Knobs and Knockers

Settle down please, I’ll have none of that.

This is a sensible guide to cleaning your brass door furniture (a ludicrously brilliant term).



“When cleaning brass knobs or door-knockers, protect the paint by a piece of cupboard, out of which a hole has been cut just large enough to allow the brass edges to clear. For a brass door-knob slit the cardboard at the side, allowing the knob to pass through, and slip back firmly around the knob. You can then polish the brass without soiling the surrounding paint.”

As much of a rarity as brass door miscellanies are these days, this actually sounds like quite a handy tip; apparently Brasso can soften paint, especially if you scrub too hard, or (presumably) with repeated use. I’m sure Kim and Aggie would be proud.


This led me on to wondering about the history of door knockers.


According to an article from 1918 on Alberti’s Window, Greek slaves were originally chained to the front door by (you guessed it) a big ring, to which an iron rod was attached for rapping on the door. Isn’t it frustrating when there’s a visitor and your pesky door-slave has run off (again) or cry in a corner or whatever? If only there were a solution…

And so, of course, people kept the iron ring/ rapper affair even after there were no slaves attached, because actually it’s quite handy if you want to be heard.  Of course, as ever, if you had the money you got a big and ornate one as a status symbol. This also gave the blacksmith his chance to shine, as he hardly ever got to do fancy stuff. Since relatively few people could afford one it’s likely that your door-knocker would be custom-made, giving you an opportunity to link it to a coat of arms, motto or some other feature that could serve as both heirloom and public reinforcement of family superiority down the ages.

Doors have always been heavily associated with symbolism: think of Christmas wreaths and carrying a bride in for the first time. For obvious reasons thresholds are places you want to guard, and the Romans often put over the door an image of Priapus, the well-endowed god of fertility and good fortune who was said to ward off the evil eye. I have even found unsubstantiated rumours of Priapic door-knockers in Pompeii, which must be something to (be)hold!


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