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    

1920 Hubley Art Deco Bathing Beauties By Fish~antique Cast Iron Door Knocker YqzCast Iron Figural Bird On Tree Door Knocker Woodpecker Moveable NiceAntique Victorian English Mermaid Door Knocker With Scallop Shell In Hands.Vintage Avon Kjl Kenneth Lane Feline Panther Door Knocker Necklace PearllBrass Door Knocker Joblot X 6 Trusty Servant Fox Ship Pixie Jenny Jones OrnamentOld Door Knocker Rare!!Judith Ripka Sterling Silver Door Knocker Diamonique EarringsAntique Humpback Whale Tail Bronze Door Knocker-heavy- Big- 4 Lbs / NiceDiamond Earrings 18k Yellow Gold Door Knocker Pave .75ct 14.8gramsThree Victorian Brass Horse And Shoe Door Knocker And Two OthersAntique Victorian Cast Iron Door Knocker And Door Pull / Knob SetOld Nautical Decor Rustic Verdigris Bronze Cast Iron Mermaid Door Knocker 7" ..Vintage Wooden Truncheon Club Billy Tire Door Knocker Police 12" Bat NightstickCast Iron Rustic Buck Deer Head Antlers Door Knocker ElVintage Brass Ludlow Castle Old Door Knocker Deco 1930s Princes In The Tower6' Chinese Fengshui Brass Fu Foo Dog Guardion Lion Beast Head Mask Door KnockerVintage Antique Brass Hand Door Knocker With Door Screw.Heavy Vintage Solid Cast Brass Alsation German Shepherd Dog Door Knocker 709g!!Original Old Gothic Bat Door KnockerAntique Brass Door Knocker, Napoleon BonaparteAntique Brass Wood Pecker Door Knocker Pull Chain VintageVintage Door Knocker Cf Anchor Woman Fist Ball3 Deco Bracelet Ring Cast IronVintage Heavy Brass Lion's Head Door Knocker Nice Patina.Amerock Carriage House Antique Brass Door Knocker1920's Cat Iron Door Knocker !! Antique Waverly Studio C/i Painted Door KnockerParrot Cast Iron Door Knocker-antiqueLarge Heavy 2 Pound Antique Bronze Door Knocker & Backplate Real Unique PieceLabyrinth Faux Door Knocker Hanger Sign Muppet Jim Bowie David Henson MusicalVirginia Metalcrafters Vintage Solid Brass Door Knocker Horse Head Nib Complete#65 Antique Victorian Solid Brass Door Knocker HandleAntique Vintage Flowered Large Cast Iron Door Knocker Vintage Brass 4 1/2" Tall Horse Head Working Door KnockerCast Iron Door Knocker Vintage Style Flower Basket Pink Blue Shabby CottageAntique C.1900 Old French Solid Bronz Hand Door Knocker Rare W/ring On Finger Vtg Pelican 20oz. Solid Brass Door Knocker Nautical Beach Sea Bird Decor Hdwe.Old Antique Reclaim Edwardian Period Solid Brass Bulldog Door Knocker Brass Buddha Door Knocker Large With Round Knocker PieceBaldwin Brass Door Knocker Lovely Ornate Vintage Brass Door Knocker - Figure Of Sir Francis DrakeAntique Brass Door Knocker Old Unique 887 StampRalph Lauren Women's Silver Tone Oval Door Knocker Hoop Earrings 1.5 Inch DropVintage Ciner Door Knocker Clip On Earrings Huge Chunky TexturedAntique Brass Horse Head Door KnockerTexas Long Horn Cow Rustic Metal Door Knocker Lone Star Home Barn Decor Gift 6" Handmade Bronze Door Knocker Handle . Roman . Byzantine . Greek .Antique Queen Brass Old Door Knocker Made Into A Stand Door StopVintage Couture Jeweled Door Knocker Glass Pearl Chandelier Clip EarringsTraditional Irish Door Knocker, Claddagh Heart, IrelandVintage Brass Lion's Head Door Knocker Antique Victorian Small Brass The Victory Sailing Ship Door Knocker P25Solid Brass Pelican Door Knocker 5 1/2" Tall New Vintage Salesmans Sample Size Door Knocker BrassFashion Gold Celebrity Lion Head Statement Door Knocker Loop Earrings Stud FancyVintage Brass Horse Head & Lucky Horse Shoe Equestrian Door KnockerVintage Large Door Knocker Clip Earrings Gold Tone Very Pretty!Longhorn Door KnockerVintage Brass United States Seal Eagle Door Knocker Wall Art Piece Vintage Brass Tennis Racket Door KnockerWow! Lot Of Vtg Interchangeable Colorful Plastic Door Knocker Clip On Earrings Vintage Red White Polka Dot Plastic Door Knocker Dangle Mod Pierced Earrings F35