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20 plus ideas for the best old-fashioned door bell

In this guide to finding the best old fashioned door bell for your front door, you’ll find a little history along with recommendations for vintage push chimes, antique reproductions of twist knob door bells, shopkeeper’s bells, vintage-style door knockers, and antique door bell accessories like chimes and chime covers. 

We hope you have time to read the whole guide, but if not, please see the Table of Contents below to quickly take you to just the right spot.

History of the old fashioned door bell (and other ways to knock!)

Necessity is often called the mother of invention. Apparently, long ago, there was a need to help us announce ourselves at someone’s home. Knocking, of course, is basic. However, rapping our knuckles against a front door is often a futile, if not painful, effort. They aren’t likely to hear us.

So, along came the door knocker. There were plenty of ironmongers around to fashion knockers from simple to elaborate. For some houses, though, the knocker needed a little help. So, along came the mechanical chime. A chain was available near the front door. You pull it and inside it rings a bell. 

An alternative was a twist handle. A visitor would twist the handle, which in turn would ring a little bell on the inside of the door. Eventually, these hand turn doorbells were connected to an electrical chime. 

The first air-powered doorbell was invented by William Murdoch (1754-1839), a Scottish inventor who developed gas lighting, as well as an early form of air conditioning, a steam gun, an oscillating steam engine, and the pneumatic tube message system.

old fashioned door bell

The American scientist who invented the doorbell was also the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. John Henry invented the first doorbell in 1831, but it required expensive batteries. It was a century later before the use of doorbells became widespread. At that point, doorbells could rely on an electrical current within the house.

Old fashioned door bell in a hand turn or twist

A vintage or antique reproduction twist doorbell doesn’t require batteries or electricity. They are designed to insert directly through your door. Some reviewers have found that these vintage doorbells also work beside the front door, if you are willing to elongate the shaft so that it can go through a wall. 

You also want to make sure the bell sound is not muffled. Here’s a tip from a verified purchaser on Amazon. If you are placing it in your door, please note that you will most likely need to cut the spindle to the desired length depending on the width of your door.

“If you screw the bell all the way along the stem until it is touching and flush with the door, the wood of the door will absorb the vibrations of the bell, leaving you with a very dull rattle/rumble instead of a clear ring. Remember to leave a little space between the bell and the surface of the door when you install it.”

4 of our favorite hand-turn mechanical doorbells

Solid brass wireless mechanical doorbell in antique brass finish from one of our favorite stores for reproduction for reproduction door hardware. It also comes in oil-rubbed bronze.

Another choice from the A29 store is still Victorian style but without the engraved decorations. It comes in antique brass, as pictured, or oil-rubbed bronze.

We love the products at House of Antique Hardware. This mechanical chime is based on a Russell & Erwin original from 1893. Russell and Erwin Manufacturing began in 1839 in New Britain, Connecticut.

A smooth Victorian dome on a decorative plate is cast in heavy brass. Some homeowners simply replace a knocker with a mechanical chime doorbell so they don’t need to drill another area of the door.

How to install a Victorian twist doorbell

Old fashioned door bell in simple push chimes

The push button doorbell chime from A29 Hardware comes in two styles and several finishes. The Eastlake Victorian style comes in antique brass finish, black powder coat, and polished nickel. The Victorian style comes in an oil-rubbed bronze finish or polished lacquer.

Eastlake style is part of the Queen Anne or Stick styles of Victorian architecture. The name comes from British architect Charles Eastlake (1836–1906) who influenced a furniture movement in his name after the publication of his book Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details.

According to NoeHill, an avocational website that explores historic sites in Northern California, the design elements that distinguish Eastlake style are:

  • Oversized porch posts, railings, balustrades, bargeboards, braces and pendants shaped by a lathe.
  • Wooden forms cut by a jigsaw. Curved brackets, scrolls, and other stylized elements were placed at every corner, turn or projection of the façade.
  • Perforated gables and pediments.
  • Carved panels.
  • Beaded spindles and lattice work along porch eaves.
  • Strapwork (interlaced strips of wood).
  • Mansardic porches with wrought-iron cresting.
Stratford Ontario ~  Canada ~  76 William St ~ Queen Anne Heritage House
Photo by Onasill ~ Bill. Click to view on Flickr.

