Friday, February 03, 2006

Only My Home Builder Knows For Sure

The question is about hinges. Are they real or are they replacements? Maybe they’re Maybelline. When you think 1895 Victorian you think fancy, you think Eastlake, you think anything but plain. In my mind I’ve always had the image of an upper-class Victorian home where every detail had a profile, or filigree, or some incised design. When you look at catalogs of reproduction hardware you get the same image, right down to the hinges. Everything was over-the-top and no detail was left out.

My house has about 15 interior doors in it. Only one of the upstairs doors was still hanging in it’s original place, and downstairs I had only 4 doors still in their original place. In other places I had only half of the hinge left on the jamb side and the door was gone. All of these doors had the same hinge pictured below. The ones from the kitchen are nickel plated and the rest are plain brass.

That is hardly the typical hinge you would expect to find in an upper middle class 1895 Victorian home. Yet there it is. Plain old boring loose pin hinges. If I had only found one or two of them here and there I would say they were replacements and the originals would have been much fancier. The other door hardware – doorknobs, lockset faces, back plates, and strike plates – are all fancy cast brass covered in detail. So why not the hinges?

It doesn’t seem possible that all the hinges failed and were all replaced with the same exact hinge. Hinges don’t all fail at the same time or even in the same year or the same decade. And then there is the paint build-up (a lot in some places) and the lack of new screw holes. If they are replacements, is it possible that all the mortises were exactly the same size and all the screw holes matched up exactly. I don’t think so. The only logical explanation is that these are the original hinges.

Maybe it’s not so strange. Maybe the image of the classic Victorian home is an image that doesn’t match reality. Maybe this is the sort of thing that separates Real Victorian from Victorian Revival. A hundred years from now they will probably say that all Americans at the end of the 20th Century drove big gas guzzling SUVs. Many do, but a lot don’t.

What ever the case – real or replacement – I do have to replace the hinges because many of them are simply gone and I want all the hinges in the house to be the same. A few years back I came across a supplier that was having a close-out on reproduction Victorian hinges for $6.00 a pair so I snapped up a whole house worth. I had this looming whole house project hanging over my head and I really didn’t feel I could justify spending a lot of money on fancy Eastlake cast brass hinges out of one of those catalogs. Here’s what I bought.

They are reproductions of an 1888 cast iron hinge. They’re nice, and I’m reasonably pleased with them, but sometimes I’m not so sure about them. I’ve always wanted to do an honest restoration of the house. I do want modern amenities, and I want to upgrade the sub-systems of the house, but I’ve always felt that if I discover something about the house that was original I will restore it to original. So now I’ve got all these fancy 1888 hinges that pre-date the house and I’ve discovered that my house actually had very plain hinges. It’s hardly something to loose sleep over, and I won’t. Still, it kind of bugs me.


C&C said...

Here is a link to a photo of the hinges in our 1895 Eastlake.

As far as I know they are original to the house. At least the man who lived there the 53 years before we bought the house never changed them, so if they were it was sometime before that (I don't think they were least I hope not.)


Greg said...
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Greg said...

Now that’s a nice hinge! But I'm not so sure I would call that an Eastlake hinge. Maybe the house is Stick/Eastlake.

Not only that, I’ve see original 1890s hinges much fancier than that. I don’t doubt they exist, just as gas guzzling SUVs exist today, but it’s easy to think that everybody had everything that was high-end Victorian in the 1890s. Just as it is easy to think that all Americans drove SUVs in the year 2000.

I think the other door hardware in my house was a set (doorknob, back plate, lockset, and strike plate) bought as a unit. They all have the same pattern. But when it came to the hinge, the builder cut a corner. He saved a little money. However, if you showed my hinge to a hard-core Victorian Revivalist they would probably tell you that it is not original and my house would have never had such a plain hinge.

I think it's interesting.

C&C said...

It may not be Eastlake, but all the hinges in our house look just like that. If I was going to classify our house, I would have called it Folk Victorian, it's definitly not ornate like a Queen Anne, or Stick style.

We did find an older document at the public library that was pretty much a walking tour guide of the historic district our home is in. It stated something along the lines that ours was built in the Eastlake style, or something like that. It even mentioned the stained glass above our front window.

Builders are always cutting corners, I'm sure they were back then too. I'm sure if they had the ability back in 1895, our house would have been built on a slab, had vinyl siding and windows, cheap three year carpet, 12" white tile in the kitchen & baths, etc. (but at least I would have had a working shower!)


Greg said...

I think you are absolutely right. It was all about image just as it is today. They just didn't have access to PVC and vinyl. Instead they were forced to use brass, iron, and wood.

Love your house, by the way!

C&C said...

I'd take brass, iron and wood anyday over vinyl, carpet, or any other cheap "throw-it-up-quick-and-sell-it" building supply (except the insulation) ;)


Nick said...

Greg - your "plain" hinge looks like it could be copper, not brass. Not sure how you can tell for sure though.

Greg said...

That’s an interesting idea. I think I read some place that brass attracts magnets and copper doesn’t. I’ll have to do a test.

Suzanne said...

If you like your repro hinges, by all means use them. I don't think the Petches are going to come back and haunt you for that. It's such a small detail, and they are really nice, and I bet if the builders could have gotten their hands on them, they would have used them. They are period appropriate and add a little zing, which no one but you and your old house buddies will notice, and probably not them either. It's your home, not a period perfect museum, you're allowed some personal touches. Don't sweat it!

Patricia W said...

I think the repro hinges you bought on close-out are really nice looking.

My house is a folk victorian. Some of the window lifts, sash locks and front door hinges are eastlake. In my case, I think the builders used whatever was around or at the local dealer. Way back when, I think they liked fancy hardware but it wasn't as much of a big deal as it is with renovators today.

Jocelyn said...

I know what you mean. Ultimately, I'd like original hardware on everything. Our hinges are very plain and I think they are at least copper plated. They have a copper colored finish anyway.

Door hardware also is fairly and modest and utilitarian. We bought a dozen or so plates and knob sets from an Antique Market that are from about the period of our 2-flat, but more decorative.

We are somewhat fancifying our place, making it a bit grander than what it was while staying with the craftman/prarie type elements that we like and mesh with the oak trim, coffered ceiling etc...

And when we renovate the semi-finished basement, we'd like to put in 6" oak trim same as the other 2 floors.

But of course, we've used drywall and not kept all the old plaster- we've kept some though!

John said...

Petch House is a lot higher end than the Devil Queen, but our hinge situation is the same. Our front has fancy, filigreed hinges. We haven't stripped them yet, but I'm thinking they are cast iron. All the interior hinges are plain pin hinges.

I wouldn't feel too bad about replacing the hinges with your reproduction hinges. Every construction/renovation project is full of compromises. For all we know, your new hinges could be the ones the Petch family really wanted but couldn't justify buying.

Ann said...

Our house in Seattle was done as a part of a development back in the early 1900s. Compared to the house my parents lived in (until recently) which was built as part of a cul-de-sac development in the 1930s, the details in our house were lacking a little. I've mostly noticed it on window hardware and a little on doorknob plates.

I think partly it has to do with how much building they were doing, just like how it is today. If they could get by with less then they did.

Just like a modern home you are free to upgrade any details to help make it the way you would like it to be (such as adding in baseboard and better moldings, etc.) you are within the realms of reason in my book. Splurge a little and enjoy.

Kristin said...

I know how you feel about restoring things back to original, even if the original is something unexpected. That's happening with our bathroom. I had this big Plan with a capital P, but when I saw the original arrangement and saw that it could be restored to that, I just have to do it! Then again, we may not restore the window to the original size.