P. E. Guerin

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If you want a little piece of New York time travel, make an appointment—if only on a pretext—to enter the Dickensian world of P. E. Guerin, the oldest decorative hardware firm in the U.S. right here on Jane Street in Greenwich Village.

Martin Grubman holding an Empire vanity leg.

The firm remains defiantly 19th century, the manager, Martin Grubman, says people are always exhorting them to modernize: “It’s really annoying.”

As the photographs reveal, the whole building is a piece of old New York, all the more thrilling because it is not a museum but a living, working environment, part of a thriving business that now has six showrooms and several foundries in Europe.

Started in 1857 by Pierre Emmanuel Guerin, the business moved to its current location on Jane Street in 1892 and was passed down through the generations.

We were lucky enough to watch a metal pouring session, which they still do twice weekly on the top floor of the building. It remains an ancient, magical and alchemical process even if they were only making (beautiful) door knockers.

In fact the whole experience was slightly unsettling, setting era against era.

Stepping out afterwards into trendy Jane Street, where people were on their BlackBerrys, sipping expensive coffee in paper cups and parking their SUVs felt slightly depressing—like all comparisons with past and present, it’s so hard to know what has been gained and what has been lost.

Filing molding for a back plate.
Chasers, Arturo, Rafael, Sandra and Liliana at their bench.
Juan hand-turning a knob.
Crystal bird sconces being repaired.
Top: cutting tools and dies and bottom: various fittings
The metal pour (clockwise from top left): The foundry before the pour. Jose is putting on protective arm gear; Miguel is taking the temperature of the metal to determine the liquidity of the metal; Julio, Martin, Miguel and Jose are waiting to pour the metal; After the pour excess metal is removed.
Castings are being removed from the mold after being poured.

The door knocker ring removed from the sand after it is poured.
A dolphin lever removed from the mold.

Miguel, Julio, Jose, Martin and Carlos.
Scrap brass about to be melted.
Patterns in a sand mold.
Parts of a false core are cut away to reveal the impressions of items being cast.

Mold of a door knocker ring in the sand.
Rows of extra castings.
The plating department.

Levers and rosettes after being plated.
Elephant cabinet knobs in process of being plated.
Octavian is fitting plumbing in the fitting department. The spider is a leftover from Halloween and not part of the P.E. Guerin inventory.
Handle for a glass bowl for designer, Kathryn Scott.
The forge for brazing brass.

Extra brass stock.
Scrap brass shavings.
A rose for a doorknob about to be chased. The table was on direct current (DC) power until 1992.
Fitting faucet parts.
Door knobs about to go to plating.
Looking across the second floor fitting, chasing and lathe workroom.
The pattern room.

L. to r.: A crystal chandelier is being repaired for a longtime customer.; Assorted patterns for ornamenting furniture.
Assorted patterns for ornamenting furniture.
L. to r.: Old reference books.; Various ornaments in the pattern room.
Various rim locks in the showroom.
Paumelle hinges on display in the showroom.
Custom cabinet knobs and levers.

The elephant is a pattern for a basin spout.
A turtle basin set.
Dolphin basin set.
L. to r.: Porcelain sinks and an exterior house light on display in the showroom.; Towel bars and a reflection of the owner, Andy Ward.
The Astaire Deco faucet set.
Shop cat ‘Marie Antoinette’ enjoying a cup of coffee. Her brothers Pierre and Claude not shown. They can do no wrong.
Martin Grubman and Andy Ward.

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