Monday, May 14, 2012

Defining the Details: Suffolk Latches

Suffolk latch with no
thumb piece and
modern screws
Sturbridge Village, MA
One of the things that makes historic homes so magical is the unique yet often subtle detail found throughout. Take for example, a door handle. In a modern home it may go unnoticed. In an historic home it heralds to a previous century when objects were handmade.

One type of door hardware found in historic homes is the Suffolk latch. Suffolk latches were a type of door hardware commonly used in 17th and 18th century New England homes. The name comes from their origination in Suffolk, England but came to be more broadly used as the generic name for the latch.

17th Century Meetinghouse,
Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT
A Suffolk latch typically consisted of an upper and lower cusp that were often symmetrical and of a triangular or heart shape. The were joined by the handle grasp. The upper cusp had a hole for the thumb piece to fit through.

Variations include a single cusp version with the cusp on the top and a dominant cusp version, again on top, where the dominant and lesser cusps are not symmetrical.

The door handles were made from wrought iron by blacksmiths. Many early Suffolk latches were imported to the colonies from England. Later they were made by local blacksmiths.

In his book A Building History of Northern New England, James L. Garvin says that the more elaborate and unusual a Suffolk latch was the more likely it was to be locally made.

Suffolk latches started to fade in popularity in the early 1800s as the new Norfolk latch style took over. When exploring for Suffolk latches in your home be sure to check for signs that the latch was hand wrought and not a later reproduction.

Painted over Suffolk latch,
West Simsbury, CT

Suffolk Latch,
Peak House, Medfield, MA


Cummings, Abbott Lowell. The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, 1625-1725. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1979.

Garvin, James L. A Building History of Northern New England. Hanover: University of New England Press, 2001.

Howard, Hugh. How Old is This House? New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989.

Howell, Rlene L. "Craftsmanship in Wrought Iron," The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Nov. 1950), pp 83-86.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating post, Marian. We have Suffolk latches in our 17th century house here in England.