Like most decorative objects appearing during the Victorian era, door hardware was highly ornamental—but it didn’t start out that way. Queen Victoria’s reign began in 1837, but throughout the 1840s and ’50s, American door hardware remained undecorated—simple but elegant. Locks were likely to be cast-iron rim locks (screwed to one side of the door), or for the well-to-do, brass rim locks without decoration (although a handful of decorated iron rim locks were patented as early as 1858). Knobs were bronze, silvered, silvered glass, or, in the case of interior knobs, highly polished wood.
On the front door, the keyhole sat beside the knob with a separate keyhole cover, in contrast to later mortise locks, where the keyhole appeared below the knob with a single exterior escutcheon. Most houses used pottery or porcelain knobs. Pressed glass knobs gained popularity during this period and remained in fashion throughout the 19th century.
After the Civil War, door hardware changed radically. Some early design patents for decorated hardware were for coffin handles, but it didn’t take long for decoration to spread to door hardware. By 1869, design patents for hinges, escutcheons, and an outside door latch were granted, as well as the first design patent for a decorated doorknob made of shellac and silica.