The ‘trade’ refer to the hardware attached to your front door as ‘furniture’. The minimum any door needs is a set of hinges and a latch or lock. Everything else is optional. Standard ranges these days come in brass, polished chrome or satin chrome finishes. These are generally plated finishes applied to the same basic steel items but some will be available in solid brass – at a price. The black stuff, which looks distinctly Gothic or Tudorbethan, is either cast or wrought iron. Some items (especially door knobs) are available in a bewildering variety of finishes – nickel (polished, satin or pearl), real bronze, gunmetal and Tudor bronze – but before picking an exotic finish check to see if your whole suite of front door furniture and locks is available to match.
When Rowland Hill introduced the Uniform Penny Post in 1840, suddenly every house needed both a letterbox (properly termed a ‘letter plate’) and a door number. That great Victorian invention of the Penny Black postage stamp meant that the sender now paid the postage not the recipient. For the first time, letters could be delivered when you were not at home.
Letter plates come in all manner of designs and sizes to suit all periods from Victorian front doors to Post-Modern front doors. After ‘style’, the two most important considerations are size and location. Overall sizes of letter plates are still often quoted in inches and you will need one measuring 12” wide by 4” high (305 x 102mm) if you want to receive A4 size envelopes without folding. The classic Victorian four-panel door almost invites a letter plate in the centre of its mid-rail. The high-waisted proportions of a 1930s front door door suit a letter plate immediately below the glass, perhaps with the additional flourishes of a ‘shelf’ and ‘skirt’. From the postal worker’s viewpoint, letter plates should not be so low down that it becomes necessary to bend double to deliver your letters.
Some door designs – especially those with two tall panels – only really suit a letter plate placed on the vertical centre line. Unfortunately, very few letter plates have the hinge on the short side so you are likely to end up using one which was intended to be fixed horizontally. Slightly strange, I feel. Remember also that, in the world of door furniture, very little is standard. Before rushing to replace your existing letter plate with a shiny new model, do pause to measure the dimensions of the existing aperture behind it. Will the flap on your new letter plate open into this slot?
A nice round or octagonal centre knob adds dignity to a period front door and serves a useful purpose for pulling a large door closed behind you. Another option is to combine either the door-pull or the knocker with the letter plate. A plate with an integral knocker is termed a ‘postal knocker’. One with a rigid handle is a ‘postal handle’. Knockers – dare I say it? – can be either large and ornate or slim and unobtrusive. Take your pick. ‘Lion’s Head’, ‘Ring’, ‘Georgian Urn’, ‘Scroll’, and ‘Doctor’ are only some of the descriptive titles for the choices available. The great advantage they have over door bells is that knockers always work and don’t rely on batteries or wires. So often these days you press a door bell and seemingly nothing happens – and you don’t want to seem impatient by pressing it again too soon or holding down the button for too long. Take our advice and knock, knock!