Doorstops, or door porters, are short sculptures typically made from iron or brass and designed to hold open a heavy door. Similar to bookends, these metal objects were frequently manufactured with a flat backside to sit smoothly against a door.
Porters came into use during the Victorian Era and were often sold in a black or bronze finish, although a few were painted more realistically. In England, some of the most prolific producers of 19th-century doorstops include Falkirk, Coalbrookdale, and Archibald Kendrick and Sons. Their catalogs included shapes such as a bowl of fruit, a hunting dog, a clown, an Egyptian sphinx, a fighting lion and snake, a rabbit, an armored knight, a fox head, and a pair of storks.
While many doorstops feature abstract motifs or generic figures, others reference mythical stories or characters from pop culture, like Britannia on her warship, Punch and Judy, the Duke of Wellington, or Medusa’s serpent-clad head. However, the rarest door porters depict the most complex scenes, like the Biblical story of Rebecca at the well, young Hercules fighting a serpent, or a bear stealing honey from a beehive.
By the early 20th century, brightly painted doorstops had become a popular item of household decor in suburban communities across Europe and North America. Porters were sometimes sold in sets with other cast-iron accessories like bookends, door knockers, fire grates, umbrella stands, and more. In the United States, cast-iron doorstops reached their zenith in the 1920s and '30s, featuring concurrent trends of Art Deco, golfing, black Americana, and nursery rhymes.
As improvements in air-conditioning technology spread during the 1950s, the use of door porters gradually declined. Many original porters were never patented and included no foundry markings, meaning falsely advertised reproductions are common, so beware those doorstops with a rougher finish and coarse seams.