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Blake Patent Latch and Other Victorian Latches

Blake patent latch, commercial storefront, Bethel, Vermont.

Latches made entirely out of cast iron appeared in the 1840s and remained popular into the 20th century. Thomas [?] Blake took some of the earliest patents for these devices, so they have come to be known as Blake latches, although other manufactures also made them.

Victorian-ear latches, because they were cast, often had low-relief ornament over every available surface. The outline shapes of the backplates, grasps, etc., took on lively curvilinear forms. Earlier latches would have up to seven separate pieces to be ssemnled and attached; "Black" latches came pre-assembled in three pieces:

  1. the grasp/thumb piece,
  2. the lift/backplate assembly,
  3. and the keeper.

    Cotton, J. Randall. "Knobs & Latches".Old House Journal, November/December 1987, pp. 37-43.

Numerous dated examples found, show that Blake's typical cast-iron thumb-latch, with circular catch-plate mortised and screwed into the door lintel, hollow patent bar-pivot, hollow staple guard, and saucer lift with opposite down-curve, patented by United States patent No. 1704, July 21, 1840, first came into general use on and after that year.

It seems probable that this latch was preceded by rare cast-iron experiments or improvements, i.e. cast-iron grasps on older wrought latches of the Fig. 12 type, etc., and was closely followed by evasive copies or patent infringements. But Blake's latch was, and still is [1923] the cast-iron latch par excellence, and without concerning ourselves with earlier un-patented predecessors or variations of it or copies or patent infringements of its very typical catch or staple, this latch, when complete and original, as the evidence clearly shows, will date a house built after 1840.

Dating of Old Houses, Henry C. Mercer, SC.D., Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1923

Although an earlier patent for a cast-iron latch was granted to the same patentees (Philo Blake and John Blake, nephews of Eli Whitney) in 1833, this is the form which provied the most popular and which infouenced much cast-iron latch making thereafter. Blake worked out of New Haven, Connecticut.
From: Streeter, Donald. "The Historical Development of Hand Firged Iron Builder's Hardware". In Ward, Jandl H., editor. The Technology of Historic American Buildings. Wastington, DC: Association for Preservation Technology, 1983.
Blake patent latch, attic door, Hearthside, Great Road, Lincoln, RI P.E.W. & J.A. Blake, Latch, No. 1.704, Patented July 21, 1840. USPTO

Restored Black Patent Latch. Source: Ed Donaldson


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