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]

Vintage Machinery

Vintage Machinery

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, also includes a large database of manufacture… [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    

Fine Quality Solid Brass Vintage Fish Front Door Knocker Knob Handle 1.7kg NrVictorian Gothic Bat Head Cast Iron Door Knocker - Archibald Kenrick Beautiful Rare Antique Islamic Indian Mughal Bronze Door Knocker Fine Quality Solid Brass Vintage Fish Front Door Knocker Knob Handle 1.7kg NrHuge Antique / Vintage Brass Persian / Islamic Door Knocker Persian Cow / BullMiniature Dolls House Large Traditional Lion Head Door Knocker Knob Handle LgwVintage John Hardi Sterling Silver Cutout Design Door Knocker Clip EarringsFox Door Knocker. Brass.2- Vintage Brass Color Antique Greek Male Face Door Knocker Apollo HeadAuthentic John Hardy Bamboo Door Knocker Earrings 925 Designer **no Reserve EucVintage Virginia Metalcrafters Federal Style Brass Eagle Door Knocker Pair Nr!!!Olympia Brewing Beer Bronze Door Knocker Gift Wendell August Forge Animated Door Knocker Vintage Brass Cat Kitten Door Knocker Handle, Never Used Beautiful W/hardwareDoor Knocker: Wehrmacht Panzerjagers Set Up At Ready W/ Pak 36 3.7cm Gun!!!Vintage Brass Duck In Flight Door Knocker - 7"/300g Hunting Countryside CottageGop Elephant Door Knocker From 1976 ConventionAntique Brass Lion's Head Door KnockerVintage Lion Head Cast Door Knocker Brass? Van DykesAntique Brass Door Knocker Rare Original Vintage Antique Brass Door Knocker - Lions Head DesignSolid Brass American Military Seal Eagle Door Knocker United States PresidentialLabyrinth Faux Door Knocker Hanger Sign Muppet Jim Bowie David Henson MusicalAntique Bronze Ornate Gothic Door Knocker ~ Amazing !Antique Victorian Cast Iron Butterfly Door Knocker Ringer Pat. Apld. For. OldCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerCollectible Decorated Old Handwork copper Carved Dragon Head Door KnockerMackenzie Childs Retired Mrs. Powers Solid Brass Door Knocker New Sold Out!Antique Victorian Solid Bronze Bloodhound Dog Door KnockerRare Vintage Door Knocker By Hubley Designed By Grace Raynor 1921 Vintage Brass Door Knocker - Elephant And Rider - Good Condition Large Vintage B.e.l Brass King Richard First Door Knocker Made In Gt BritianVintage Metal Religious Sanctuary Unusual Door Knocker - Cathedral ReligiousVirginia Meatalcrafters Vintage Ferderal Eagle Style Brass Nib Door Knocker?Vintage 1940's Coro Ornate Articulating Door Knocker Brooch - Book PieceRare Vintage Old Style Beer Welcome Door Knocker Lighted Bar SignAntique Mini Parrot Brass Door Knocker Who Goes There - Vintage Cast Iron Lion Head Door Knocker LargePair Chinese Bronze Foo Dog Foo Lion Door KnockerBonkers The Clown Door Knocker Halloween Animated Decoration Prop AnimatronicBuddha Statue Home Decor Brass Sculpture Door Knocker Decor IndianMichael Healey Door Knocker Solid Brass Heavy Door Knocker Cast Iron Hand Painted Antique 3 1/4" Long X 2" Wide Antique Vtg Cast Iron Door Knocker Mail Letter Slot Vintage Door Knocker Earrings Clip On Gold Tone Chunky 2"+ Huge Nice!Cockington Forge Antique Bronze Door Knocker "blacksmith Scene"Vintage "avon Calling" Reps. Silvertone Brooch/pin- Door KnockerAntique Vintage Knights Of Pythias Fcb Door Knocker Eagle Horseshoe HelmetNice Vintage Estate Sterling Silver Large Door Knocker EarringsAntique Door Knocker Vintage Brass Elf/pixie/goblin Door Knocker / Antique Brass Devon Door Knocker6 Better Home 5-1/2" Chrome Door Knocker With Viewer Peep Hole Sets 698dc NewCast Iron Butterfly Door KnockerVintage Doll House Miniature Door Knocker Brass Tone Detailed Nice