While we now press a doorbell to announce our presence outside of a home, in previous eras of history door knockers served this function. Door knockers dated back to ancient Greece and the middle-ages and were used to ward off evil spirits, witches, and ghosts. Churches didn’t need door knockers as the holy water at the front door prevented the evil spirits from entering the premises. Door knockers took the form of grotesque human and animal faces, as well as gargoyles, which were thought to scare away the evil spirits. Door knockers were made of cast-iron, brass, or bronze. Door knockers became more ornate during the Renaissance, with the resurgence of learning and art.
Three basic forms characterized door knockers: the hammer, ring, and figural. The hammer style consisted of a metal plate with a hinged striker. The knocker’s frame often extended down to become the striking plate. Ring types might have been smaller, with the ring plate being separate from the striker plate. Large figural door knockers were ornate, combining rings and figureheads. The Medusa was popular in Italy, while Great Britain favored the lion head. Because the lion head symbolized great strength and power, it stood guardian over many a home or building.
Door knockers also showed hospitality or helped bring good luck or healing to a household. These door knockers incorporated good luck charms, horseshoes, stars, moons, suns, and flowers into their designs.
Muslim countries popularized the hand-shaped door knocker. It was said to symbolize the Hand of Fatima, which protected the house against evil. The hand allowed other Muslims to know that a fellow Muslim occupied the house, particularly in countries that weren’t predominately Muslim. Different door knockers were used by males and females. Women weren’t supposed to open the door to men. The two-door knockers would have made different sounds, allowing the woman of the house to know if a man or woman asked for entrance to the home. The Jewish version of the story was that the hand belonged to Miriam, sister of Moses.
A door knocker may be the first impression we have of a home. Although ironmongers can shape metal into elaborate designs, many people still prefer the simpler designs like the ring, sun, or stars.