Architectural Brass Escutcheons
The modern home is full of architectural brass, so much so that at times it can go unnoticed. Although you may actually see it, one of those little things that actually are rarely thought of is an escutcheon, the little brass cover plate that surrounds many keyholes. Although a keyhole surround is actually the true test of what an escutcheon is, it has become the term now which is used for any architectural brass that surrounds anything in the home such as a light switch or cabinet door handle. Most escutcheons are brass stampings although there are some which are cast and then finished, these variants can be quite costly.
Escutcheons date back to the medieval period when they were made from iron, pounded out by a blacksmith. They were simple plates that were used to mitigate the wear on the door from large heavy keys which were in use then. As most doors were produced from soft wood, the area around the keyhole was easily marked and chipped by the heavy key. As time went by the material changed from iron to brass and the escutcheon became not only utilitarian but decorative as well.
Escutcheons are commonly found in DIY shops, hardware stores and stores catering to the professional builder. Although many are brass, they are also readily available in brushed and polished stainless steel and chrome plated. There are literally hundreds of designs; based on the architectural theme of the home or the furniture. You can see designs mimicking the Victorian era with intricate carvings and designs as well as simple flat stampings that highlight the keyhole location and provide simple protection to the wood.
When one traces the history of the escutcheon it shows that they were not only used to provide protection from heavy keys, they were also used to indicate the occupants of the house. Many were hammered into the shape of the family crest, obviously for use in the homes of the wealthy and titled. The designs were quite intricate, usually shaped like a shield with the crest as an integral part of the design.
Today they are no longer used to identify the home owner, as a piece of architectural brass they are used to signify the design taste of the owner as well as provide surface protection.