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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 urn door knocker is versatile and looks good on most modern day homes. It possesses a universal appeal that seems to fit in nicely with most architecture. It is available in many sizes varying from a small 4" height or less to very large 12" high. The size selection would be determined by the doorway that the door knocker is to be mounted on and the budget allowed. Some urn door knockers incorporate eye viewers as these fit in this design well. The eye viewer may be situated at the approximate center of the door knocker or it might be located at the top. When at the top the eye viewer usually replaces the upper installation hardware. The addition of the eye viewer provides the additional safety factor of being able to see who is at your door.
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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.