More vintage doorbells with push buttons

Whether you purchase an antique or vintage reproduction old fashioned door bell, please be sure to read the fine print. Not all doorbells come with a chime. Most chines need to be purchased separately. Basically, the chime is what causes it to make a sound! Your antique door bell will need to be wired into a chime box.

Most antique reproductions, like the ones below, are designed to operate a standard door chime.

Round brass retro antique reproduction doorbell in bronze finish.

The Edwardian push button vintage doorbell in antique brass.

A Spanish style fleur de lis cross lighted doorbell in hammered wrought iron. Comes in black and bronze.

Heath Zenith push button doorbell with a lighted center in antique brass.

Heath Zenith wired door chime with 2-note melody for front door.

More front door style ideas waiting for you!

4 of our favorite old-fashioned shopkeeper’s bells for doors

Small but cute. The faux bronze product comes in an antique finish and attaches to a door or gate through a magnet.

Metal rose. Another magnetic lightweight shopkeeper’s door chime comes with three bells and a butterfly pendant.

Solid brass. This vintage style design features three ornate bells with the clapper in the center.

Whimsical design. A magnetic sunflower with three bells and sunflower pendant on clapper.

old fashioned door bell
Pin to save old fashioned door bell ideas for later!

4 of our favorite old-fashioned door knockers

Go gothic with this heavy cast brass bat door knocker. Tarnish resistant finish.

Mix boho and vintage style with a brass sun and crescent door knocker.

Lion head door knocker in antique brushed brass. As the guardian of the home and a symbol of Great Britain, the lion head knocker became popular in early 19th century.

Go medieval with a rough cast antique production that looks like it belongs on a monastery door. It comes in 7 finishes and up to 6 in a package. You can also buy just one.

Old-fashioned designs in doorbell accessories

Vintage-style grills for door chimes

A grill in toasted Sienna finish from Quorum International, located in Fort Worth, Texas.

A white wooden cover that goes well with styles from Farmhouse to Victorian.

Also from Quorun Internation in Texas is this Victorian style grill to cover a chime box. Note the intricate scroll work design.

Chime boxes for an old fashioned door bell

Wired doorbell receiver with a classic white arch. It has two tones available for the front door and one chime for the back/second door.

Doorbell receiver in antique distressed look. It has two tones for the front door and one chime for the back/second door.

Old fashioned door bell: Our product recommendation list

For your convenience, we have rounded up the favorite products we presented in this article and brought them together in this list for you!

Hand-turn mechanical door bells
  1. Vintage Victorian door chime with carved scrolling
  2. Mechanical chime with solid dome in antique brass
  3. Russell and Erwin Victorian reproduction
  4. House of antique bell in oil-rubbed bronze
Old-fashioned door bell push chimes
  1. Eastlake style in antique brass finish
  2. Victorian style in polished lacquer
  3. Antique reproduction of round press button doorbell
  4. Edwardian push button in antique brass
  5. Spanish style fleur de lis
  6. Heath Zenith in antique brass
  7. Heath Zenith wired door chime box
Old-fashioned shopkeeper’s bells for doors
  1. Vintage style horse and bell
  2. Bronze rose with three bells
  3. Solid brass triple bell
  4. Sunflower with three bells
Old-fashioned door knockers
  1. Bat door knocker in heavy cast brass
  2. Sun and crescent moon door knocker
  3. Lion head door knocker
  4. Adonai Hardware iron door knocker
Vintage-style grills for door chimes
  1. Quorum grill in toasted sienna finish
  2. White wooden cover
  3. Victorian style grill cover
Chime boxes for an old fashioned door bell
  1. Wired doorbell receiver in classic white arch
  2. Doorbell receiver in distressed vintage style

Door knocking over the years: A list of phrases

We had to knock on a few doors to find the very best old-fashioned doorbells for you. That got us thinking about all of the phrases we’ve heard growing up having to do with “knocking.” Just for fun, let’s think of a few. If you have more to add, please add them to the Comment section at the end of this article.

  • Knock, knock. Who’s there?
  • Knock on wood
  • Opportunity never knocks twice
  • Opportunity only knocks once
  • Three, four, knock at the door

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