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The first known knockers were made out of wrought iron. These simple ornaments consisted of a thick ring and a plate which were used in the 17th and 18th centuries throughout North America and Europe. Human faces (not ghastly like Jacob Marley) an animal faces were popular designs that are still used today. The craftsmanship on some of these knockers was elaborate enough to compare to the most-polished sculpture. Basically the purpose is to save the knuckles of visitors. Although they mainly serve as decoration they are still made of brass pewter iron or stainless steel to be durable enough to withstand outdoor elements. Plus they must be heavy enough to make a sound when they are tapped against a door. Cast iron styles have been favorites for a long time for their simplicity and sturdiness. They are also good for complimenting a Western theme. Pewter is another popular material.
The door knocker itself will cover the existing holes. New ones can be made without distracting from the appearance of the door. The old holes should be filled with putty in to prevent moisture from getting into the door. Second is the through the door method. This method uses mounting hardware that passes through holes in the door to secure it from the inside. This one presents more challenges when it comes to replacement. The most obvious is the matching of the holes drilled through your door to the new door knocker. The holes need to match and be large enough to handle the hardware for the new knocker.
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This is also true of gargoyles which have similar caricatured faces in order to prevent spirits and ghosts from entering the house. There were also good luck knockers which were thought to have magical or healing properties and were used to encourage good luck into the home. These door knockers utilized a motif of good luck charms such as horse-shoes stars suns and flowers. The popular hand shaped knocker is often seen in Muslim countries and was believed to symbolize the Hand of Fatima which protected the house from evil. It was also thought to indicate that the occupants of that house were followers of the Muslim faith.