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    

Door Knocker Bronze Edwardian Study Spider & Fly Web Boudoir Registered 1910Vintage Brass Tudor Lion & Tree Door Knocker-robert Gaylord Ca 1920'sOutstanding Cast Iron Lion Head Door Knocker ... No Reserve/ Free Shipping!Rare Scottish Vintage Brass Door Knocker Thistle Here's Luck 3 Pieces Antique Door Hardware Parts Bell Key Plate Door Knocker BronzeVintage Brass Basset Hound Dog Door KnockerVintage Brass Door Knocker In The Style Of A PheonixAuthentic John Hardy Women's Silver Kali Door Knocker Drop Earrings Black SapphiCharming Vintage Brass Cherub Putti Herald Door Knocker 1980s Angel BugleLabyrinth Faux Door Knocker Hanger Sign Muppet Jim Bowie David Henson MusicalVirginia Metalcrafters / Harvin Solid Brass Eagle Door Knocker # 4021Vintage Brass Ornate Greek Lady Door KnockerCast Iron Figural Bird On Tree Door Knocker Woodpecker Moveable NiceVintage Kenneth J Lane Lion Head Gold Door Knocker & Gold Avon Clip On EarringsHubley Vintage Flying Parrot Cast Iron Door KnockerVintage Brass Crab Door KnockerVintage Brass Door Knocker Basket Of Flowers Hubley? Old Antique Reclaim Solid Brass Cherub Rococo Door Knocker Vintage Kenneth Jay Lane Kjl Avon Lion Door Knocker Pearl Necklace & EarringsVintage Cast Iron Rustic Sailboat Door Knocker / Wall MountLady Door KnockerAntique? Vintage Solid Brass Door Knocker Cat?Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Hammered Pair Dragon Door KnockerVintage Brass Door Knocker Masonic Crusader On Horseback Arm & HammerCast Iron Door Knocker Vintage Flower Basket Style Pink Blue Shabby CottageDoor Knocker Bat Cast Iron VintageRare Scottish Vintage Brass / Bronze Door Knocker Spanish Galleon C1950'sCast Iron Door KnockerAntique Style Door Knocker Lions Head Design Cast Brass -very NiceHp Whimsical Courtly Checkerboard Check Door Knocker For Adult Or Childs DoorGivenchy Signed Gold Tone Faux Pearl Door Knocker Earrings Pierced Liffey Artefacts Ireland Irish Brass Claddagh Cead Mile Failte Door Knocker NibVintage Gold Tone Lion Head Door Knocker Pierced EarringsVintage Door Knocker Or Cuffed Hand Holding A Wreath Metal ButtonWonderful Old Victorian Silver Spoon W/door-knocker HandleVintage Gatco San Francisco Brass Tone Hardware Flying Goose Door KnockerSolid Bronze Woodpecker Door Knocker Artist Signed Lengyel Unused W/ HardwareLong Black Onyx Door Knocker Sterling Earrings Vintage Pierced Drop DangleVintage Solid Brass Lion's Head Door Knocker-no ReserveVintage Brass Door Knocker "dog In Its Kennel, Cat On The Roof"Antique Brass Door Knocker ..... Needs Work Vintage Large Brushed Gold Costume Door Knocker Dangle Clip On Earrings JewelryFashion Gold Celebrity Lion Head Statement Door Knocker Loop Earrings Stud Fancy