Mystery Bell from a Newbie!
August 16, 2013 at 8:58 pm #12309
I know, I know, you get this all the time! I bought this great bell at an antique store, and would like to learn more about it. Although I know very little about bells, I am a college prof who loves historical research, so I am excited to see if the pros here can help me.
The bell is brass, with no marks whatsoever, and originally came from Tacoma, Washington, a city with a significant marine history. It looks like so many of those ships’ bells you see, but I’m not sure (it has that same tone that we’ve all heard on ships in movies!)
Size: 5 1/2 ” high; 6″ wide at base; 2 3/4″ wide at neck. Knurled and threaded clapper. It has a great patina to it and a great sound. I would really appreciate any info anyone can shed on it. As I said, I looked at all surfaces and I can see NO marks of any kind on it. Help!
August 21, 2013 at 4:47 pm #17596
Hi Dr. Mac, It’s possible that this is a U.S. Naval bell, but the dimensions don’t match the Navy standards. Maybe a forecastle bell?
Could you post a pic of the entire stem, (top) so we could see how it was mounted??? (I’ve also tried to research bells without markings, good luck!) Thanks, W
August 22, 2013 at 11:52 am #17595
Willie, thanks for replying. Yikes!….Since I posted that I left to go back to my college teaching job in NY and the bell is back in the NW! In the bottom picture there, you can see the knurled top….that is threaded and goes through the bell and is itself the clapper (I guess I have the right name for that?). When you unscrew that knurled part, the threads are bright brass, and there is obviously space left on the clapper part to go through some mounting bracket, etc. I’m afraid that is all I can really describe at this point….but it sure has that great ship’s tone!
August 22, 2013 at 5:17 pm #17597halanbParticipant
I can’t speak to the source of the bell.
If you are missing the mount you will probably want something like this.
You may be able to buy one by itself or construct your own.
You may also want a bellrope. You could buy one at a nautical store or on eBay,
but there are Internet instructions for weaving one yourself.
September 5, 2013 at 4:22 am #17598
Thanks for those great ideas…I filed them away.
I hope someone will be able to shed some light on what is the likely place this bell was used, its probably origin, etc. I thought it was strange there were no marks on it but perhaps that is not uncommon??
September 5, 2013 at 4:29 pm #17599
Mac, You are welcome. My afterthought is that it might be from a ‘Fireboat’. IOW, a boat that uses pumps to supply water to fight a fire. Good luck! W
September 5, 2013 at 4:35 pm #17600
Wow, there were a lot of fireboats on Puget Sound, and in fact, we used to watch their demos off Pier 54 in Seattle! I’ll keep checking, but my hope is that an expert such as yourself will have that one little breakthrough…..
September 7, 2013 at 7:11 pm #17601
That was my one little breakthrough. 😀
Without markings, etc. even experts are stumped sometimes. 😕
September 7, 2013 at 7:47 pm #17602
I understand. I was hoping that perhaps even the absence of marking might be a clue!!
September 11, 2013 at 1:26 pm #17603GarryParticipant
Just putting my two cents in!
Actually Willie’s observations are pretty accurate and very good for what little we actually have to work with!
I agree, it’s a fixed mount small boat bell, likely from a tug sized fire boat, in a design that has been made since at least the 1930’s or so.
The lack of markings indicates it’s for either a (relatively) less expensive larger private craft or mass produced type craft (ie many fireboats were made) because most more expensive craft have bells marked with the ship’s identity on them. Personal craft tend not to put out that kind of dollars to have a special cast bell made for them. While governments might do so for more expensive, flashy boats (ie ferries), it’s a significant expense for a dozen or so work (ie fire or tug) boats so they rarely bother. As Willie mentions, the dimensions for military bells are pretty exacting (they want plug and play parts for their stores issuing), so that tends to rule out military tenders. The smaller neck at top indicates a later model as earlier ones tended to have longer ones for more metal to grab with the screw. Later ones reduced where they could to save costs in the metal, especially around WWII. The clapper seems to be post WWII too from what I can see.
Because this is a pretty generic work bell, that has been made for decades, you won’t get much more out of it. It’s like trying to decide what specific car a tire came from. You can give a range of dates and types of vehicles, but can’t do much else! The rest has to do with provenance, which is why documentation is soooo important! You would need a clear and unimpeachable paper trail to tell what craft(s) it came from. (and yes, I mean the plural! It is very common to re-use these bells when a boat is ‘retired’ and stripped, to save money! It could very well have been used on multiple craft!)
All you can do at this point is ask where you bought it to try and trace prior ownership. You could also pay for and provide a piece of the bell’s metal to learn it’s composition and maybe trace the foundry and era it was constructed. Neither is likely worth your time, though, as it’s very doubtful you would get much out of it.
Good luck and good bell hunting!
September 11, 2013 at 2:49 pm #17604
Thanks, Garry! Yes, being a professor and historian, I really quizzed the dealer where I bought it, because I knew the importance of provenance. But he (who also is interested in provenance and knows its importance) was clear that he bought this in one of those estate/storage sales in Tacoma, WA. Like I said, that is/was a real marine-connected town, a real working city. And I do think that there were more than one boatyard operating there in the early 20th-century. But whether that means anything or not besides intriguing suggesting, I have no idea! I think you’re probably right on all your points….Thanks again!
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