The Door is This Way

Yours Truly: Jane!

Jane Austen: Good morning. Is it morning? Do you know the date?

YT: Yes, but I’m not telling you on account of you might be shocked how long it’s been since the last time you were sitting around yakking. By the way, it’s your birthday tomorrow.

JA: It is? How lovely. Thank you so much for mentioning my special day–

YT: Right. Special day. Before we talk about your fav cake and shit, can I ask you a question?

JA: (looking a bit shocked) Of course.

YT: You had doors in your house back in the Regency, right?

JA: Certainly.

YT: Good. What did they look like? Because I need to know. I’m trying to write this scene—

JA: You’re an authoress? What a coincidence. I too–

YT: Yes, but only if we define writer as someone who procrastinates any actual writing until there’s nothing left of her soul except panic and the need for caffeine, sugar and cocoa butter and who when she’s freaking hyped up on the stress with like smoke coming out of her ears before she actually gets decent words on the page, finally does something you could call writing. Sort of. Does that sound familiar to you at all?

JA: I think I’m getting a call. (Digs in her reticule.)

YT: They didn’t have cell phones when you were writing. So listen, about Regency doors. I have this scene where the hero and heroine are in this room and they’re alone, but one of them wants to leave, I can’t decide who yet, but that doesn’t actually matter. The point is whoever tries to open the door, when they do that the handle falls off and they get temporarily stuck only I don’t know if they had door knobs back then.

JA: Door knobs?

YT: Crap. Did they have door knobs? Do you know who invented the door knob? Because actually, when I Google, the results are unclear.

JA: Google?

YT: Yes. Google. A search engine. 

JA: But it’s misspelled.

YT: INORITE?

JA: I beg your pardon?

YT: Door knobs, Jane. Concentrate.

JA: Perhaps there were door knobs as early as 1820 but I can’t be sure because **cough** I was not alive in 1820.

YT:  I’m thinking I may have to email the Antique Doorknob Collectors of America or buy one of their books, but I don’t know which one to get. Ack!

JA: Americans collect doorknobs?

YT: Some of us are obsessed. OMG! Look at those doors and hardware. So pretty!

JA: Oh Em Gee?

YT: I’m swooning. Look!

JA: Where is my vinagrette?

YT: You know what I really hate?

JA: Spanx?

YT: Pictures that look exactly on point that have no date. Seriously. There should be a rule that whenever you post a picture of something old you’re REQUIRED to say what date the really old thing was made. You can’t just say, Victorian, or 19th century or back in the olden days. There should be a rule that you have to GIVE THE YEAR!

JA: Could we go back to talking about cake?

YT: Sure. If you want.

Pegasus Cake

Happy Birthday, Jane!

JA: Who’s Emma?

PS. Was I supposed to do a contest thinggee? OK. Comment and I’ll figure out a prize. Not cake, though.

About carolyn

Carolyn Jewel was born on a moonless night. That darkness was seared into her soul and she became an award winning and USA Today bestselling author of historical and paranormal romance. She has a very dusty car and a Master’s degree in English that proves useful at the oddest times. An avid fan of fine chocolate, finer heroines, Bollywood films, and heroism in all forms, she has two cats and a dog. Also a son. One of the cats is his.
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24 Comments
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Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe

Just yesterday I had my 1820heroine up against the door with the knob poking her in the small of her back. Say it ain’t so!

Carolyn
11 years ago

I emailed the antique door knob collectors and am hoping for a response. I suspect there weren’t door knobs, but handles with a lock underneath. I don’t know for sure and Jane was no help.

I will let you know the answer if I figure it out.

Kirsten
11 years ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Okay, I’ve wasted a half hour looking through my pictures file. I’m seeing doorknobs everywhere on period houses, but perhaps they were added after the Regency.

I found one print with what looked like a doorknob, but the etymological dictionary says the term “doorknob” didn’t come into use until 1847.

How about fudging it and calling it a door latch or a door handle?

Poor JA should not have to solve your pesky research problems!!!

Maureen
11 years ago

What a funny post and how unkind of Jane to to withhold this information.

Jane George
11 years ago

Until today the thought of Regency door knobs or lack thereof had never entered my mind.
And I now have Carolyn to thank.

Jeanne M
11 years ago

Talking about antiquties, I somehow inherited a bootjack that my husband ended up attaching to the front porch by the front door.

It was helpful because he is in construction and it helped him scrap the dirt off his boots and keep it out of the house but talk about questions from neighbors and friends! None of them could figure it out or had seen one before.

My Dad was the only one not surprised because he always got questions on the doornobs in the house I grew up in. He was in real estate and collected door knobs from clients that were “re-decorating”.

No two doorknobs in our house matched – some new and some very old. With so many today that look the same it was always fun to have so many different ones.

Carolyn
11 years ago

Who knew doorknobs could be so complicated!

I have no problems fudging the descriptions, but if doorknob hardware falls off, it’s readily apparent how to get out. No one would be stuck inside. But if it’s a pull type thing (seen in some of the links to doors), then I can see how the hardware falling off would get you stuck inside for a bit.

