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A Short History of the Hinge

It’s probably true that as long as there have been door there have been hinges so it’s no surprise that history have a long hinges.  The exact origin isn’t known with  many metal hinges remain from periods dating back 5500 years having been discovered and  evidence that wood and stone were used to produce them hinges too.

The British Museum displays a fascinating bronze door hinge that dates from Egypt of the 25th-26th Dynasty approx 760-650 BC. It is Inscribed with the names of Amenirdis I and Shepenwepet II and described by the Museum as “of massive proportions, and probably belonged to one of the many monumental doorways of a Theban temple. Although there are extensive remains of the stone parts of these structures, little remains of the door and doorway furniture and fittings, which were often taken down and reused.”

At this period hinges would have been a sign of power and affluence – they were not used in everyday homes.  Metal was expensive and labour-intensive to fabricate, so ancient emperors who wished to show how powerful they were exerted their wealth to purchase metal hinges.

At a later date and more prosaically the British Museum also owns armour fittings from the Roman fort site at Hod Hill, Dorset that date back to the 1st century AD. These are fastenings for Roman body armour, worn to protect the chest and shoulders and describes the “bronze hinges and buckles we can see in the picture held the strips of iron together. Short leather cords were used to tie the hinges and buckles together and the round studs also helped secure the sections.”

The history of the hinge in modern times

Advances during the medieval period helped ensure hinges became a more affordable commodity and there are many more examples preserved from this period. Mining metal ore became less costly, fabrication became less expensive. But craftsmanship was still at a premium and as the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance high quality hinges were much in demand for items like armour, shipbuilding etc.

A marriage in 15th century Florence was not primarily about love or religion. Instead it was a dynastic alliance between powerful families. To celebrate these marriages, pairs of great chests, lavishly decorated with precious metals and elaborate paintings, were commissioned. These items – now generally called cassoni – were often the most expensive of a whole suite of decorative objects commissioned to celebrate marriage alliances between powerful families. They were displayed in Florentine palaces and used to store precious items such as clothes and textiles. Many of the most famous names  in Renaissance art painted scenes for these cassoni.

Fast forward to the Victorian era as the Industrial Revolution had helped reduce the costs of production and powerhouse cities like Birmingham and the Black Country were now mass producing high quality hinges. The 19th century saw many hinge innovations, including hinges with ball bearings for smoother opening, and hinges with neat finishes. So many products with hinges entered daily life that to list them all would be ludicrous, and yet the expansion was far from over.

In the 20th century there were further developments in technology to keep up with changing tastes, fabrication and design. New decorative and corrosion-resistant measures are in place to protect metal hinges from salty air or wear and tear while retaining visual lustre. And because so much new technology developed in the 20th century, hinges found places everywhere but their availability and affordability has improved accordingly.

Want to know even more? Check out our Hinge Fact File