Before electricity made doorbells ubiquitous, people used to announce their arrival at a friend or stranger’s front door by lifting a heavy cast-iron, brass, or bronze door knocker and rapping it smartly against the contraption’s strike plate.

Some door knockers (also spelled “doorknockers”) were designed in the shapes of faces and animal heads, while others were fashioned in the prevailing style of the day, from Arts and Crafts to Art Nouveau. But whatever their appearance, the sound they made would invariably trigger the barking of dogs followed by approaching footfalls. In other words, they worked.

They were often quite beautiful, too, which makes sense considering the first-impression impact they were designed to have. For example, cast-iron rococo door knockers from mid-18th-century France were built of multiple curlicues, with lone flat spots reserved for the points of contact between striker and strike plate. This, the knocker seemed to say, was the home of a family that valued style.

Similarly, the Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 spurred English metalsmiths to create a door knocker that featured a small lion’s head at the bottom of a laurel garland, whose pivot-point was gripped by a cast-iron fist. This, the knocker appeared to proclaim, was the home of patriots.

In general, there were three types of door knockers—hammer knockers, figurative knockers, and rings. Hammer knockers pivoted on a plate that sometimes extended below the end of the knocker to serve as its own striking surface. Other types of hammer knockers were attached to a smaller plate at the top, which meant a separate strike plate had to be installed in the door to keep it from being dinged by the knocker’s business end. Freemansons even made hammer knockers in the shape of hammers.

The designs of hammer knockers ranged from decorative shapes taken from nature and geometry to figurative ones, most famously in the brass, Victorian Era ladies hand, which held a heavy brass ball that clanked loudly when knocked against its companion circular strike plate. Even more historic were the wrought-iron fleur-de-lis door knockers formed from flat bands of hammered metal—the weight of the inwardly scrolling end of the band made a fine striker.

Figurative knockers incorporated everything from lion heads (a British favorite) to eagles (popular in the United States) in their designs. Sometimes the figure, or even just its...

Rings, such as those held in a lion’s jaws, often had a ball of metal on the insides of their bottom-most points, to give the shape weight and increase its volume when rapped. Some rings were stirrup shaped and thicker at their bottoms to give them heft while others resembled twisted strands of rope. Garlands, braids, and horseshoes are other examples of ring-style door knockers.

One type of door knocker that’s coincidentally of interest to collectors of postal antiques incorporates a mail slot into its design. Usually the slot is positioned horizontally, with the word “Letters” embossed across the face of its hinged flap. But some are vertical, which means the striker would have to be designed so that it, too, had a slot, lest it made the mail slot behind it useless.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Alloy Artifacts

Alloy Artifacts

A tool collectors’ dream, this site is a deep repository of photos and info on 20th century hand tools and the co… [read review or visit site]

Old Woodworking Machines

Old Woodworking Machines

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, now also includes a large database of manufac… [read review or visit site]

Drainspotting

Drainspotting

Josh and Cam Larios have created this site enabling people to upload and 'tag' photos of historic or artistic manho… [read review or visit site]

A Millers Falls Home Page

A Millers Falls Home Page

Randy Roeder has carved out a niche for himself with his fine website devoted to the history of the Millers Falls C… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

