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    

1920's Hubley Cast Iron Figural Butterfly Form Door Knocker Original Paint1920's Hubley Cast Iron Figural Crowing Rooster Form Door Knocker Original Paint1920s Hubley Cast Iron Figural Flower Basket Form Door Knocker Original Paint #21920s Hubley Cast Iron Figural Flower Basket Form Door Knocker Original Paint #11895 Figural Cast Bronze William Shakespeare Form Door Knocker Original PaintGargoyle Door Knocker Large Devil Face Cast Iron? 16" Gothic Vintage HardwareGenuine Old Lner Railway Door Knocker - Rare - L@@k - L.n.e.r RailwayHeavy Vintage Brass Bull Door Knocker AntiqueVintage Old Style Beer - Door Knocker Welcome Lighted Bar SignVintage Heavy Brass Wolf's Head Door Knocker Jardin 7574 Womens Pavé Door Knocker Green Crystal Drop Earring Jewelry BhfoNadri Silver Tone Crystal Door Knocker Style Adjustable Necklace 16" To 18" EucRare Morning Glory Cast Iron Door Knocker #608, Hubley Or Judd, Estate FreshVintage Hubley Painted Cast Iron Parrot Door Knocker ~ #16 ~ No ReserveOld Large Brass Door KnockerHubley Door Knocker - Little Girl - Cast Iron - Signed GhrVintage Cast Iron Door Knocker,flower Basket, White,blue , Pink, WonderfulFolk Chinese Fengshui Bronze Copper Dragon Head Mask Statue Gate Door Knocker Wonderful Large Vintage Horse's Head Brass Door Knocker - B.e.l, Great BritainLarge Chinese Bronze Foo Dog Foo Lion Door KnockerAntique Brass Edwardian Old Curiosity Shop Door Knocker Reg 1911 DickensVintage Attractive Solid Brass American Eagle Door Knocker DoorknockerChinese Fengshui Copper Dog Lion Beast Head Mask Evil Spirits Door Knocker Mk Antique 19th Century 1" Gilt Brass & Milk Glass "door Knocker" ButtonVintage Durham Brass Door Knocker - Lion Devil DemonVintage 80's Rocker Chic Beaded Lightweight Door Knocker Chandelier Clip EarringAntique / Vintage Solid Brass Door Knocker From England 8 Inches By 4 InchesVintage Brass Bald Eagle Door KnockerOrnate Medallion Style Door KnockerVintage Israel Brass Lion Door Knocker Towel Ring Holder Box 69Antique Brass Door Knocker Of Child Chinese Bronze Carving Beast Door Knocker Tooth Teeth Amulet Pendant StatueMade In England Brass Fox Door Knocker Hunting Sporting Vintage7" Brass Bird Door Knocker Vintage Etched Embossed Bells Of Sarna Antique Brass Door Knocker IndiaVintage Large Cast Iron Rooster Door Knocker, Estate FindVtg Soccer Player Brass Door Knocker Mkd. 3.5" Long X 2" Wide. Vgc Moveable Metal Door Knocker Button #2924Old Solid Brass Demon Door Knocker With Clapper .Antique Brass Chinese Dragons Head Possibly Door KnockerVintage Cast Iron Pineapple Door Knocker Rustic Finish 5 1/2"Chinese Fengshui Copper Dog Lion Beast Head Mask Evil Spirits Door Knocker NrAsia Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door Knocker M620Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door Knocker No0057Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door Knocker Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerVintage Solid Brass Eagle Door Knocker #1244 EmigNice Antique Cast Iron Door Knocker W Cherubs And FacesAntique Brass Door Knocker 1900s Lucky Horseshoe & Horse HeadVtg Brass Door Knocker Shakespeare House StratfordPre-owned Wear/resell Earrings~large Gold Tone Door Knocker Pierced~2 PairsChinese Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Hammered Pair Dragon Door KnockerLarge Chinese Bronze Foo Dog Foo Lion Door KnockerCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerCollectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerWomen Gold Plated Celebrity Lion Head Statement Door Knocker Loop Earrings Stud Chinese Folk Copper Fengshui Foo Dog Lion Head Evil Spirits Door Knocker Pair