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In olden times there were two different hand-knockers one male and one female as it was considered inappropriate for the woman of the house to open the door to a man. Visitors would use the knocker according to their gender. Each knocker would make a different sound so the woman of the house would know whether or not she should open the door. These gender-based knockers have become less popular in modern times. Door knockers have been used to symbolize everything from hospitality to good luck to warding off bad spirits. With recent ironmongery technology more iconic door knockers can be made by twisting the metal into intricate designs.
The holes being small due to smaller diameter mounting hardware is easily fixed with a drill. If the holes are to far apart or to close this is another matter. The distance between the holes is called the Bolt Center or BC dimension. There is a reason for this seemingly odd name. You want the bolt to go through the center of the hole so this is the point that you would mark the door to be drilled. The problem you run into when replacing an existing door knocker is the holes are already drilled through your door. On the outside the holes can be covered by the knocker itself but on the inside they are exposed.
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Origins of door knockers A door knocker is an item of door furniture that allows people outside a house to alert those inside to their presence. It has a part fixed to the door and a part (usually metal) which is attached to the door by a hinge that is lifted and used to strike a plate fitted to the door making a noise. The strike plate if present would be supplied and fitted with the knocker. Door knockers are often ornate but may be no more than a simple fitting with a metal bob or ring. Many older period houses and mansions often have intricate knockers in the shape of human heads or mythical beasts. The earlier designs were based on statues that would stand in front of ancient Greek houses. These statues were created with distorted grotesque features and were thought to be used to ward of malignant spirits and witches.