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Question about original hardware

I have a house in Massachusetts that was built in 1900. All of the doors and moldings are original, and the interior knobs also appear original (or at least quite old). We have mostly white porcelain knobs, but there are a few black porcelain knobs on closet doors (but not all of the closet doors). I know white porcelain were common at the turn of the century, but are the black also original to the time period? Why would there be only a few doors with black, without any apparent pattern? Thanks!

Re: Question about original hardware

A guess: they started with white knobs, then ran out. OR, started with black knobs, then ran out.

Re: Question about original hardware

That is a very "touchy" subject, especially in the south.

The way that I heard it is that the "hired help" was only allowed to use the black knob doors. I have no idea if that is actually true. We had them in our house when I was growing up, and also in the Victorian that we now live. The black knobs were on doors like the butler pantry, closet doors, the old kitchen, when the kitchen was in the basement, and the outbuildings. We replaced all the knobs with Crystal Clear after taking pictures and creating a map of all the originals.

I hope that I did not offend anyone. But I love history, and especially when it comes to old houses and properties.

Handy Andy

Re: Question about original hardware

Lots of old lore here in the South, but that one is new to me. It does seem to explain it well though. I do know that both colors come from the same period.

There were once a lot of social rules here that had to be known and followed without fail. For instance, only recently has it become considered OK to address someone you know in public by their first name. In past times it was always "Mr" or Mrs" whoever, and if you messed up that person would not acknowledge you in public ever again, and maybe not in private either!


Re: Question about original hardware
LauraHoward031 wrote:

***. This is interesting. I didn't know such history related to door knobs exists too. Is it for real?

I don't know and I don't have time to look, but you should be able to find something about it ******. The next time I get down Charleston way I'm going to look into it.

Food servers for the wealthy used to have to whistle between the kitchen and the dining room to prove they weren't getting a bit of the homeowner's food between locations- you can't whistle and eat at the same time. When kitchens were in a separate building for fire safety, the hall connecting them to the house was called the "Whistling Hall" for that reason even when you had no servants.


Re: Question about original hardware

I believe that black porcelain and "bennington" (brown-marbled) knobs predate the white ones. Darker knobs were initially deemed more elegant because the blended in better with dark decorating schemes and dark-colored woodwork. By the 1890's we start to see ad marketing with the term "sanitary" valued as a sign of good housekeeping, along with it a lot of white surfaces in areas where cleanliness was desirable, like white bathroom fixtures and tiled surfaces, and whitewashed walls in kitchens. Particular types of doorknobs were marketed as hygienic, as germ theory of disease entered the scene competing with the prevalent "miasma" theory (bad air causing illness) but both theories were popular until education caught up with science.
Black-painted metal knobs remained the choice for service areas through the 30's I think simply because they were the cheapest alternative.

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