John Hardy Sterling Silver Kali Small Door Knocker  earrings Omega BacksFine Antique Hubley #607 Polychrome Painted Cherries Cast Iron Door KnockerAntique Speakeasy Door Grill Peep Hole Knocker Viewer Metal Art Nouveau Deco EraAntique Stag & Dog Brass Door Knocker Nice Example Old Antique Victorian Brass Door Knocker Inscribed By Maker C J S Vintage Coro Sterling Heraldic Door Knocker Crown Brooch Rhinestone Pin ~ No ResOutstanding Cast Iron Lion Head Door Knocker ... No Reserve/ Free Shipping!Vintage Brass Fox Door KnockerVintage Hubley #124 Cast Iron Door Knocker Flower Basket & RibbonLabyrinth Movie Door Knocker Collectibles Chinese Brass Foo Dog Lion Square Door KnockerMaritime Captain's Cabin Brass Porpoise Door Knocker 6 Inches In LengthOutstanding Cast Iron Lion Head Door Knocker ... No Reserve/ Free Shipping!Cast Iron Victorian Style Ornate Doorknocker Large & LoudVintage Halloween Cast Iron Scaredy Cat Door KnockerAntique Copper Gothic Cathedral Door KnockerVintage 80's Lion Door Knocker Faux Pearl Necklace Avon Kjl Kenneth Jay LaneA Pair Of Brass Door Knockers - Eagle & Figure In Folk DressVintage Brass Parrot Bird Door KnockerAntique Door Knocker Of Imposing Size & Design By Archibald Kenrick.A Regency Brass/bronze? Door Knocker C1820/37Antique Vintage Brass Door Peephole Knocker Speak Easy Art Deco Hotel Round Stunning! Unique Door KnockerVintage England Brass Horse Head And Fox Door KnockerVintage Reed & Barton Silver Plated Lion's Head Door Knocker Shoe Horn Leo #217Original Vintage Masonic Brass Door Knocker Freemason Mason Order Vintage Nautical Decor,solid Brass Anchor Door Knocker Very Good Condition Large Metal Figural Door Knocker-animal Bear Paw Claws -decorative Piece??Vintage Brass Fox Door KnockerVintage/antique Eagle Door Knocker Black Cast Iron 7" High X 5 1/2" WideUsn Pearl Harbor Hawaii 1982 Brass Diver's Helmet Door KnockerLarge Brass Lion Head Vintage Style Door Knocker Ring Rustic Lodge Brown Pine Tree & Bear Cast Iron Cabin Door Knocker Home Decor NewSmall Vintage Brass Elf / Pixie & Toadstool Door KnockerVintage "the Heritage Colonial Door Plaque" Bronzed Eagle-bell-flag Door KnockerVintage Solid Brass Figural American Bald Eagle Door Knocker Large 8" X 8"P. Kaufmann Upholstery French Lion Doors Knockers Pat Freund Fabric 2yds X54"Vintage Nautical Brass Anchors 2 Candle Holders Door KnockersVintage Celluloid Button Twisted Extruded Door Knocker W/ Paste Ome 1 & 3/4"Antique Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson Brass Door Knocker - Large - Vgc - BeloDachshund, Wiener Dog Bronze Duet Door KnockerBeautiful! Kjl Kenneth Jay Lane Lions Head Doorknocker Runway CouturenecklaceMichael Healy Solid Brass Door KnockerVintage Virginia Metalcrafters Solid Brass Newport Pineapple Door Knocker UsaPair Of Solid Cast Brass Lions Head Door Knockers 4.5" 380g Front And Back Door!Vintage Brass Alsatian Wolf Dog Door Knocker ~ Made In EnglandVtg. Door Knocker Style Pulls In A Lovely Turquoise Set Of 2 See DescriptionDecorative Black Iron Door Knocker 6.5 X 3.5Fashion Gold Lion Head Statement Door Knocker Loop Earrings Stud Nice CelebrityCelebrity Gold Lion Head Statement Door Knocker Loop Earrings Stud Fancy DressRare Vintage Pauline Rader Lion Door Knocker Whistle PendantAntique Large Lions Head Door Knocker Doorknocker Bronze Lionhead Lion BrocanteBoston Terrier Bronze Duet Door KnockerVintage Colonial Woman Martha Washington Cast Iron Metal Art DoorknockerMackenzie Childs Mrs. Powers Solid Brass Door Knocker New In BoxVintage New England Arts & Crafts Hand Hammered Door Knocker Vgc!Fantastic Antique Bronze Horseshoe Horse Head Door KnockerCast Iron Door Knocker Antique Vintage Little Girl Old Hubley Arcade Cast Iron Frog Door Knocker Frog And Lily PadShabby Ornate Old Vintage Very Ornate Metal Door Knocker On Door Sooo Chic