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    

Early American Wrought Iron Snake Tavern Inn Door Knocker Primitive Folk Nr YqzAntique Hand Crank Brass Door Bell Patent 1867 & Sea Serpent Door KnockerHeavy & Elegant, Retro Deco Solid 14k Yellow Gold Door Knocker Estate Earrings Antique Masonic Brass Door Knocker & 32 Masonic Eagle Pocket Watch Fob& ChainVintage Solid 14k Yellow Gold Door Knocker Hoop Earrings 1.35gRustic Lodge Brown Pine Tree & Bear Cast Iron Cabin Door Knocker Home Decor NewRare Vintage Givenchy Haute Couture Door Knocker Dangle Clip Earrings Solid Brass Wolf Or Fox Head Door Knocker1920s Vintage Speakeasy Door Knocker And Peephole Art Nouveau StyleAntique Door Knocker Bronze Victorian Woman 1800's LargeOld Antique Edwardian Period Squirrel Reclaim Brass Door Knocker With Rd NoStunning Solid Brass Art Nouveau Letter Box Door KnockerRustic Lodge Brown Pine Tree & Bear Cast Iron Cabin Door Knocker Home Decor NewRustic Cast Iron Nautical Mermaid & Dolphin Beach Home Door Knocker Decor NewVintage Cast Iron Cat Face Door Knocker Cottage Chabby Chic Rare!Vtg German Shepherd Dog Brass Metal Old Door Knocker. #1279Antique Brass Grandfather Clock Door Knocker / Door Furniture /old Brass KnockerAntique? A Kendrick & Sons Unusual Cast-iron And Iron Door Knocker--door Pull Brass Lion Cat Head Door Knocker Model Sculpture Animal Ornament Vintage RareCast Iron Antique Style Rustic Anchor Door Knocker Nautical Towel Ring Asia Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerAsia Collectible Decorated Old Handwork Copper Carved Dragon Door KnockerCast Iron Rustic Bull Elk Moose W/ Antlers Door KnockerAntique Vintage Metal Hammer Door Knocker Hardware Black Unique Repurpose!Vintage Cast Iron Bird Door Knocker Vintage White Shabby Cottage Chic Iron Angel Cherub Door Knocker RusticAuthentic Brighton 2 Tone Sillver Plated Open Hearts Door Knocker EarringsRare Vintage Cead Mile Failte Irish Leprechaun Solid Brass Door Knocker Ireland7" Indian Bird Door Knocker Brass Sculpture Metal Hardware Antique Wall ArtPost 1940 Vintage Victorian Style Cast Iron Door Knocker Doorknocker Face 8"Antique Brass Eagle Door Knocker2014 Women Punk Gold Lion Head Statement Door Knocker Loop Earrings Ear StudGold Textured Chunky Lion Head Punk Statement Door Knocker Loop Earring Ear StudAntiqued Solid Brass Nautical Decor Sea Turtle Tortoise Door Knocker Doorknocker5.11 Inches Vintage Pig Head Piggy Front Brass Door Knocker With Pull KnockerVintage Cast Iron Door Knocker Lizard Gecko, Hard To FindCast Iron Chabby Chic Butterfly Door Knocker White WashedVintage Bottle Decanter Genuine Leather Lions Head Door Knocker Leather Italy Charming Women Golden Lion Head Statement Door Knocker Loop Earrings Stud Iw2602pcs Gold Tone Lion Head Statement Door Knocker Loop Ear Stud Celebrity Earrings