18 Aug Doorstop

I brought home a doorstop from an auction recently. Jill doesn’t like the doorstop but I’m not sure what her doorstop aesthetics might be, since we never see doorstops anymore. Who’s to say what a doorstop should look like? Mine is cast iron, probably made about 1920, and in the shape of a clipper ship — an adventurer’s ship, apparently. It’s hand-painted, as they all were back in the day.


It used to be that every household had doorstops. From 1850 to 1950, hundreds of varieties were made in cast iron, most of them of animals, but also in the shapes of light houses, baskets of flowers, stage coaches, gnomes, soldiers, Southern belles and so on. My country grandmother had three doorstops in her rickety, little house: a terrier carved of stone (maybe chalk), a fabric-covered brick, and a pale oblong stone that, for reasons no one could explain, smelled of rot. The “rotten rock,” we called it.

doorstopA few years back, I gave Jill a doorstop as a gift. It’s a Boston terrier of cast iron, made about 1900. It must have been the most popular doorstop ever made because it is, without question, the most numerous in antique shops and online and, even now, reproductions of it are coming in from China. The appeal of the cast iron Boston terrier resides in its startled, slightly disturbed doggish gaze. The reproductions don’t capture this expression, but the originals are quite fetching.

You may wonder what ever happened to the doorstop. Or maybe not. The explanation is simple and twofold: 1) In the 1950s, people grew less inclined to lug doorstops around because Americans started moving more than ever. Cheap, lightweight, and unobtrusive doorstops came into fashion–those springy pegs jutting from baseboards, those rubber-nubbed kickstands on the back of doors, and those bulbous bumpers screwed to the wall. In short, those quaint, heavy, often garish doorstops seemed way too old-fashioned. 2) Then air conditioning all but eradicated the need for doorstops because, thanks to air conditioning, we now seldom open our windows wide for a breeze. It’s the breeze, of course, that makes the doorstop necessary.

doorstopA brisk breeze reduces the air pressure on the exposed side of the door. This causes the stronger air pressure on the unexposed side to push the door shut. Or slam it shut. Since Jill and I have only window unit air conditioners, we avail ourselves of mild weather more often than not — and then we “open the house.” All the windows up, all the doors open wide. You better believe you hear doors slamming in our old place. So we have need of doorstops.

I’ve installed my ship at the most problematic place, against the third floor guest room door, which often slams shut with a thunderous crack! as a wicked breeze banshees its way from the top of our house to the bottom, finding egress at last through the kitchen door, which we open wide to our back yard.