Elaborate castings by Metallic Compression and successors such as Russell & Erwin (which took over the company), Mallory Wheeler, and Yale & Town complemented new Victorian-era houses. In contrast with the austere Federal and Greek Revival–style architecture that was popular in the first half of the 19th century, the Second Empire, Stick, and Queen Anne styles of the second half were downright romantic, and certainly deserving of knobs that were more expressive than the plain porcelain and pressed-glass ones used before. In addition to elk and lions, hummingbirds, flowers, ships, various geometric shapes, and even Japanese geishas were cast onto metal doorknobs. There were also ones with symbols of fraternal organizations, state seals, and commercial insignias. With the exception of rare pieces, most patterned knobs at Discovery can be had for less than $150. Smooth brass ones start at just $6.

Rooting around the shop, I found a brass knob marked "Newark Board of Education," which I bought for my husband, Jon, a New Jersey newspaper reporter who covers the city. I also picked up a few others, including one marked "No. 1 5th Ave." that was salvaged from an elegant prewar apartment building in New York City. I planned to mount my mismatched purchases on a board to serve as a coatrack (to see how, click here)

The cool thing about old knobs is that putting them on doors is only one of the myriad ways to use them. Mine would have also worked well as drapery tiebacks attached to the wall on either side of the living room windows. Along those same lines, a TOH reader once sent me a photo of a sort of curtain rod that she made out of knobs lined up on a board above a window. She used those curtains with the tab-top ties that loop around the knobs. I've even seen a chandelier dripping with doorknobs instead of crystals.

While knobs certainly open doors for you, they also open up a realm of imaginative reuse projects that show off their handsome craftsmanship. For inspiration, even my buddy Bo would agree that attending a collector's convention is overkill. Just visit a salvage yard.

Ask TOH users about Salvage

Contribute to This Story Below