The History of Cabinet Knobs

September 28, 2022

Photo by Max Vakhtbovych: https://www.pexels.com/photo/kettle-placed-on-wooden-counter-of-minimalist-kitchen-6508341/

Cabinet knobs: Where did they come from, and what’s with the “k”?

Let’s start with the silent “k” at the beginning of the word. According to multiple websites, English words starting with a silent “k” are usually of German descent (so to speak) and because of something called “apheresis”, “loss of any initial sound”, we no longer pronounce the “k”. We now have a knob on our cabinets because a knob is also a “short horn” in Old Norse, or “button” in Old High German. Of course, it was also a relative of the “a knot in wood” according to Middle Low German. So, basically, we don’t pronounce the silent “k” because of the word’s origins, what they were named after and apheresis.

Now let’s look at where cabinet knobs originated.

According to Schlage.com, the earliest knobs were door knobs that were made of animal hides or textiles and the earliest knobs were used by Egyptians about 5,000 years ago (about 3,000 years B.C.!). There was no real need for knobs back then because most homes had only one room, divided maybe by a curtain, but no door except the external one that was barricaded with a beam across it to keep intruders out. As rooms became more common (King Louis the 14th’s time: 1643 to 1715), doors had locks, but they were big and metal with the same idea: a metal “beam” that locked into place with a latch on the door frame. Locks but no knobs were common.

For cabinet knobs, we must look at the furniture our ancestors used. As far back as the early 1700s, blacksmiths used iron to create useful knobs and pulls for furniture. It wasn’t until after the industrial revolution that cabinet hardware started being considered something other than “functional”.

Paxton Hardware tells us that early knobs and pulls (1760 and forward) were made of brass, cast iron, porcelain and wood. From 1620-1780 we have the Colonial Period, in which Chippendale, Queen Anne and William and Mary style furniture used a lot of brass hardware. Then 1780-1830 was the Federal period in which sheet brass was rolled out and stamped with a design that created three dimensional effects. Next, the Sheraton era (1725-1820) was rather neoclassical and “Intricate brass knobs 1 inch, 1.5 inch and occasionally 2 inch, sizes were predominantly used.”

Lee Valley.com Chippendale Knobs

D. Lawless Hardware.com "3-3/4" Vintage Floral Vertical Ring Pull Antique Nickel"

Goodwyn London tells us that in the Victorian era (1860-1910),

“The Victorian age was a golden period for architectural hardware. In this age of mass production, a new sand casting [sic] technique enabled companies to increased [sic] production tenfold. Tastes shifted from the conservative to the elaborate with inspiration from every corner of the world and period of human history.”

Afterward, we had Colonial and Spanish Revival (1880-1910) in which designers looked to the past to create the present, and Art Nouveau (1890-1914), where designers were trying to “bring out the beauty of the material” and trying to make things flow and feel like it was a natural thing, using old materials for knobs, pulls and hardware. Then came the Arts and Crafts movement (1890-1920s), think William Morris, Stickley’s Mission furniture, Frank Lloyd Wright for this period. After this we got to go deco, with Art Deco style (1920-1930), and we see clean, simple designs, rounded corners, geometric patterns and layers.

House of Antique Hardware.com Waterfall Furniture Pull with Bakelite Accents - 4 1/4" Center-to-Center

Etsy.com HandicraftStoreUK Set of 2 Peacock Brass Door Handles | 7 inches | Brass Door Handles

What we now call “vintage” is from the Modern era of 1930-1950 and we see chromed pieces as well as new plastics and aluminum. Contemporary hardware (1960-Current day) is made of many different materials and in many different shapes. Today. we have a plethora of choices and it can make it difficult, but if we have learned anything from the past, it is that it’s up to you to decide which knobs and pulls to use on your cabinets and furniture. Use something dazzling, different, nature-inspired or totally handmade, it’s up to you.

Costello Coastal Knobs.com CHAMBERED NAUTILUS SHELL CABINET PULL, 163R, RIGHT FACING

Lowe's.com Amerock  Transcendent 5/8-in Center to Center Matte Black/Matte Gold Cylindrical Bar Drawer Pulls

At Costello Coastal Knobs, we’re here to help you decide on a coastal-themed knob or pull to make your beach retreat dreams come true.

(NOTE: All dates approximate.)

© 2022 Costello Coastal Knobs




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