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    

Original Victorian Cast Iron Door Knocker Kendrick & Son England Ca1870Quality 14k White Gold Genuine Diamond PavAntique Cast Brass Door Knocker Drop Loop Wt&s Victorian Aesthetic 19th Century Vtg Kjl Kenneth Lane Couture Lion Head Doorknocker Runway Earrings Necklace SetVintage Solid Brass & Verde Green Devil Dog Lion Door Knocker 4" KnockerVirginia Metalcrafters Cast Iron Door Knocker With Gold Color Finish | Quality!Outstanding Cast Iron Lion Head Door Knocker ... No Reserve/ Free Shipping!Antique Solid Brass National Insignia Eagle With Shield Door KnockerVintage Large Heavy 8" Eagle Wreath Brass Door Knocker JapanVirginia Metalcrafters Door Knocker Solid Brass Vintage Wood Almost 22" Fish Whacker Billy Tire Thumper Door Knocker ClubVintage Brass Door Knocker ~ Bournemouth Town Coat Of Arms HeraldryVintage Coro Door Knocker & Key Double Brooch Chatelaine PinVintage James Avery Signed Sterling Silver Heart Door Knocker EarringsGreyhound Door Knocker.Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Hammered Pair Dragon Door KnockerVintage Wood Almost 26" Fish Whacker Billy Tire Thumper Door Knocker Club Royal Magestic Lion Architechural Doorknocker Antiqued Cast Iron Door KnockerCast Iron Horse Shoe Door Knocker Rustic Lodge Brown Pine Tree & Bear Cast Iron Cabin Door Knocker Home Decor NewHip Hop Bamboo Round Hoop Doorknocker Earrings Gold Tone LargeAntique Solid Cast Iron Door Knocker "hand Holding Ball"Vintage Cast Iron Victorian Door Knocker Flower Basket Cottage ShabbyVintage Brass Door Knocker ~ Canterbury Cathedral & Thomas A' Becket4" Vintage Brass Anchor Door Knocker - Sea Motif, Ocean, ShipAsia Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door Knocker NcHeavy Vintage Cast Iron Wellington/wellie Boot Door Knocker Farm Cottage QuirkyCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerAntique French Iron Door Knocker W Fist & Lion Antique Vintage Speak Easy Peep Hole With Door KnockerCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Hammered Pair Dragon Door KnockerAntique Cast Iron Flowers Door KnockerVintage 1950's "black Poodle" Door Knocker New/old Stock Vintage Brass Door Knocker With Letter Drop Slot Classic Old Vintage Style Metal Cast Iron Black Cat Face Door Knocker HalloweenGreyhound Door KnockerGate House Brushed Nickel Door Knocker New 7"Pineapple Door Knocker Top Topper Cast Iron Cast Iron Antique Style Rustic Lion Head Door Knocker Brown Finish Joan Rivers 3 Color Changeable Doorknocker Rhinestone Gold Tone EarringsAcorn Door KnockerPaolo Gucci Vtg Couture Moonstone Lucite Cabochon Door Knocker Clip EarringsHarley Davidson Door KnockerVintage Cast Iron Lion Head Door KnockerHip Hop Bamboo Round Hoop Doorknocker Earrings Gold Tone LargeHope Works Ltd. Ironwork Door Knocker Lion HeadVintage Billy Club Tire Thumper, Door Knocker, Fish Whacker, Nightstick Vintage Brass Door Knocker ~ Cries Of London Old Chairs To Mend FurnitureBrass Antique Door Knocker Key And Bonus Rooster Hook New Cast Iron Metal Frog Leaf Door Knocker - Vintage Old Look Michael Healy Designs Mhr62 Bay Scallop Doorbell Ringer - Nickel SilverSilver Nose Stud Bone Ring One (1) Doorknocker With Tiny Ball Sterling 20 GaugeVintage Double Headed Eagle Large Brass Door Knocker Russia Austria HungaryVintage Pair Of Coro Door Knocker Brooches G. Verrecchio 1946 Retail $350!Large Lion Head Lions Antique Cast Iron Door KnockerAntique Brass Named "bulldog" Door KnockerVtg. Door Knocker Style Metal Drawer Cabinet Pulls Set Of 2 See DescriptionSigned Roman Rhinestone Art Deco Style Door-knocker Gold Pierced 1 1/8" EarringsVintage Signed Lucien Piccard Gold Tone Clip Earrings Square Door KnockersDollhouse Miniature Bronze Fleur-de-lis Door Knocker - Unusual Accessory