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Niles Chicago: Sometimes the Good Die Young

Posted on November 18, 2016 | 0 Comments

Your antique hardware can usually be fixed. In a lot of cases it that is because of the hardware boom of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s which was a flurry of design and innovation that created hardware standards for years to come.  Many of the designs used the structure of spindle, set screw, knobs, and mortise that could be interchanged, or, at least, manipulated to work together.  Sargent, Yale, Corbin, and Mallory Wheeler are some of the major manufacturers of the time who produced such hardware.

But what about the innovation that wasn’t absorbed into the main stream manufacturing? Well, this brings us to the tale of the Niles Chicago hardware.

Milton Cleveland Niles, a farmer with some bright ideas, and his son Sidney, implemented a new lock and doorknob design in 1878. Niles and Son began producing the design in 1979 and became the Gray Iron Company in 1880.  The Niles Chicago hardware differs from the more common threaded knob and spindle hardware in one major way; the spindle and knob are integrated.

Each knob is attached to an oversized "integrated" spindle.  The spindle has a knuckle on it that, when fit into the mortise and turned, will open the latch.  The Niles Chicago mortises themselves are unusual, featuring a larger hole and with a bar separating the two halves for each knob to snap into place.

The knobs move independently of one another, a slick departure from threaded spindle kits.

 

The major advantage of this design is the impeccable fit. There is no need for set screws or washers, no loose and rattling knobs, no stripped knobs from loose spindles, and perfect fits for the escutcheons. Also, the Niles Chicago knobs can be found in popular patterns, materials, and finishes of the time, such as the Le Grande and Corinthian patterns. Niles Chicago also made glass knobs, very cutting edge for the time!

 

I would LOVE to eliminate the rattling and twisting of the doorknobs and spindles in my house by using all Niles Chicago hardware, but it’s not quite that simple.  Niles Chicago is hard to find because it was produced for only a short while. 

The Chicago Hardware Manufacturing Company became the Gray Iron Company in 1882, and after 1888 the Niles Chicago design was seen less and less.  The design, while superior in some ways, was also created in the middle of a design boom, and other more standard designs won out in popularity.  Also, while there are less parts to replace and adjust on the Niles Chicago design, that also means that when a part fails, there is no easy fix.  That aspect shortens the life of the hardware significantly.

It still leads us to wonder, what place would Niles Chicago have in antique hardware today if it was more wide spread?  Would our door knobs jingle less? Would the design of more modern hardware have seen different and more advanced designs today?  Would we just have 2 minutes more each day to snuggle our cats because we got to spend less time jiggling loose door knobs?

Hard to say.  But Niles Chicago hardware, despite it's scarcity, is a great part of antique hardware history.  And sometimes the good die young.

Additional Reading about Niles Chicago Hardware:

The Door Knob Collector 54

A Genesee House: A Historic Home in the Genesee Valley


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