Figural Bronze Bell "Bruges"
August 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm #12299
I’m new here and looking for some expert advice about a figural bell I recently acquired in an auction lot.
I don’t know anything about bells but I know figural bells are commonplace. However, most common figural bells I’ve seen are brass, not very detailed and without any kind of markings. When comparing this figural to a cheap shiny brass one my mum owns, I definitely feel this one is better quality.
It’s a small bronze bell with nice detail. Other than the “Bruges” on her right arm I cannot find any markings.
Skirt width at bottom = 6cm
Total height = 10cm
Any info would be appreciated, I assume it was made in Bruges? I don’t expect it to have any monetry value but I’d love to be corrected! The lot I purchased was filled with stuff from between 1920s and 1960s if that helps (mainly the latter).
Thanks in advance
August 26, 2013 at 10:33 pm #17568halanbParticipant
This bell is generally thought to represent Madame du Pompadour,
though you may also see it labeled Marie Antoinette.
Relatively common, usually one or two listed on USA or UK eBay.
It is a brass bell, made in Holland or Belgium, and marked to serve as a souvenir of Bruges.
It was made via sand casting in a two part mold (see mold lines on the interior, Pic 4).
It could well have been made in the 1960s. Unless otherwise protected, a natural patina will
develop over time, say 50 years. A reddish patina like yours would be the result of a chemical process.
These were made by a number of brass foundries, and quality and detail can vary widely.
I would say that yours is average, or slightly above average.
The most common sizes are 4″ and 6″, though I have also seen 3″ and 5″.
A decent 4″ bell might sell in the $20 – $30 range, and a 6″ bell in the $50 – $75 range.
Of course, a seller can ask any price s/he wishes.
August 27, 2013 at 2:10 pm #17569
That’s fantastic thank you 🙂 I barely have any questions left!
Does the fact that it’s lost its brassy appearance reduce its quality/value? I notice that 6″ quality bell you presented is very obviously brass whereas mine now looks almost bronze for the reasons you described.
Also, is the white-greenish crusty-residue on the bell (not easily visible on the images) verdigris or zinc oxide? Should it be left as it is?
Thanks again for all the info, I had a feeling I’d come to the right place!
August 28, 2013 at 4:50 pm #17571halanbParticipant
Quality/value on a bell like this would depend more on how attractive it appears, and that attractivity often involves the casting details more than the external color. Some people like to polish brass bells, the Brits in particular, while others prefer a patina.
Bronze has a more open structure, with lots of minute crevices in which a natural patina will develop over time, and I usually would not recommend polishing a bronze bell. Brass has more of a slick finish, will develop only a thin surface natural patina. Some brass patinas are quite attractive, others rather ugly and I would not hesitate to polish those. I would do nothing with the 6″ quality bell, other than to wash it and then apply a light coat of wax. Both brass and bronze can have a chemical patina applied to achieve a particular color, standard practice with sculptors for centuries, as yours appears to have. I would generally recommend to leave those alone, unless there are other problems that require attention.
A normal natural patina is cupric (copper) oxide, not zinc oxide. Verdigris (copper chloride) can develop in areas with damp or seaside conditions, and should be removed if possible.
Once a bell emerges from casting, it has a rather nasty appearance, and looks nothing like the shiny brass object you might expect. Details may vary, depending how much care was taken with the casting and how good the original figure was. A sand casting will have external mold lines running over the top of the bell from one rim to the other, as your bell still has on the interior. That mold line must be ground down, which results in some detail being lost in those areas. Some of the detail could be restored by hand chasing, but that is manual work often not done for a low cost item like the average brass bell. The bell will first be cleaned with wire wheels and then polished with buffing wheels. Those wheels will often not penetrate restricted areas such as under the arms, some residual casting crud will remain, and will be more apparent over time. That explains the whitish areas on your bell. Once polished, a bell can be lacquered to protect the shiny surface, left for a natural patina to develop, or have a chemical patina applied for a particular color.
Your bell has an attractive patina, but the rough whitish areas detract from its general appearance. You could try to polish the rough areas with a small wire wheel, but that would destroy the patina in adjacent areas. I would recommend that you try to polish those rough areas with a small piece of fine steel wool saturated with a light oil. That may smooth out some of them, and may still look better even if it only darkens those areas.
September 2, 2013 at 2:34 pm #17570
Sorry for the delay, I’ve not been well – been ringing my bell for tea and sympathy 🙂
Thank you again, you’ve been a massive help. I’ll give it a go-over with a spare toothbrush to get rid of the rest of the crusties and if I’m feeling brave I’ll try the steel wool on her armpits.
I must be an unusual brit though, I’ll take patina over polish any day!
I’ve got another couple of bells to research, I may just create topics for those too.
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