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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.
Especially if you are purchasing a gift. You may not know exactly what you want. The decor of the home should be considered. Door knockers come in many styles and finishes. You would not place an ultra modern style door knocker on a colonial style home. Many traditional styles do not fit in well with modern houses. If your purchase is for a wedding gift or housewarming gift and you may not know where the door knocker will wind up. In this case there are many styles available that are universal. If not certain of the final location it is best to stay simple. Do not get to fancy. A simple style goes with most decors.
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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.