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How old is your glass doorknob? Read on, my friends!

Posted on January 15, 2016 | 20 Comments

We see a lot of glass door knobs here at the Hippo Hardware.  Not only in terms of style, but age as well.  Glass doorknobs were produced widely for over 50 years!  Although the glass part of the knob is the flash and style, a big trick to dating them is in the metal base.  The subtle design choices can tell you the difference between a 1900 door knob and a 1940's doorknob.  These can then tell you are sorts of useful things like "Are these original to my house?" or "are these knobs are from the same set?". 

Below is a brief walk through by era:

1890's - The Originals

These were super rare and cutting edge at the time.  We like to throw around the term 'mansion-ware' here for stuff like this - only owned by the very wealthy of the time (thus not a lot made).  Some glass hardware already existed, notably cabinet knobs, but nothing in the way of door knobs.  These knobs feature a very wide base with steps up to the glass.  The knobs are frequently if not exclusively pinned (not like your girl in the 1950's but like a brass nail running through the base to attach the knob to the spindle).  This has the plus side of being very secure and the downside of being very hard to remove.  These knobs are most easily distinguished by their base.  The glass came in hexagonal, round, and even some more unusual shapes such as egg shaped or faceted spheres.

1890's stepped glass octagonal glass doorknob

Octagonal glass doorknob with wide, stepped base.  Pin secures knob to the spindle.

1900's - The Up and Coming

Here we see glass knobs become a little more mainstream but still not much outside of the upper class.  This era, again not widely produced, features the more narrow (and familiar) base like but maintains the straight shaft (meaning not threaded, as will become very common later).  An easy way to note these knobs is the narrow base without threads (requiring a user to screw directly into the spindle instead of threading a screw through the base).  These door knobs also came in a wide variety of glass shapes, although what we see most often are octagonal, shown here

Octagonal glass slip on door knob

1910's - Breaking into the Mainstream

The first twist-on door knob came out right about 1915, give or take a few years.  The twist on style revolutionized all door knobs at the time, glass and otherwise.  Instead of needing lots of tiny washers to get your knobs the correct width apart for your door, you could just screw down your knob and tighten the set screw - Voila!  Modern magic.  These first glass twist-on door knobs feature the same heavy cast brass bases, but instead of a smooth square, are round and threaded inside.  See below for a great example: a twist on glass egg doorknob, a fantastic carved glass octagonal doorknob, and a very unusual hollow glass knob filled with mercury.  Some additional clues here are the convex style (rounded top instead of a cut face) tend to be from this era.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Glass Egg Knob Base

Twist on egg-shaped glass knob

Carved octagonal glass knob

Mercury glass doorknob with a twist-on base

1920's - Everybody Loves Me

It was really the 1920's that saw glass door knobs in a huge percentage of homes.  They became affordable and accessible and boy did those homeowners love 'em.  Here we see the twist on style base with the with the heavy cast brass but the glass is generally a more standardized shape - octagonal with a cut face or fluted

Although they weren't common, Schlage patented and produced the first integrated knobset in the mid-1920's.  These were new technology at the time and took another 30 years to really catch on.

At hippo, this is generally the beginning of where our stock goes from the specialty case to the beautifully mounded bins.  A lot of the really great novelty colors (green, amber, blue), such as these great black glass knobs, were produced in this era. 

1920's black glass octagonal doorknob

1930's - Keep On Keeping On

Glass doorknobs continued to be wildly popular, so much so that we really see the 'budget' versions getting big.  Fluted style really overtakes the octagonal in popularity in the 1930's but both are still widely used. Although we don't have an exact date on when they started, something called 'contractor grade' aka 'super cheap' becomes much more common. 

Additionally, as they become more wide spread, bases tend to move from cast brass to stamped brass over iron (like these guys - a fluted glass doorknob with a stamped brass base) or sometimes even stamped steel over iron.  Additionally, this is really when we see all those unusual, creative glass shapes all but disappear.  There were still outliers, but they become rare.  Glass knobs had become more common in less affluent homes although were generally a step up from the plain steel knobs generally seen in working class homes of the time. 

