Icon: Beacon Hill Door Knockers
Benjamin’s pattern books, the unadorned knocker was as common as the boot scraper. When Boston became a center of wealth, homeowners sprung for fancier hardware. A very common upgrade was the classical urn motif, a signature of both the Federal (1800–1820) and Greek Revival/Regency (1820–1830) periods. More-intricate solid brass knockers—festooned with animal heads and other symbols of English heraldry—arrived before the Civil War, and were a product of the foundries that drove Boston’s booming economy.
Decorative knockers also served a symbolic function, explains Frank McGuire, co-chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s architecture committee. “Not all New Englanders came from families with a coat of arms,” he says. “[An ornate knocker] was their way of saying, ‘We’re a proper family.'” When doors with glass panes became fashionable in the Victorian period, there was no place to mount a knocker; by that point, however, electricity—and the doorbell—were already turning knockers into mere accessories.
These days, elaborate versions can cost more than $200 at Beacon Hill’s Period Furniture Hardware, and some believe they’re worth it. “There is a living tradition in these houses,” McGuire says. “A door knocker is not just something that makes a noise. It says something about the people on the other side of the door.”