Iron Handles and Latches






The Suffolk latch, so designated in "English Metal Work by Wm. Twopeny," is a cusp type, consisting of an upper and lower cusp or plate joined together by a central grasp or handle. In some cases the latch may be fashioned from a single bar of iron, the ends of which are forged into shapely escutcheons and the grasp rounded or formed to suit the fancy of the worker. In the earlier forms, the thumb-press or bar lift is thrust through the upper cusp, being kept in position by a slit tongue piece in lieu of a swivel. In the later or swivel form, the thumb-press is held in place by a neck-shaped swivel between the base of the upper cusp and the grasp.

The earlier latches are generally quite simple in design, and as a rule the pattern of the upper cusp is repeated inversely in the lower. In some cases, however, there are individual designs for each, while others have but a single or dominating upper cusp, the lower end of the grasp penetrating the door and clinched on the other side. This type of Suffolk latch is common enough in Europe, but, while a very practical pattern, seems not to have met with popular favor outside of certain sections of Pennsylvania.

The Arrow-head, the Ball and Spear, the Bean, the Swordfish, the Tulip, and the Heart patterns were probably the most popular of their day.

The Arrow-head type is common to nearly all of the early colonies here settled by the English. Some, no doubt, were imported, those locally made usually being cruder and with less of the factory look. Deerfield, Mass., possesses many that are still in service on the doors to which they were originally fastened more than two centuries ago. Some of these are plain, others have the notched or chamfered edges typical of their kind.

According to our observation, the Arrow head and Tulip, or Pear-shaped, patterns are more frequently found in central New England and eastern New York than in other localities. But occasionally they are met with in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.

The Bean type, so called owing to the cusps resembling the shape of the ordinary Lima bean, is the commonest of all early wrought-iron latches. It was mostly a factory production, hand-made, it is true, records showing that large quantities of English make were imported here, particularly after the close of the Revolutionary War. They were made up in standard sizes, the average being about six inches. Some few of this type were locally made, deviating somewhat in size and decoration and minor details from the imported ones.


Cat. No.



Iron latch 


10-1/2" high semi hand made




9" high semi hand made with regular bar




9" high semi hand made with bar on plate


Iron latch 


10" high hand made




same as X500-C18 except 9" high hand made


Suffolk latch 


9-3/4" high semi hand made




8" high with regular bar




8" high with bar on plate


Iron latch 


9" high hand made


Iron latch 


8" high hand made


Also available, any of the above thumb latches as "dummies."  With or without the thumb piece.


The development of the lift end of the thumb-press has been the cause of some little discussion among those interested, especially in its relation to the dating of old houses on which these early latches are found.

Many of the earlier American latch-lifts were straight, the short inner ends sometimes protruding but half an inch or so, scarcely long enough for a proper grasp in the effort to release the bar from its catch, or keeper. There being at the time no knob or other device on the bar to aid in this operation, our forebears soon found that to open a weather-swollen door with so scanty a hold was an almost impossible task. Hence the development of these various inside lift ends, from the slightly curved or shapely rounded ones to the lengthy and attenuated rat-tail ends. Some of the latter types measured about eight or nine inches, as for instance those on the doors of the church at Little Haddam, Conn., and various others shown in the illustrations.

This logical development, it seems reasonable to assume, was but natural in localities where the start was made with the straight scanty lift. But the fact remains that many of the old latches had curved lifts. And this is true both in the colonies and abroad, for there are old latches with both types of lift in many of the European countries as well as in America.

So it is quite evident that the blacksmith, when making latches, followed local custom unless overruled by the demands of his client. Hence we find the straight lift in the ascendant in one locality, while in others the curved lift seems to have been the more popular.

The bar, too, came in for its share of improvement, at first just by an added thickness of material welded on at the catch end. Later this end was given an outward thrust or bend to insure a better grasp. Then came the fashioned knob, either the shapely welded turnover of the Moravian specimens, or a similar device with a spiral end. And, finally, there is a fullfledged grasp like the one on the bar of the Whittier House latch at Haverhill, Mass.

X500 Latch bars

Interior latch bar Standard Interior Bar

Bar on plate Bar on plate

Exterior Door Latches

All of these latches have knobs or lift bars for operation on both sides of the door but none have key mechanism. For locking devices with these latches use X710 key only lock, or X660, or both.

Iron latches like these were used on many doors throughout the 18th century. Today the use is generally for informal "country" homes, or on other than the main entrance door of "towne" houses. We offer most iron items in two grades, semi-hand made (B), and completely hand forged (C). The hand forged items are suitable for the finest restorations.



Cat. No.





 6 x 4" iron plate latch with bolt




 6 x 4" iron plate latch without bolt




12" x 6" with 2-1/4" oval knobs




7" bar latch with bar on plate




same as X355-C12 except 8-1/2" bar with 1-3/4" oval knobs




12" bar with 2-1/4" oval knobs



All "B" quality items have flat black paint and pyramid head screws, no changes are possible. Rattail keepers are also available. See installation instructions for picture of rattail keeper .

All "C" quality items; standard finish is flat black paint, with pyramid head screws. Special finishes or nails, if ordered, NO EXTRA CHARGE. Price includes rattail keeper.



All thumb and bar latches are universal, that is, they will work on either right or left hand doors but when ordering X301 it is necessary to state which hand; the one illustrated is for a LEFT HAND DOOR.


Copyright 2002 - Ball and Ball
Last modified: Thursday, 31-Oct-2002 20:01