Unlocking the History of the Door Handle

By Martin Hart on Mon 30 January 2023

Effective door handles are essential to daily life. They have a long history that most people take for granted. Learn about the ways handles have changed here.

Door handles are essential in daily life, with everyone using them to access areas often easily. Door handles need to be reliable, durable and secure to provide access and security for homes, workplaces and facilities worldwide. At Hart Wholesale, we stock a broad range of door furniture, such as lever handles, knobs, knockers, stops and closers, to suit your door needs. Read on to discover the history of this door furniture and what you could get today through our online store.

What is Door Furniture?

Door furniture is a term used for the broad collection of handles, knockers, and more choices. This localised term is used in the UK and other English-speaking countries and relates to attaching something external to a door. This can include invasive items like letterboxes and peepholes, but it also covers external items like hinges, knockers, security and door lever handles.

The Handles Origins

The earliest handles recorded were in ancient Egypt, with basic timber constructions satisfying the need to secure an entranceway. Through the centuries, door furniture changed very little, with locks and handles only starting to be used in the 1500s or later.

Before door handles, though, there were door knobs. The simplicity of a door knob, such as a mortice door knob, was a popular first step to creating the modern handle. It became a household necessity over the centuries, allowing easier access to rooms and security for vital areas.

What is a Mortice Door Knob?

Mortice doorknobs are a design that has survived the test of time and is still chosen today for select door installations. These designs were twinned with mortice locks and latch sets to offer a stylish, practical access handle. Most designs involve a spherical knob handle that is twisted and pulled, but alternative designs are made of rectangles and cylinders.

Mortice is a hole or cavity designed to receive another fitting element. It is one of the oldest methods of securing a door and is still used in the UK today. Modern door knobs are often designed to resemble period alternatives and are chosen by homeowners wanting a vintage look to their homes.  

Beehive knobs look similar to mortice door knobs as they are spherical. The main difference between the two is the many ridges around the diameter of the knob that make them resemble a beehive.

Door knobs such as these rose to popularity throughout the Georgian and Victorian eras (1700s – 1900s)

Transitioning Door Knobs to Handles

As useful as door knobs were, their time eventually ended with the invention of the modern lever door handle. After this new handle became the superior choice for securing or accessing a door, the doorknob was isolated to the minor door such as storage spaces, kitchen cabinets and other smaller spaces.

The late 19th century brought the invention of the first recognisable door handle when a 16-year-old inventor, Osborn Dorsey, patented the internal door latching handle. He invented the concept by imagining easier ways of moving through his home in the dark. The most well-known design of door handles is the curved, tubular design that followed this initial idea in the early 20th century.

Lever handles, also known as sprung handles, brought an extra level of convenience to door access as mechanical springs were added to the design. This brings the handle back to a resting position after use and allows a door to lock in place without intervention, which is especially useful when combined with a door closer.

The modern-day choices of door handles have accelerated beyond these first ideas. Now, depending on your aesthetic or practical needs, you can choose from a wide range of options and find something that balances them. You can even find high-tech door handles with locking codes or biometric scanners to give your space the highest level of security.

Are Door Knockers Still Relevant?

The short answer is yes. Door knockers were once used similarly to door knobs as a method of entry and announcement. These usually bulky additions would be used instead of knobs, but the cost of making them was less desirable than purchasing a humble door knob.

The lack of popularity for the door knocker was evident during the 20th century but has since returned in the 21st. Many domestic homes will choose between an electrical bell or a knocker for their front door to alert them of visitors. Whilst the bell is more popular, homeowners fond of vintage aesthetics will choose a classic door knocker.

UK Door Handle Wholesaler

We at Hart Wholesale have many years of experience supplying a broad range of door furniture options that will suit any customer's needs. Across our collection, you can find vintage and period-style knockers and knobs perfect for homes, closers, signage and access control essentials for the workplace.

As wholesaler distributors, we can supply these components in large or small batches to fulfil any project you’re currently working on. Contact us to discuss which door handles would best suit your needs. 


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