A finial is an element marking the top or end of some object, often formed to be a decorative feature. In architecture it is a decorative device, typically carved in stone, employed decoratively to emphasize the apex of a dome, spire, tower, roof, or gable or any of various distinctive ornaments at the top, end, or corner of a building or structure. Where there are several such elements they may be called pinnacles. Smaller finials in materials such as metal or wood are used as a decorative ornament on the tops or ends of poles or rods such as tent-poles or curtain rods or any object such as a piece of furniture. These are frequently seen on top of bed posts or clocks. Decorative finials are also commonly used to fasten lampshades, and as an ornamental element at the end of the handles of souvenir spoons. The charm at the end of a ceiling fan pull chain, or a lamp pull chain is also known as a finial.
During the various dynasties in China, a finial was worn on the top of the hat's civil or military officials during formal court ceremonies. The finial was changed to a knob for other daily usage (including semi-formal ceremonies).
A "ball-style" finial is commonly mounted to the top of a stationary flagpole. This is sometimes incorrectly called a "truck", which is the mechanism that connects the finial to the pole. There is an urban legend which claims that the ball contains a razor, lighter, and flare. According to the legend, the items were meant to be used to destroy the flag in case the post was overrun by the enemy. A related and less pleasant version claims that the finial should have a bullet, knife, and matches so the last surviving soldier can continue fighting (with the knife), and if need be destroy the flag with matches (to prevent it from being captured), and take his own life with the bullet. In actuality, the finial of a flagpole is generally inaccessible, and contains nothing.
The United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard employ a variety of different finials depending on the flag in question, the Marines and Coast Guard deferring to the Navy's protocols.
Bed posts and curtain rods
Bed posts often end in finials. Wooden posts tend to have turned wood finials. While the purpose of finials on bed posts is mostly decorative, they serve a purpose on curtain rods. They provide a way to keep a curtain from slipping off the end of a straight rod.
Curtain rod finials can be seen to act much like a barometer of public taste. Many designs hark back to the gothic and neo-gothic of architectural finials, while other contemporary finials reflect minimalist, art nouveau and other traditional styles of décor. The use of different materials is as wide as the range of designs with brass, stainless steel, various woods and aluminium being employed with a variety of finishes such as ‘satin steel’ and 'antique brass'. The durability, strength and machinability of modern alloys have lent themselves to increasingly intricate and dazzling designs.
Lamps and light fixtures
Some lampshades or light fittings, especially in glass, typically terminate in a finial which also serves to affix the shade to the lamp or fixture. Typically the finial is externally decorative whilst hiding an internal screw thread. There are several standard thread sizes which are used.
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- Koppes, Wayne F.; Roehm, Jack M, eds. (1980). Metal Flagpole Manual. Chicago, Illinois: National Association of Architectural Metal Manufacturers. p. 21.
- Army Regulation 840-10 Flags, Guidons, Streamers, Tabards, and Automobile and Aircraft Plates, Chapter 8 "Flagstaffs and Flagstaff Heads (Finials)", § 8-2, 1 November 1998
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