What a wonderful word...it’s always been one of my two favorite architectural terms (the other is fenestration, which I might tackle on a different day).
I’ve got several dictionaries:
The Concise Oxford American (2006) has two uses: “a shield or emblem bearing a coat of arms...” or “a flat piece of metal for protection and often ornamentation around a keyhole, door handle, or light switch.”
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (how can the ninth, in 1985, be “new?”) confirms the first two and adds a third: “the part of a ship’s stern on which the name is displayed.”
It also says the word is from the Middle English escohon.
Even my trusty 1770 Samuel Johnson dictionary defines it as “the shield of the family,” but there’s no reference to door knobs, plates or keyholes.
I focus on the hardware variety.
I have quite a few escutcheons – I buy them at flea markets and antique stores. I used to put them in houses I owned, but now I just collect them; there’s something about them that intrigues me, draws me – I think of doors that open into old houses, into other people’s living rooms and lives.
These are two of my favorite escutcheons. The one on the right is an
Eastlake pattern, I
think, or perhaps a
(makes me think of Frank Lloyd Wright, for some reason). Mission
The other – the one on the left – is a common pattern.I’ve seen several of these, and I actually found it in a 1902 Sears Roebuck catalog...
Here’s the copy:
“Electro Bronze Plated Front Door Lock Set, is furnished with knobs and escutcheons as shown – complete with screws. Lock is reversible for either right or left hand doors...one nickel plated steel key for lock bolt and two for night latch.”
An escutcheon is one of those things you never notice until you suddenly see one that grabs you; now that you know what to look for, I’ll bet you pay closer attention. Look in old libraries, town halls, grange halls, check out old houses and school buildings, historical society buildings, churches. Every time you reach out to grasp a knob, take a look...
...then open the door and go in.