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    

Genuine Antique Brass Lion Plaque Victorian Door Knocker 1800s Very Handsome!Beautiful Estate Solid 14k Yellow Gold Big Dangle Door Knocker Earrings 1.25" NrBronze Victorian Study Door Knocker R Heims Gargoyle Boys Face American1920's Hubley Cast Iron Figural Door Knocker In The Form Of A WoodpeckerMiniature Dolls House Large Traditional Lion Head Door Knocker Knob Handle LgwsLovely Old Vintage Cast Brass Fox Door KnockerVintage Brass - Letters - Door Mail Slot And Door Knocker HandlePineapple Welcome Door Knocker - NewVintage Door Knocker Fish Shabby ChicVirginia Metalcrafters Vintage Solid Brass Horse Head Door Knocker 1949 StrikerAntique Original 1900's Art Nouveau Solid Brass Combi Letter Box/door Knocker.Old Large Brass Door Knocker -classical/art Nouveau Female HeadVintage - Solid Cast Brass Door Knocker/pull *never Used*Antique/vintage Brass Cherub Door KnockerAntique Bronze Ornate Victorian Woman Face Door Knocker. Rare Lady W/ FlowersLabyrinth Faux Door Knocker Hanger Sign Muppet Jim Bowie David Henson MusicalAntique Cast Iron Medieval God Goddess Roman Vtg Door Knocker Heavy Cast IronVintage Brass Door Knocker Goblin/ Ellf/ Pixie Large Size 6.3/4"Cast Iron Door Knocker Vintage Flower Basket Style Pink Blue Shabby CottageOriginal Antique Cast-iron "knock" Door-knocker & Letter-flap In VgcVintage Pineapple Door Knocker - Solid Brass - Heavy PieceCast Iron Rustic Buck Deer Head Antlers Door Knocker ElVintage Brass Letterbox And Door KnockerCast Iron Bull / Cow Head With Ring Hitching Post Barn Towel Holder Door KnockerUnusual And Rare Wooden Red Squirrel Door Knocker In Excellent ConditionSterling Silver - Mexico 10mm Door Knocker Band 11.6g - Ring (6.75) Tx0061Vintage Door Knocker Lion's Head Solid Brass? Copper? Fantastic Vtg Large Gargoyle Door KnockerVintage Old Not Repro Brass Lions Head Door Knocker Vgc Quality ItemVintage Brass Small Door Knocker Man With Skull Has Devil EtchedSuperb Vintage Solid Brass Fox Door Knocker. Metal Animal Door Furniture. LovelyOld Heavy Devil Gods Metal Door Knocker With Screws And Knob - KnockerJudith Ripka .925 Sterling Silver Onyx & Cz Door Knocker Style EarringsRare Vintage Dekalb Hybrids Seed Door Knocker In Box!!Brass Anchor Door Knocker NiceKenneth Jay Lane Kjl Gold Tone Lion Face Door Knocker Style Pierced Earrings Old Cast Iron Bumble Bee Door Knocker Lady Bug Honey Bee ?Vintage Brass American Eagle, Wreath Door Knocker, Ornate, Made In JapanWilliam Wordsworth Brass Small Door KnockerDollhouse Miniatures Eye Glasses, Soap Dish, Door KnockerDoor Knocker Brass/bronze Patriot Usa Eagle Flag Vtg 1967A. Kenrick Victorian Cast Iron Door Knocker - Fully Restored.Awesome Estate Find Vintage Cast Iron Floral Basket Door Knocker DistressedAntique Brass Door Knocker With York Minster West Front & Back Plate Design.Vintage Antique Brass Hand Door Knocker With Door Screw. Un Gold ColorAsia Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door Knocker1976 Amoco American Bi-centennial Eagle Liberty Bell Flag Bronze Door Knocker Anne Klein Earrings Silver Tone Lion Head Door Knocker 4" Solid Brass Door Knocker, Antique Finish, Lion Brass Door Knocker Unused With Hardware No Reserve!Fashion Gold Celebrity Lion Head Statement Door Knocker Loop Earrings Stud FancyChinese Bronze Fierce Lion Head Door Knocker 4.4"highChinese Brass Door Knocker With Dragon Carved Cast Brass Door Knocker And BellGargoyle Door Knocker Cast Iron Verdigris Green ManSan Francisco Solid Brass Cable Car Trolley Bell Door Knocker Wall MountMichael Healy Door Bell Ringer/door Knocker Combination - Palm TreeAntique Brass Door Knocker Bell Works EcCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerDoor Knocker Ring Shape Clear Crystal Silver Plated Stud Earrings Fashion E22