1940's - The Wave Has Crested

We finally start to see a small decline in glass knobs - octagonal fading much more quickly than fluted. Although they're still widely produced, they are beginning to lose their grip.  Here we also get to see the beginning of the shift of the type of doorknobs you'd find at a new hardware store - the large drill outs and integrated latch.  These knobs were produced in the 1940's through the early 1950's.  We also see what we affectionately think of as the 'squashed' glass knob made by Dexter - a slightly squatter version of the fluted and round glass knob.

1950's - Time to Move On

Glass doorknobs were really on their way out by this point, having completed the cycle of rare elite to mass consumption to out of style. 

1960s to Now - Reproductions

That certainly doesn't mean glass knobs weren't still made.  Now, instead, the focus was on reproductions or restoration.  Anything with a pot metal or ZMAC base is certainly in this category (such as these fluted glass knobs).  Also a set screw with anything other than a slotted head screw is another dead giveway as a production.  There are also higher end reproductions with cast brass bases (such as these octagonal glass reproductions here)

Reproduction fluted glass doorknobs

Reproduction octagonal glass doorknobs

Reproduction octagonal glass doorknobs

Share any tips or tricks you may have in caring for, restoring, or replacing your glass doorknobs in the comments!


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20 Responses

Anne
Anne

February 22, 2019

How much does the 1940’s and 1950’s glass door knobs run I have 4 sets of them was looking to use them in my home when we remodle it to look like a cabin but do not know where to get the round piece that we would need to install them in thw doors.

Kim Rufener
Kim Rufener

February 22, 2019

Can I send you a picture of my collection of glass doorknobs to ensure how old they might be?
Thank you!

Chelle
Chelle

February 22, 2019

I have 8 sets of glass door knobs I bought from estate sale could you tell me Aprox. Age and would you be interested in purchasing also how do I send you pics if these I also have a 6 seat of Disney Bavarian China 3 saucers
A tea cup per seat also 4 ashtrays and creamer sugar bowl and teapot I found one saucer identical to mine on eBay it was $79 for the one small saucer I think 1930 could you direct me to an interested party need money for Christmas thanks

Terri campbell
Terri campbell

February 22, 2019

I was given doors from a house built in the 30’s and would like info on these door knobs, i cant seem to find any that are similar on internet. Have pic but dont know how to upload it

Elizabeth Craik
Elizabeth Craik

May 20, 2018

I have a bunch of glass door knobs from a 1940’s home, I’m doing a complete remodel and would like to reuse them, but need to find the adapter piece that is required to use them on modern day door hardware, any ideas. I’m in London Ontario Canada. Thanks

Randy
Randy

May 20, 2018

Nice article. My wife is looking for 5 or 6 glass knobs. She wants them to be different. We will be putting them on a shelf to use as coat hooks. Will glass knobs be strong enough for this job? Any tips besides e-bay and antique stores how to dig up some interesting knobs? She wants them to be different. I want the base on them to “look” like a door knob. Suggestions?

Juanita Luis-Perez
Juanita Luis-Perez

February 24, 2018

Hi! I found a basket full of glass door knobs in my moms house. Can you tell me if you would buy them from me or a little more about them… like if the age? Also I have about 25 pairs. Thank you!

Hippo Hardware
Hippo Hardware

February 09, 2018

Hi Cheyne,
It’s hard to say without seeing the knobs you’re talking about. In general, some signs of reproductions have cloudier glass or set screws that take an allen wrench. Best of luck identifying your set!

