Art #12

You can’t handle the truth !

TL; DR: “Victorian” and “traditional” often means “can’t really date but looks old”.

As with most of the good stories, it all started with a finding in an old box in a remote part of a forgotten attic.

This is a handle, a rusty yet fully functional handle. Getting it into a nicer shape was easy enough with a little TLC and a lot of scrubbing.

Now that it’s in a better shape, i can see a lot of usage of this little fellow and its sibling.

You know me, though. What good can i be if i didn’t go through at least a little pain to try and find more informations about their story?

Turns out, there was not much to be find about their personal ones. No links left to a user or a period. Not even a date of when they were first seen. What do you do in those cases ? In my case, i try the old “match the type”. You start with the typology and work your way from there.

A quick search on the web let you see that this very type of handle, or better yet “drawer pulls” or “bin pulls” are commonly claimed as “victorian” or “traditional”. There’s an infinite array of them, with subtle to dramatic variations and every fondry on Earth seem to be able to produce some for a reasonable price.

Great, said i ! Contextualisation will be a breeze! The specimen history must be easy to find !

Poor, old, naive me.

As it turns out, it wasn’t and it still isn’t.

First, the alleged victorian part isn’t that precise, extending from 1837 to 1901. Then, as far as i was able to see draining the V&A online collections on the subject, no alike pieces were to be found.

XIXth century handles seem to have been more along the lines of these ones, rich, ornate and thin. The closest ones to our models seem to be these sober functional ones. Plains models derived from this last type can be found in modern catalogs as in this 1919 Sears catalog.

Ok. Back to the beginning then. The pieces themselves. With no further definite link, we’re now entering the realms of hypothesis. What do we see ? A shell decor with ornaments laid over a cup shaped metal piece. A sturdy piece, good for daily usage, almost virtually indestructible as far as opening drawers is concerned.

Wait. What ? Metal? Most certainly cast iron.

That’s a lot of metal for a handle. Way too much for a piece from a non industrialized era. Metal is pricey. Cast iron being one of the most affordable of metal work after the turn of the XIXth century. Before that, every metal fixture is an investment limited to necessity or the wealthiest. Back to the Victorian era we are, more as a rough time estimate than the geographical limit of the UK. This type of handles can have been produced almost anywhere there was a metal industry at the time. Not a dead end but not really a way forward.

The shell ornament is interesting. Deciphering and deducing anything from a decor is always tricky and everything should be taken with a grain of salt. The scallop shell is a common European pattern, with iconography links to element of the christian Way of St James or the cult around the archangel Michael.

That last one is interesting for our handles in a very specific way. The cult around the archangel Michael as a catholic saint has made him, among other things, patron saint of the knights and every professions having to use a scale, because of his role as a soul-weigher in the afterlife.

Let’s try to search for “XIX trade furniture” on the internet. Lo and behold, there they are, neatly adorning furniture drawers ! A quick survey seem to favor a french repartition but that may be more an impression than a fact. Now, they seem to be found on every trade industries ranging from the late XIXth to the middle of the XXth century, all having the scale in common. Another quick search show a variation of their shape as handles for “trade furniture” from fabric stores to architecture firms plan cabinets, with numerous (and pricey!) recent copies.

Maybe there’s something there ?

The odds of finding what could have been taken out of an inherited dilapidated wooden furniture in an attic are not far off. We may never know what exactly their own story is but we already have a little more insight as to how they came to be.

If any of you, dear reader, know more on that subject or have such pieces in your home collection treasure chest, please share your knowledge !