Vintage Glass Cabinet Knobs – Are They Real or Fake?

Glass cabinet knobs are among the most favored home décor pieces. Their shine and sparkle bring more than a mere semblance of luxury. Furthermore, they add a significant enhancement and finishing touch to any bedroom, powder room, kitchen, or bathroom. Such elegant-looking cabinet knobs can even bring an added value to your home – and even more so if they are genuine crystal cabinet knobs!

This article tries to establish the differences between glass or crystal knobs. Also, there’s a timeline of how glass door knobs first appeared, became popular, fell out of favor, and went back in circulation again. The existing vintage doorknobs are one of the most sought-after items especially among relic collectors.

Real crystal or glass “crystal”?

To an untained eye, glass and crystal doorknobs look quite like the same to each other. Some sales clerks try to take advantage of their buyers’ lack of knowledge by convincing them that it is a crystal knob – even though it’s actually glass. 

That is why it helps to have a little knowledge so that you can tell the difference. It will be handy, especially if you are looking for genuine crystal décor pieces such as chandeliers and doorknobs.

Glass is typically made of sand (also called silica). When sand is brought to extremely high temperatures, it will melt and become transparent. The molten glass is then poured into molds of different sizes and shapes. Glass manufacturers sometimes introduce color by adding powdered metal oxide, sulfides, or other compounds to the molten glass. It is also cut and formed into crystalline shapes, which make it to appear like genuine crystal, at least at first glance.

Standard glassware is made of 50% sand (silica) and zero lead. Because glass has no lead, it tends to be cloudy in appearance, and is also less reflective. So if you find such qualities in a cabinet knob, you can be sure that it is made of glass – even if the hardware salesman tries to convince you otherwise.

Like glass, crystal is also made of sand (silica), contrary to the popular misconception that it is made of crystal quartz. Apart from sand, crystal has other components such as lead oxide and soda. Crystal reflects much more light than glass, and is definitely a lot clearer than its cloudy counterpart. Crystal’s clarity and high reflective quality are due to the presence of lead. The clearer and more reflective the crystal, the higher its lead content. Crystal is also heavier than glass.

If you browse over many types of transparent cabinet knobs at a hardware store, first try to take a hold of it to assess its weight. You also to want to examine its clarity and reflective quality. If a doorknob feels considerably massive, looks very clear and quite sparkling, it is made of crystal.

Vintage doorknobs timeline

For relic hunters and enthusiasts, vintage is the only way to go. With their schooled knowledge, they can confidently tell whether a particular item is genuinely vintage or just “retro.”

Although the glass (or the crystal) is a big part of the cabinet knob’s style, the best way to date it is its metal base. The subtle design differences of the doorknobs themselves give another helpful clue as to their age. 

1890s – Glass doorknobs were very rare at the time, as they were once considered very novel. Not surprisingly, only the very wealthy few at the time could afford to have such knobs for their cabinets. The knobs produced at the time have an extensive base, and most of them are pinned – that is, a brass nail running through the base to affix the knob to the spindle. This same feature firmly secures the parts together, but the problem is that it also makes the pieces very hard to remove. The knobs themselves tended to have an octagonal shape.

1900s – The base had become a bit narrower, but still retained the straight shaft. The glass door knobs part themselves came in a variety of shapes and sizes.

1910s to 1920s – The first twist-on doorknobs first appeared during this era due to the incorporation of the screws instead of the small washers. This feature revolutionized all doorknobs during that time. The base was still made of heavy brass, but they became round and threaded instead of squared in previous knobs. By then, glass door knobs had become more mainstream, and as they began to become mass-produced, the shape of the glass became more standardized: it was either octagonal with a cut face, or fluted.

1930s – As doorknobs became more widespread, the bases changed from cast brass to stamped brass over iron, or sometimes stamped steel over iron. The design of the knobs themselves had become less ornate.

1940s and 1950s – Glass door knobs experienced decline for the first time. While the octagonal-shaped knobs quickly fell out of favor, the fluted ones still held on to their remaining popularity. This era also saw the production of the new types of doorknobs, such as the drill-outs and integrated latches. By the 1950s, glass door knobs were really on their way out, as they were mostly considered outmoded. However, the production of glass door knobs remained, but only reserved for mansions as they had been first made for.

1960s to present – The focus now is on the reproduction. One way to tell whether a doorknob is genuinely vintage or reproduction is the material used. Most modern glass cabinet knobs are either made of pot metal or anything made with Zamak, or zinc alloy that we’re more familiar with. In addition, a set screw with anything other than a slotted head is another prominent feature of a reproduction doorknob. Other high-end glass doorknobs are bringing back the cast brass base seen in older, much more vintage knobs.