Techniques > Systems > Hardware >

Norfolk Latch

Norfolk latch, Putney, VT.

Norfolk latches mark a transition from handcrafted hardware to machine-made hardware. These latches were nearly identical in theri operation to Suffolk latches, but the major parts were no longer hand-wrought. The grasp of a Norfolk latch was of cast iron, and attached to a backplate made of machine-rolled sheet iron.

Although they lacked individual craftsmanship and artistic designs of the earlier latches, Norfolk latches were chaeper to make and more readily available to the average homeowner. They also had several minor design improvements over the earlier types:

  • the keeperwas often mortised into the side of the door jamb instead of surface-mounted on its face;
  • the life barcommonly had a small knob which made it easier to lift;
  • and an integral locking lever was sometimes added to affix the lift bar for security. (Earlier latches used wedges or pins to immobilize the bar for lcking purposes.)

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

The very conspicuous Norfolk latch, is easily distinguished from the wrought thumb-latches, in having its hand-grasp not enlarged at each end into plates, or cusps, but riveted upon a long, narrow, sheetiron escutcheon.

Though long known in England as hand-wrought by local blacksmiths, it nevertheless appears in the American houses examined, as a factory-made and not smith-wrought product probably at first imported from England.

Gradually taking the place about 1820 of the other forms of thumb-latch and competing with the knob-latch and the German lever latch, it rivals, for a while, the newly invented earthen door-knob with cast-iron box, until it is generally superseded by the latter and by Blake's patent cast-iron thumb-latch of 1840.

The evidence shows that these factory-made Norfolk latches were constructed sometimes with, and sometimes without, a knob on the bar; sometimes, at first, with a straight lift and sometimes, later, with a curved lift, sometimes, at first with a spiked catch and sometimes, later with a catch perforating or riveted upon a plate.

But without attempting to infer too much from these variations, we may at least conclude, from the evidence, that the factory-made Norfolk latch, if contemporaneous with the building, will date a house between 1800 and 1840, or, allowing for survivals, 1850.

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


  © 2002-2012 Heritage Stewardship     contact