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]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Fine Original Victorian/edwardian Large Solid Brass Figural Door Knocker C1900sJudith Ripka Designer Sterling, Black Spinel & Diamonique Door Knocker EarringsOriginal Antique Victorian Kenrick Cast Iron Door Knocker Grotesque Gothic FacePair Of John Hardy Sterling Silver & 18k Y/g Bedeg Door-knocker EarringsCollectable Old Masonic Heavy Brass Door Knocker - Compass DesignAntique Miniature 4" Door Knocker Colorful Parrot Old Orig Paint Hubley? C1920sAntique Brass Door Knocker - Grandfather Clock - Antique - Very Old Solid BrassVintage / Antique Brass Kewpie Doll Baby Door KnockerVtg Retro Mod Trifari Brown Marble Plastic Pendant Earrings Big Door KnockerJardin 7794 Womens Pav?? Door Knocker Black Crystal Drop Earring Jewelry BhfoVtg Lion Head Door Knocker W Human Face & Strike PlateVictorian Black Cat Door Knocker Brass Halloween OldBrass Front Door Knocker,(in The Shape Of A Ships Anchor)Antique Cast Solid Brass Bronze Door Knocker Hand Figurine Part Gilt Vintage Vintage Rare Pioneer Hybrid Solid Yellow Brass Corn Door Knocker By National Antique Solid Brass Roman Dolphin Door Knocker Awesome ConditionLarge Brass Key Door Knocker VintageJardin 7574 Womens Pav?? Door Knocker Green Crystal Drop Earring Jewelry BhfoVictorian Vintage Brass Door Knocker, Parts, Beautiful Design & PatinaFine Old Solid Brass Black Americana Boob Woman W/ Basket Her Head Door KnockerBeautiful Refined Big Rare Old Copper Foo Dragon Door KnockerFolk Chinese Fengshui Bronze Copper Dragon Head Mask Statue Gate Door Knocker Old Chinese Ancient Dynasty Feng Shui Bronze Foo Fu Dog Lion Head Door Knocker Folk Chinese Fengshui Bronze Copper Dragon Head Mask Statue Gate Door Knocker Nr**cast Iron Southwestern Kokopelli Mounted Door Knocker**Door Knocker Ship Royal Navy Hms Victory Antique Cast Brass With PatinaVintage Ornate White Cast Iron Door KnockerSolid Brass Sperm Whale Door Knocker Beach House/sea Life/home Decor Doorknocker Ives/schlage Solid Brass Door Knocker & ViewerScarce Collectible Old Handwork Copper Hammered Pair Dragon Door Knocker LargeVtg Brass Door Knocker Speak Easy Peep Hole Craftsman TudorVintage Christian Dior Haute Couture Clear Rhinestone Door Knocker Clip EarringsVintage Brass Heavy Door Knocker Eagle, 13 Stars&stripes Shield, Anchors, CannonAntique Old Brass Metal Lion Head Heavy Front Door Knocker Hardware UsedVintage Signed Ciner Gold Plate Interchangeable Door Knocker EarringsVintage Door Knocker Or Wall Decoration Vintage Cast Iron Door Knocker- Eyes Open CloseAntique Cast Iron Lion Head Door KnockerRustic Wood Carved Black Bear On Lodge Log Cabin Door Knocker Home Decor NewChinese Fengshui Copper Dog Lion Beast Head Mask Evil Spirits Door KnockerLarge Chinese Bronze Foo Dog Foo Lion Door KnockerCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerCollectible Old Handwork Copper Hammered Pair Dragon Door Knocker Large MkGorgeous Heavy High Quality Solid Brass 5" X 5" Door Knocker W/ Mounting ScrewsCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door Knocker Lovely Vintage Brass Lion Head Door Knocker - From EnglandMonet Signed Door Knocker Gold Tone Dangle Earrings PiercedPair Chinese Bronze Foo Dog Foo Lion Door KnockerLobster Door KnockerChinese Fengshui Copper Dog Lion Beast Head Mask Evil Spirits Door Knocker MkChinese Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerDoor Knocker Fleur De Lis French Apt New Orleans Cast Iron Great Rustic LookVtg. Napier Purple Enamel & Shiny Gold Tone Hoop Door Knocker Earrings~Large Cast Iron Walking Bear & Tree Door Knocker Flat Black ColorCollectible Handwork Old Copper Lucky Hammered Pair Dragon Door Knocker LargeBeautiful Premier Designs Black Faux Stone Door Knocker Style EarringsCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerCollectible Decorated Handwork Copper Hammered Pair Lion Door Knocker Asia Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door Knocker M620