King Charles II of England posing for his royal portrait while being gifted a pineapple by the Royal Gardener, John Rose, 1675.
My parents used to live in Hawaii on a military base, where almost all of the door knockers were pineapples. I always assumed that the "welcome pineapple" or door and foyer adornments depicting pineapples, etc., had to do with the lively culture of Hawaii — wrong! I was delighted to find a much richer history when I did some digging.
Today, pineapples are seen as a welcoming motif — their depictions serve as door knockers, bookends, and tchotchkes, and they almost always come in a hotel gift basket. There is even a hotel here in Seattle that uses the pineapple as their logo. The pineapple is a symbol of hospitality and luxury, inspired by its historical rarity.
There are several histories recorded regarding the pineapple as a symbol of status, the most popular being that of Christopher Columbus. According to historical document, Christopher Columbus discovered the pineapple on his second trip to the Caribbean (most specifically Guadeloupe) in 1493. Preferring the sweet taste of the pineapple and several other tropical island fruits to cannibalism, Columbus and his men embraced the fruit. They returned to Europe, where the pineapples became a symbol of great wealth, as European gardeners were not able to grow the fruits in the correct conditions until well into the 1600s (first recorded in the Duchess of Cleveland's hot house in 1642). Honored and distinguished guests were gifted the extremely fashionable pineapples by royalty.
The Colonial pineapple trade in the late 1600s and early 1700s solidified the pineapple as a status symbol. Pineapples were not only expensive, they were fragile! The sea voyage from the Caribbean to the colonies rotted most of the fruit during the hot and humid voyage. Hostesses scrambled to have the expensive, prickly fruit adorning their tables, and the trend grew. Pineapples have graced tables ever since — even continuing through the 1950s in America, where pineapple upside-down cakes and gelatin molds abounded. Their popularity eventually gave life to the host of architectural or ornamental pieces that you see today (i.e. door knockers).
If you'd like to learn more about the pineapple as a symbol of friendship, hospitality and status, take a look at some of my sources: the University of Central Florida's pineapple history, The Symbolism of the Pineapple, and the Social History of the Pineapple.