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The importance of hardware to Craftsman furniture: detail of a 1903 secretary by Harvey Ellis for Gustav Stickley.

On Arts & Crafts Hardware

by Gordon Bock on September 17, 2010

in Lighting & Hardware

ABOVE: The importance of hardware to Craftsman furniture: detail of a 1903 secretary by Harvey Ellis for Gustav Stickley. Photo by Kevin Rodel

A key craft of the A&C movement was metalwork, ubiquitous as architectural and furniture hardware.

At one time, I didn’t even suspect there was such a thing as Arts & Crafts hardware (the locksets, knockers, drawer pulls, and hinges that let buildings and furniture open, close, and swivel). But once I realized that a key craft of the Movement was metalwork, especially in the primary metals of iron and copper, I began to see it everywhere. Here’s the hardware takeaway for those restoring or building an Arts & Crafts-inpired house:

  • Once again it’s possible to get A&C hardware from the frank to the bizarre—and from both artisan shops and larger manufacturers. Nowadays lines include thoughtful interpretations of old hardware modified for, say, computer furniture and modern kitchen uses.
  • If your house is of this era and you don’t know what the original hardware looked like, consider picking a default style from one of the many plain, unornamented hardware patterns—those, for example, with simple rectangular escutcheons or polygonal knobs. Such pieces were widely used in the first quarter of the 20th century, on various house styles. It’s almost impossible to go far wrong with copper or black iron, especially if it is hammer-finished.

Brass pull and back plate with pyramid heads and antique copper finish
from Van Dyke’s Restorers

  • Restorers who need to temporarily remove a doorknocker or strap hinge should be aware that what look like nails (often with a pyramid head) may in fact be screws. If you are installing hardware that attaches with screws, use slotted heads (Phillips-head screws will read as an anachronism.) Be careful to use a screwdriver tip that fits exactly the width of the slot. Too small and you may strip the screw slot, too wide and you’ll mar the hardware.
  • If you own original Arts & Crafts hardware, take care of it. For copper and brass, use a good metal polish such as Simichrome or Wenol to reverse decades of tarnish. Don’t polish the metal to a totally bright shine; just clean up the highlights. Patina, especially in the low spots, brings out the relief of tool marks, integral to the Arts & Crafts look.
Artsy, elaborated hardware was often the only Arts & Crafts allusion on an otherwise generic Grand Rapids piece. Photo by Kevin Rodel.

Artsy, elaborated hardware was often the only Arts & Crafts allusion on an otherwise generic Grand Rapids piece. Photo by Kevin Rodel.

Read more on hardware history and styles:
Arts & Crafts designers did not radically reinvent hardware, as happened with light fixtures and even houses. But they did produce hardware in new forms and finishes. Compared to the mechanized precision of Victorian hardware, which gleefully crawled with cast decoration and plated metal finishes, Arts & Crafts hardware was pre-industrial sometimes to a fault, pared down to simple plates and rings. On the other hand, some examples bordered on the bizarre, like escutcheon plates that look like waffle irons. Despite such wide swings in design, what links all Arts & Crafts hardware is its implication of medieval artisanship and hand-tooling—or at least an early 20th century take on the same.

Plain-hammered knob and escutcheon #900U in antique copper from Crown City Hardware.

Plain-hammered knob and escutcheon #900U in antique copper
from Crown City Hardware

One major inspiration for Arts & Crafts hardware was the taste for anything fashioned from copper, which became an obsession with the aesthetic crowd of the 1910s. On the anonymous end was “Russian copper” that began as the work of Eastern European refugees who tapped sheet copper into ashtrays and match holders, candlesticks, letter openers, and simple jewelry. On the high end were the sophisticated art pieces flowing from workshops such as the Roycrofters, whose metalsmith Karl Kipp produced some of the finest designs. In short order, this fashion spread to the ubiquitous dresser drawer pull in the form of a hammer-dimpled surface with a naturalistic, oxidized metal patina.

Such a leap from custom-made art metalwork to standardized suites of building and furniture fittings was predictably American. While British Arts & Crafts designers, such as C.F.A Voysey and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, practiced holistic design by designing the hardware along with the piece, on these shores hardware in the new style was mass-marketed.

Elegant cast-brass Mackintosh drop pull AD-4064 in antique finish from Horton Brasses.

Elegant cast-brass Mackintosh drop pull AD-4064 in antique finish
from Horton Brasses

It started with none other than Gustav Stickley. Once his Craftsman furniture caught on, Stickley was quick to flesh out his catalog with sympathetic hardware, both as fittings for his own furniture and as products in their own right. At first Stickley seems to have outsourced his metalwork, but we know by 1902 he was manufacturing his own line in upstate New York. “None of the glittering, fragile metal then in vogue was possible in conjunction with straight, severe lines and plain surfaces,” he wrote in his 1909 furniture catalog, “so I opened a metalwork department … where we made plain, strong handles, pulls, hinges, and escutcheons of iron, copper and brass … so finished that the natural beauty of each metal was shown as frankly as was the quality of the wood against which it was placed.”

Hand-hammered copper entry set ‘Santa Rosa’ from Craftsmen Hardware.

Hand-hammered copper entry set ‘Santa Rosa’
from Craftsmen Hardware

Looking at Stickley’s 1905 “Hand-Wrought Metal Catalog,” I could see what he was talking about: it’s big on iron door hardware such as ring-knockers, spear-like strap hinges, and escutcheons, and also coat hooks and cabinet pulls in copper and brass. All products emphasize hand-hammering and hand-applied patinas as distinctive details that contrast with the otherwise plain surfaces of metal and wood.

While paging through other catalogs of the period, though, I noted how this nonacademic, artisan-designed look was relatively easy to imitate. Though Stickley and the Roycrofters were the originators, bigger hardware manufacturers soon jumped on the bandwagon with their own medieval and rustic hardware. Some manufacturers of door hardware, like Penn Hardware Company of Philadelphia, played up architectural patterns that resembled iron strapwork, board-and-batten construction, or windowpane grids.

Spade-head copper strap-hinge tail ‘B’ from Craftsmen Hardware.

Spade-head copper strap-hinge tail ‘B’
from Craftsmen Hardware

Others, like Pacific Hardware of Los Angeles, stretched the ancient ironworker’s motifs of rattails and Moravian hearts into escutcheons and thumb latches resembling diamonds, Maltese crosses, and even the bark of trees. Most common, however, were simple, seemingly hand-wrought metal plates, hoops, and rings attached by knobby pyramid-head fasteners. The concept was easily remarketed as “Tudor” or “Pilgrim” once the Colonial Revival eclipsed the first coming of Arts & Crafts.

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