Therefore, my scene depends on whether there were doorknobs!

I suspect not,which is good for me.

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

Carolyn, you crack me up! Only you would put the screws to Jane Austen about DOORKNOBS!

That said, let me know what you find out because now I will begin a frantic search of all of my manuscripts to eliminate all doorknobs. Who knew in order to write and accurate Regency historical you have to keep renovating the dashed house!

And tell Jane we can fix that little misnamed cake in a jiffy. We sometimes have cakes that are not picked up by the people who order them. (How do you forget or just decide NOT to pick up little Johnny’s cake??) When that happens we pop the cake in the freezer for a few hours and then use a rose nail to pick the name up off the cake. Voila! Put that puppy in the cake case and Little Johnny’s cake becomes Little Jeremy’s cake!

Janet Mullany
11 years ago

Yes they had doorknobs but probably not the locking kind. Could you have a drunk footman fast asleep on the other side preventing it from opening? Austen’s always complaining about that in her letters.

Jillian
11 years ago

Very modern, cool. Enter in your contest please!

Jillian
11 years ago

Oh, your JA character may solve the researching proper period words by using this link:

http://www.slang-dictionary.org/Lexicon-of-Thieves'-Cant/

Katie
Katie
11 years ago

Who would Jane text?

librarypat
librarypat
11 years ago

I’ve been trying to remember what type of closures the houses we have visited have had . Most of the houses built in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s had latches. I’ve spent too much time already trying to get answers. Need to finish up. I’d guess just a knob to pull the door shyt was what first appeared.

KathyF
11 years ago

They definitely had doorknobs in the Georgian period in England, and a high status house would certainly have them, perhaps made of brass or glass.

You can always check ebay.co.uk. I just found a set of Georgian doorknobs, brass, with provenance taken from a period home.

KathyF
11 years ago

Here’s a seller with a few listed:
http://stores.ebay.co.uk/architectural-salvage13

Lots of other architectural antiques listed as well, from other sellers. Great source for period details, for future reference.

❦TattingChic
11 years ago

Happy Birthday, Jane….there should be a rule that when someone posts a contest they should post the exact PRIZE not just a “Figure out the prize later” thingy sort of prize but an exact prize, you know? 😉 ha ha ha! Just kidding! Loved your post it was very humorous!
~TattingChic ♥

janeaustensworld
11 years ago

Oh, funny! Loved this post. Happy Birthday, Jane Austen. Vic

Jacinta
Jacinta
11 years ago

Happy Birthday Jane!! Please enter me in the comp!!1

jacinta.noppers@live.com.au

Kathy Spencer Barnabi
Kathy Spencer Barnabi
11 years ago

Oh my door knobs……..they’ve just always been there!! Forget the rest of Christmas shopping….. Now I will spend the whole day researching door closures from 1200 to 1900! LOL

Karen Wasylowski
11 years ago

Great article, I always love taling to Jane, she makes everything much more fun, as do you! Happy B-Day to the great lady, proud to be a part of this with you.

Carolyn
11 years ago

Well golly! Look at all this interest in Jane and door knobs!

I have heard back from the doorknob man who provided some fantastic references. From what I’ve gotten my hands on so far, the answer is there were no doorknobs prior to 1820. There were technical issues, for one thing. This makes me very interested to track down the ebay listing of the Georgian era door knobs. Without having yet looked, IF the hardware is original to the door, I don’t see how it could be a turning doorknob. The mortise work was too labor intensive. It MIGHT be a knob that you pulled or pressed, but not a turning one. From what I’ve read.

I will pick a winner shortly, by the way

Carolyn
11 years ago

I went to that ebay listing and discovered a few fascinating things.

1. The Georgian era dating is a guess (thought probably not wildly inaccurate)

2. The door knob does not turn, but push/pulls, which (am I not brilliant!!?) is what I predicted.

3. It’s definitely a doorknob, but not a turning knob.

Awesome resource! Thanks for the linkage!

Lisa Hendrix
11 years ago

Door handle from Somerset House, about 1785

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Doorhandlevanda.jpg

(Note that it isn’t a turning/latching knob. It’s just a way of getting hold of the door.)

Earliest use of term doorknob: 1835

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doorknob

One of the links you posted says:

“The first doorknobs, in Colonial times, were made from wood and purely utilitarian. By the Revolutionary War doorknobs on important homes had become round is shape.” (from http://antiques.lovetoknow.com/Antique_Doorknob_Identification)

That said, if the house was handed down through the family and was built much earlier, as many/most noble houses were, it might have had original hardware, i.e. strap handles. And it may or may not have had locks, bolts, or bars on interior doors, since people tended to lock valuables in chests and caskets, rather than behind doors. After all, they had all those servants between them and casual intruders. Key chambers of medieval-era manses might be barred as a last refuge against invasion.

You might want to rewatch Pride and Prejudice (the one w Kiera K.) as that was shot in historic houses of the sort you’d be concerned with). A close viewing should show you plenty of doors and how they were operated.