage glass knobs vary widely, depending on condition, rarity, style, and color. For the most common, 12-sided molded-glass knobs, expect to pay between $30 and $50 a pair. Sets of six- or eight-sided knobs cost between $60 and $100, while a pair of cut-crystal balls can go for as much as $500. Most valuable are red, cobalt, and Vaseline-glass knobs. Such fine knobs were used in mansions at the entrances to formal areas, such as parlors and dining rooms, where homeowners entertained guests.

Today, hardware-store-variety glass knobs cost as little as $10 a pair, but the materials and craftsmanship are far inferior to the vintage counterparts. "The old glass has a watery look and refracts light differently," says Kittle of knobs gently worn by time and use. "And when you hold it in your hand, it just feels better."

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