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]



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    

Lg Antique Cast Iron Figural Devil Head Old Gothic Victorian Estate Door Knocker1910's Figural Cast Iron Full Figure Pear Fruit Door Knocker By Hubley MfgAntique 1910 Masonic Temple Door Knocker Brass Genuine Lodge Furniture Ref 244mt1910's Figural Cast Iron Liberty Bell Form Door Knocker In Original Paint1920's Figural Cast Iron Man In A Red Fez Hat Door Knocker In Original PaintVintage Commemorative Brass Door Knocker - Ww2 Prime Minister Winston ChurchillGold Color Earrings 60 Lot Hoop Dangle Stud Drop Post Door Knocker Dolphin More1910's Figural Cast Iron Ye Olde Curiosity Shop Door Knocker In Original PaintVintage Brooch Pin Door Knocker Style Amethyst Rhinestone Cluster Gold Tone J52David Yurman Door Knocker Earrings $11,000 Designer 14.0ct Diamond 18kt Gold Big & Bold "door Knocker" Earrings $99Folk Chinese Fengshui Bronze Copper Dragon Head Mask Statue Gate Door Knocker NrVintage Brass Fox Door KnockerVintage Ducks Unlimited Door Knocker Mallard Duck Head Solid Brass D.u. HunterAntique Edwardian Old Brass Door Knocker Tudor House Taunton Rd No. Vintage 1909Sterling Silver~marjorie Baer~large Door Knocker Earrings~vintage~signed~rareHarley Davidson Fine Pewter "door Knocker"Victorian Padlock & Key Cast Iron Door Knocker Rustic Finish Country Lock & KeyLarge Vintage Brass Norseman Viking Door KnockerVintage Heavy Brass Speakeasy Set Door Knocker Peep HoleVintage Art Deco Copper Tone Big Spaniel Dog Door Knocker Style Statement BroochNautical Decor Ocean Sea Giant Octopus Door Knocker Alumunium Home Decor 10.5"hBrass Rabbit Door KnockerCast Iron Door KnockerAntique Brass Door Knocker Tom Chrudd Crudd Ripon Minster Unicorn Inn Reg 1909Antique Bronze? Lion Door Knocker Beautifully Cast With Pointed Beard To Lift Vintage Brass Bell Door Knocker Fox-bird- Dogs Ornate Vocem-mean-a Ovime-tangitVintage Antique 80s Gold Enamel Door Knocker Stud Earrings Deceased Estate VtgAntique Vintage Style Cast Iron Lion Head Door Knocker HardwareVintage Cast Iron Door Knocker Hand Holding A Soccer Ball With Strike Plate Andrea Sadek Brass Skeleton Keys Door KnockerAntique Vintage Brass Three Wise Monkeys Door Knocker Architectural Salvage 4½"Vintage Brass Lion Head Door Knocker & Striker PlateVintage Christmas Card Lady In Red Flocked Coat Skirt Fur Trim Gold Door KnockerVintage Cast ? Brass ? Door Knocker Eagle DesignStunning Vintage Estate Art Nouveau Door Knocker 2 1/2" Brooch!!! 3080cAntique Victorian Maiden Brass Heavy Duty French Door KnockerVintage Barrera For Avon Signed Door Knocker Hammered Gold Tone Earrings Clip-onJohn Deere Tractor & Barn & Silo Cast Iron Coat / Robe Hook & Door Knocker ComboSolid Brass Horse Head Horseshoe Door Knocker 5" X 4 5/8" In Good ConditionVintage Kjl For Avon Gold Tone Door Knocker Earrings With Crystal Accents Vintage Brass H. Pomerantz & Co. Art Deco Door Knocker Lion Shield Pin BroochSolid Brass Blue Crab Door Knocker Nautical Fl Home/beach House/front Door DecorJudith Ripka Cz Sterling Silver Door Knocker Pierced Earrings Repair DiamoniqueAnne Klein Door Knocker Pierced Lion Head Gold Earrings VintageAntique Old Rustic Architectural 19th C Solid Brass Bail Handle Door KnockerCat Head Door Knocker Metal, His Eyes Move, Brand ?_ Designs Ltd 4.25" X 2.75"Large & Heavy Vintage Brass Door Knocker Girl In A Head Dress Roman Greek GodVintage Metal Ornate Door Knocker Area For Name Or House Number Knight MidevilCast Iron Door Knocker Antique Edwardian College University Study Door Knocker Bronze Lincoln Imp