Welcome to the ABA! Bell Talk Forums Small Bells 1811 Mission Bell

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    • #10895

      Kathleen in California wrote:

      I inherited about 20 bells, about 10 are old mission bells from 1811 FE, Mexico with figures of Christ and Mary, in different sizes (for example, 8″ dia. x 9″h., 12 1/4″ dia. x 11″ h.) Is “FE” Santa Fe? Would appreciate any info. Thank you in advance Sincerely, Kathleen

      After asking her to send a few pictures, she responded with additional information:

      I have the bells in storage so I will go by and take some pictures of them this weekend and email them to you. After looking at one of the bells I have here, the year was 1810. Most of the bells were purchased around 1970 and some of the larger bells were from a foundry in Sonora. One of the bells was sent to Chem-Met Assoc. for an assay report in May of 1980. The report determined that the bell was 79.35 weight % of Copper
      17.06 ” % Zinc
      0.18 “: % Nickel
      2.42 ” % Iron
      0.99 ” % Others(Mn,Al,Pb)
      It was the opinion of M.P.Christensen, Assayer, that the bell was probably cast between 1850 and 1875. This was not one of the bells with a date on it. I’ll get those pictures out asap. Sincerely, Kathleen

      Since I was unable to post pictures at the time, I forwarded them to Max Kurillo who wrote:

      Dear Kathleen,
      You have some nice bells in your collection that really do seem to be old. I have been researching bells of this type for about ten years now and even have a small 1811 bell. You have provided a chemical analyses, something I always wanted to do. What bell was it taken from, could I have a picture. I assume this was done only on one bell. I wonder if the others would be the same. This would indicate they were made at the same location. When I look at the composition; 79.35 Cu, 17.6 Zn, .18 Ni, 2.42 Ir, .99 others. I do not question the report, but let us work with it. Melting point of Cu 1981 deg., Zn 787 deg., Ni 2646 deg., Ir. 2700 deg., Mn. 2246., Al. 1217., Pb. 621 deg. We have a range of 621 deg. to 2700 deg. this had to be done in a foundry with a large furnace. The question is; why was Ni, Al, Ir, Pb (bad for a bell), and Mn. put into this bell? . No need to have Ir , Al. or Mn in a bell. You have brought in lots of questions, I want to thank you very much for bringing this analysis up for discussion. In the April/ May, 1976 issue of the ABA Bell Tower, Mr. H.H. Miller of the Miller Brass Foundry, Durreon, Mexico writes, ”Another custom when a bell is needed is to collect all the brass and copper junk in the neighborhoods. A typical collection sent me at one time contained everything from brass beds to Ford radiators, phoney jewelry, obsolete copper coins, counterfeit pesos, copper wire, tin tags, a weather vanes, sun dials, window screens, pewter mugs, and a large service plate“. It appears as if all types of Junk was thrown into this mixture These styles of bell were first sold in Chicago during the 1950s, as documented by ABA members: See Bell Tower Index, Mexican Bells, Comments on Mexican Bells Dated 1815 or 1818 , October 1986, pg 19 and Mexican Bells, The 1811 Mexican Bells and the Chiantel Fondeur 1878 Bells, Nov/Dec, 1988, pg.56. In both articles the authors say almost the same thing “I saw a window full of them on display at Marshal Fields in Chicago” and “”Marshall Field of Chicago sold these bells in their State Street Store. They made quite a promotion of them and had a widow full of these bells”. At this time we cannot trace the style of your bells beyond the 1950s. Thank you very much for the opportunity to comment on your bells. Max Kurillo

      If you can add information, please do so.


      This inquiry was originally sent to the ABA’s Internet Coordinator. Responses are opinions of individuals based on their personal research and knowledge.

    • #13895

      I too am curious about the metal content. But seriously wonder if, back in the 1800’s, if they were as concerned about the low level content of the metals as we would be today. A large foundry would have to be producing a lot of different material to be viable. Would the labor force be as well trained? Would they keep the melting pots clean/separate or would cross contamination not be a large factor? I.E. lead was used for a lot of material (bullets and cannon shot come to mind) and if they had a contaminated vessel coated in the hardened slag would it not give the unusual readings for the bells cast next? Secondly, is there not a chance they were experimenting with metals used as well? That would also explain the findings.

      It’s nice to see the real bells from this era though!


    • #13896

      Wonderful bells.

      The date stamped on mission bells is rarely the date of manufacture. More often it’s a commemorative date, but many of these mission bells are quite old and were installed along waysides as religion spread through northern Mexico and the southern U.S. They were found in missions, on stand-alone bell towers, and sometimes on poles. It’s harder to find them now as they are apt to be stolen and many of the bell towers now stand empty. There are also many reproductions.

      You were wise to get a metal analysis. It’s invaluable information. If more people do that, it may, in time, make it easier not only to date them, but to identify individual foundries. My guess, on examining quite a few of these mission bells is that many of them come from a specific foundry or small group of foundries.

      The bell on the bottom right is a little less common than the bell above it and the one to its left.

    • #13894

      Hello to the people following this item,
      The bells that Kathleen has shown us are what I classify as “Mexican” type souvenir bells. Her bells were never intended to be “mission bells” or even church bells. They probably never saw the inside of a mission or church, any verifiable documentation I would be happy to receive. The only documentation dates to circa 1950, which is well after the mission period of the southwest including California, when they were first introduced to the U.S.A. market. They are still being cast somewhere in mainland Mexico. I am finishing up on an extensive article for the Bell Tower on these bells. The designs, etc on the bells are all cast as is, not as some claimed “carved” on the surface or stamped. If these type bells were stamped they would most likely crack. ID of the bells, by any type of metal analysis, would be impossible there is absolutely no casting quality control. Research on old Spanish bells that were provided to the Spanish missions of the Southwest were well cast. Some were beautiful others were very nice. Casting for the Church at that time was a proud art, done in Spain, France, England and often Peru to mention a few locations. These “Mexican” type souvenir bells cannot, in any way, be compared to the original “Mission Bells” of the Southwest. Please read my remarks above. Max K.

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