by: Joel Michael
stored in: General

hemacite door knobRelatively recently, say the last 14 years or so, any combination of blood and sawdust in our house meant I was suffering through another woodworking project in the basement. But, back in the late 1800s, this odd mixture of organic materials was used for all kinds of manufactured goods. It was known as hemacite. And long before we moved in, someone decided hemacite would be perfect for all of our decorative door hardware.

It seems that hemacite was invented by Dr. W.H. Dibble of New Jersey to make money from the abundance of leftover blood from slaughter houses and the waste from lumber mills during a period when there was so much of both that he could often obtain his resources for nearly nothing. The proper combination of the elements under enough pressure in a mold produced all sorts of things from roller skate wheels to, well, door knobs. Before plastics, hemacite was about as versatile of a material as you could find making it popular for Victorian architects and designers.

140 years after installation, our door knobs still work. However, they don’t have their original appearance. Unlike brass or bronze, hemacite doesn’t develop a patina. Over time, the friction of so many generations of torquing hands is wearing away the molded flutes around the edges. Our skin and the air itself are making the exposed surfaces crusty, hiding the details designed into each piece under brittle dark brown flakes.

So far, I haven’t been able to find any matching hemacite door knobs to replace ours. The closest I came was in Portland, Oregon in a store called Hippo Hardware. An energetic yet easily distracted man named Billy was able to produce two new-looking hemacite cabinet knobs after learning that I had something similar and as unusual. I couldn’t use his cabinet knobs, but it was a treat to see hemacite as it would have looked as it just emerged from its mold.

Billy was quite the character. In fact, Hippo’s Billy was the person who educated me on all things hemacite. He even gave me homework. In a rare moment of intense focus, he said, “Google this: ‘At Death’s Door Knob.’ His excitement had me excited, so I did as he said and learned all that I’m sharing with you now. If you have any crumbling and mysterious Victorian material in your house, heed Hippo’s Billy. You’ll learn a little and possibly discover that you are in possession of some rare pieces of history, too – at least while they last.

One Response to “Sawdust + Blood = Hemacite”

  1. Danielle Dumont Says:

    Oh, goodness. Upon reading this post, our house guest refused to touch the doorknobs!

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