Featured Artifacts: Escutcheons


In the later part of the 1800s, well-to-do families wanted to impress visitors by their elegant front doors. They did so in part by using elaborate hardware such as this brass escutcheon from the museum’s collection.

The term “escutcheon” is derived from the Latin word for shield.  The escutcheon is a metal plate that surrounds the door handle and keyhole. The escutcheon was to protect the lock from attempts to remove it and to protect the door from scratches made when they key missed the keyhole. The same function could be served by a simple flat disk, as is typical today.  But that era prized intricate designs which were now possible due to improved manufacturing processes.  

The plates came in many different designs.  Some reflected the Eastlake style of incised lines in geometric patterns and low relief carvings while other incorporated Japanese influences and asymmetrical designs.

Doorknobs and hinges were also decorated in similar fashion.

By the mid 19th century, these elaborate patterns had declined in popularity.  Most people opted by the simpler, more streamlined designs that we see today.

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