Hanging Pictures in Old Houses

A picture of Queen Victoria hanging from a picture spike at the top of, and centered in the section of wall. This method of hanging pictures was fashionable from the 1850’s through to the early 1880’s. [This type of Board and Batten ceiling was used in the 1850’s]

Even if the spikes were long ago removed, the holes and original placement of the picture spikes can usually be found with careful exploration and investigation.

Sometimes, very small pictures were hung on fine nails directly into the plaster, where the use of picture spikes was inconvenient, but these were not usual in most houses.

Picture knobs were also used, often where wood paneling was used in a room. These knobs were usually porcelain, but sometimes made of wood, with a centre hole for a long brass screw for anchoring the knob securely to the paneling.

After the mid 1880’s, the use of picture mouldings came into general use. These were continuous small strips of moulded wood, which was sometimes varnished, and other times covered with moulded plaster with a painted and gilt finish.

A gilded wood picture moulding with a painting hanging from a picture hook

Placed usually about 8″ from the ceiling in most Victorian houses, and later, after 1900, the placement of picture mouldings could be on the wall by as much as 18″ or even 24″ below the ceiling to accommodate fashionably wide wallpaper borders above the mouldings.

Pictures were hung on picture hooks that fit over the curved top of the picture mouldings. Picture hooks came in many, many variations of design and materials. Invariably made of metal for strength, they could be made of cast-iron in leaf designs, or in pressed metal – iron, steel or brass – or cast brass, in either polished or plated finishes. Picture hooks that were made of steel for strength, were plated in a variety of decorative finishes, from brass to chrome to an antiqued dark brass finish.

An offering from the 1902 Sears Roebuck catalogue for picture hooks

A selection of antique picture hooks that are curved to fit over wooden picture moulding can be found through specialist online antique dealers

From the picture hooks hanging from the moulding, pictures were usually hung by braided polished brass wire with a steel centre for strength.

Reproduction picture hooks and wire that are available today from specialist suppliers

Larger pictures or mirrors were usually hung from two hooks and two lengths of wire. Smaller, or lighter paintings were usually hung from one hook, with wire in an inverted “V”. See the picture below for several variations of hanging pictures in one dining room.

A Dining Room in England in the 1890’s, showing several different ways of hanging pictures from a picture-moulding rail.

For decorative effect, a silken cord was sometimes wound around the wire, giving a somewhat eccentric wobbled appearance to the cord as the wire was stretched taut, and the cord wound lazily up its length.

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