Hippo Hardware
Hippo Hardware

February 09, 2018

Hi Sandra,
There are a couple ways to go about this:
1) Purchase a dummy spindle and mount knob directly to the face of the drawer. Also, you probably want to make sure to have a plate to cover some of the dummy spindle poking out that will also fit on your drawer face. There are a couple threads here so ensure you have a dummy spindle with the correct thread. We have these dummy spindles online: https://www.hippohardware.com/products/dummy-spindle . We also have dummy spindles for straight tapped knobs too (knobs that don’t thread on but just ‘slip’ on)

2) For a threaded knobs, you could get a very large screw from a hardware store. You would likely need to drill out the hole in your drawer to accommodate it. Also, once you know exactly where it will go in your knob, you should mark with a sharpie through the set screw hole, take the knob off, and file a little flat spot for the set screw to push against. That will help prevent the knob from spinning in your hand.

Let us know if we can help!

Hippo Hardware
Hippo Hardware

February 09, 2018

Hi Brooke,
Hm, that’s interesting that the glass knob is only in the bathroom. That’s not something I’ve heard of as an original design choice. Bathrooms didn’t become common in middle class homes until the 1920’s or 1930’s in many areas, in which case the house already had hardware. The new bathroom was likely a pantry or closet before, so it would need new hardware which might have seemed like a fun time to add a fancy new door knob. I hope that helps! Thanks!

Hippo Hardware
Hippo Hardware

February 09, 2018

Hi Marie,
Thank you!!

Hi L. Lee,
Yes, definitely email us pictures and we can check it out.

Hi Shelly,
You can always shoot us an email with photos of your item and we can let you know what our offer would be. For value, I would research our store and other vendors around to find items similar to yours and see what they’re going for.

Hi Mary Lou,
Great! Thanks! Glad to be helpful.

Hi Rich!
Thanks so much for the compliment. We’d need to see pictures to get a sense of what you have. We don’t offer appraisals but we can make an offer if it’s an items we’d be interested in purchasing.

Hi Harold,
Absolutely! Thanks for stopping by.

Cheyne
Cheyne

January 13, 2018

Hello,
Ty for this very informative site. makes identifying very easy. I just have 1 unanswered question. I have a round glass knob with brass base. I want to know if the center of the inside glass has a shiny star/flower instead of the same shape but made of glass, does this mean its a reproduction?

Sandra
Sandra

January 13, 2018

I want to convert antique glass doorknobs into drawer knobs. If I remove the brass bases, how can I connect the knobs to a screw that can go through the drawer?

Brooke H
Brooke H

December 31, 2017

Thank you for the great article. In most older homes (1900-1960) in my area, the only glass knobs in the house are on the bathroom doors. Is there an explanation for this? I’ve always been curious and can’t find any information on the topic.
Brooke H.
Columbus, IN

Harold
Harold

November 17, 2017

Is there any way that I can date a pair of old door knobs that I dug up at an old house sit please?

Rich Tink
Rich Tink

October 18, 2017

Hi, I have 7 vintage glass door knobs, almost resembles the color you see in Bakelite items.
How old & what kind of value do they have?
Thanks so much, just found your website, love reading the complete history on the making of the old fixtures. So well done, keep up the great work!
Sincerely, Rich Rink, Newark, Ca

Mary Lou Dugan
Mary Lou Dugan

September 14, 2017

I love glass doorknobs and loved reading about the history of some of them. Thank You! Very Interesting reading!

SHELLY SPEARS
SHELLY SPEARS

September 10, 2017

I was reading your history on glass doorknobs and I have a set of clear lavender color door knobs that look exactly like what would have come from the early 1900s, but my question is, do they have any value?

L Lee Parmeter
L Lee Parmeter

May 21, 2017

My granddaughter is buying a house that is listed as built in 1964 however it has the classic 40’s knobs. I wonder if there is any way to actually tell if the knob really fits the door. I am getting some pictures. Thanks for a great web site. Lee Biloxi, MS

Marie Prentice
Marie Prentice

January 10, 2017

What a great resource! Thanks so much for publishing this history of glass doorknobs!

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