Glass Door Knobs: The History and the Beauty
I have always admired antique collectors. The excitement you see on their faces as they exclaim over artifacts from days gone by. They have a special connection to the past, a unique way of seeing beauty in the broken, value in the worn down, and a comradeship with those who have gone on before us.
In my research for this post, I became absorbed in mirrored starburst centers, cobalt blue glass door knobs, crystal globes with tiny bubbles, Vaseline glass (which got its yellow-green color from trace amounts of uranium in the mold) and dozens of other shapes and colors.
I imagined dedicated housewives staring at shelves of glass door knobs choosing just the right color for her kitchen door or double-checking prices because during the depression every penny was needed to feed and clothe her growing brood.
I allowed my mind to drift to a time long ago where a young couple embraces with excitement over their first home together, making repairs, sewing curtains, and planning a future for not only themselves but their children. They set up a radio, choose glass door knobs in the color she has always wanted, and carefully hang wallpaper. Their life may have looked different than ours but their dreams were the same.
Antique glass door knobs are not only a thing of the past, they are a part of our history, a connection to your grandma and great grandma. A look inside someone’s home and life.
As the owner of an old farmhouse, we have many little touches that make our home unique. Are they always functional? Not anymore, but I wouldn’t change them for anything. They keep me connected to the history of my land and honor the courageous homesteaders that lived here before me.
Ok, enough about me! Let’s get started with vintage glass doorknobs and hopefully, you will not only find this subject fascinating but find answers to any questions you might have.
Vintage Glass Door Knobs
Throughout the 1920’s and 30’s what are now considered antique glass door knobs dominated the shelves of the local hardware store. They came in a variety of colors, the most popular being clear, robin’s egg blue, cobalt blue, black, and white. You could also find them in green, amber, violet, jade, and red.
Today, these lovely antique glass door knobs provide a bit of sophistication and a feeling of nostalgia, a link to the past.
One thing you will discover when learning about your glass door knobs is the hardware attached to it. Just like the differences in the glass itself, the hardware can help date the knob.
Crystal doorknobs manufactured before 1900 include a spindle without threads, with holes in the ends meant for inserting a rod through, secured with small flush screws. Knobs made after this time have square shanks with threads inside that fit square spindle door hardware.
And did you know that the door knob plates are called escutcheons? Those were often decorative with scrolls and designs adding even more elegance.
Vintage door knobs in general, not just glass ones, have become a popular collectors item for many people, especially those who are restoring older homes. The Antique Doorknob Collectors of America is an organization founded in 1981 whose purpose is the study and preservation of ornamental hardware.
When were Glass Door Knobs Popular?
John P Bakewell developed and patented the method of forming molten glass with cast iron molds in 1825. This invention began the mass production of glassware and greatly reduced its cost. Thus began the era of glass door knobs.
The popularity of glass door knobs reached its height during World War 1 when metals such as iron, brass, and bronze were used for the war effort. Glass is made from a formula of mostly sand, which becomes transparent when heated to extremely high temperatures. No sand shortage, so glass knobs it was. This trend continued through the Great Depression and World War 2.
In the 1920’s cut glass and crystals were used to give the impression of diamonds and other jewels with 6, 8, or 12 facets and were often octagon shaped. Novelty colors were popular during this time.
During the 1930’s a more common and less expensive form of glass door knobs became popular and they were no longer for the wealthy. During this period, a fluted glass style gained popularity.
During the 1950’s America enjoyed prosperity and metals were more plentiful leaving the beautiful glass door knobs as a last resort and a thing of the past.
It is always a little sad to see an era come to an end, but just like the pottery archeologists dig from old ruins, they help us date a period of time and a specific people. These eras leave a legacy, a bold statement of what life was like and why.
What are Old Glass Door Knobs Worth?
Whether you have old glass door knobs that you no longer want or are looking for a pair to add charm to your home, a good place to start is cost. What are old glass door knobs worth?
Antique glass door knobs are sought out by many collectors and have a wide range of value, depending on condition, rarity, style, and color. The more common 12 facet clear glass models can be found for between 20 and 50 dollars a pair. Sets of 6 or 8 sided knobs will run you close to $100. Cut crystal globes are the most expensive and can be $500 a pair.
Take into consideration that colored glass door knobs are more sought after. Red, cobalt, and vaseline colored knobs are worth more as they were often used in mansions at the entrances of formal spaces in which guests were hosted.
When purchasing antique glass door knobs be sure that the knob does not turn on it’s shank as this cannot be fixed and is pretty annoying.
Modern Glass Door Knobs
The modern glass door knobs in production today may still provide a lovely addition to any piece of furniture or door, but they are quite different from the old glass door knobs of your grandparents.
If held side by side, you will find that old glass door knobs are “cloudy” or “milky” in comparison with today’s crystal clear reproductions which are made from lead crystal. Antique glass door knobs are also a bit heavier due to the glass itself and the heavier mounts and shanks.
You can identify the difference between reproduction crystal doorknobs and antique ones by also looking at the metal. Modern reproductions may include brittle, cheap metals and don’t have the same quality or feel when you hold them or look into the crystal.
Glass Door Knob with Lock
Can you get glass door knobs that lock? I don’t know about you, but have you ever noticed that privacy didn’t seem to be a big deal years ago? The Romans used community toilets without partitions, the pioneers often lived in one room cabins. My old farmhouse door knobs have key holes in which anyone can look through.
Surprisingly, the first documentation of a door knob at all was in 1878 by Osbourne Dorsey who submitted a patent for a door closing device. Isn’t it difficult to imagine NOT having door knobs? So what did they use for thousands of years prior?
We do know that the Egyptians had a surface rim lock that consisted of a handle to pull the door open. Throughout the years, locks were often used with keys but without door knobs. Due to the expense, door knobs were considered unnecessary and the latch string was created. This kept belongings safe to some degree. Eventually, wrought iron thumb latches and cott latches were used to open and close internal doors.
Today we have an endless selection of door knobs to choose from. Amongst the loveliest being glass door knobs.
If you want a touch of nostalgia AND privacy, I’ve got you covered. I hunted down some lovely modern glass door knobs with locks.
If you are looking for more of a vintage feel without breaking the bank, this one is perfect.
This next one is my absolute favorite, but it does not lock, it doesn’t even turn. It would be beautiful on a closet door or maybe a door leading to a formal dining room.
How do you Replace Old Glass Door Knobs?
If you are looking to replace your old glass door knobs, there are several good tutorials out there from people who are accustomed to the challenges of old homes.
Chatfield Courts gives detailed instructions on replacing antique door knobs as well as their hinges.
If you are looking to simply repair your old glass door knobs, there are great step-by-step guides for the most commonly needed improvements.
Repairing Vintage Doorknobs and How to Repair Glass Doorknobs are two posts I found helpful.
One Last Thought on Glass Door Knobs
If you’ve decided that glass door knobs are not for you, but you are still searching for subtle hints of sparkly nostalgia, might I suggest glass knobs on your furniture or cabinets? You can get vintage-looking glass knobs to style your dresser, desk drawers, or kitchen cabinets. They come in a variety of colors and styles. Here are a few charming ideas!
If you are looking for more decorating tips to provide the correct time period to your home, I’d love for you to check out these other posts!
Colonial Front Door Mega Guide to Decorating