New Collector! I need help with my first bell by A. Fulton
February 27, 2007 at 3:18 pm #10544
I am new to bell collecting and have just acquired an A. Fulton bell that I would like to learn more about. From what I was told, the bell is from the mid nineteenth century, but all of the Fulton bells I have been able to find images of are of larger tower or church bells. This bell has cast on it:
Cast by A. Fulton Pittsburgh
Also, if you will note in the images, there is an eagle holding a laurel with some ornamentation and what appears to be laurel branch, something I have never seen before from this maker.
The bell is 18 inches in diameter and about 20 inches to the bottom of the iron bracket. It appear to be bronze or brass (nonmagnetic). Weight of bell is 118 lbs.
Any help with history of maker, approximate date of manufacture, possible uses, and value would be most appreciated. See image links below.
(image links removed due to my server’s space limitations. If you are interested in images of my bell, send me an email and will send you an email with images attached. thanks RU 3/2/07)
February 27, 2007 at 9:49 pm #12996hjlongMember
The Fulton foundary cast Bronze boat whistles, propellars, etc. They did produce bells. The smaller bells were felt to be used on Canal Boats on the Pennsylvania Canal, but this has not been confirmed. Yours is a bit larger than those that are considered Canal Boat Bells and could have come from a larger river boat. Fulton was located in Pittsburgh and cast bells in the mid 1800’s primarily for river boats, but they did produce church and firehouse bells. Their largest bell was cast for a firehouse in Northside Pittsburgh, but was so loud that it created traffic jams of people going to the fire. It was retired and rests at the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society in Pittsburgh. The foundary was started by Andrew Fulton and continued by his sons. The early Fulton Bells were labeled A. Fulton. Subsequent bells were labeled A. Fulton & Sons. The larger church bells are amongst the more beautiful bronze bells that were cast in America and are characterized by a “crown” that was attached to the yoke.
Harry Long, MD
March 1, 2007 at 4:45 am #12997Neil GoeppingerParticipant
I can only add a few details to what Harry has already given you. He covered it pretty well.
The foundry went under the name Andrew Fulton from 1827 to 1865 and was located between Market and Ferry Streets in Pittsburgh. At this time they put “A. Fulton” on their smaller, undated bells. From 1866 to 1889 they went first under the name A. Fulton’s Son & Co, then under A. Fulton’s Sons & Co, and were located part of that time at 91 First Ave, and some of the time at 2nd Ave between West and Short Streets. Since I am not acquainted with the streets as they existed back then, those addresses may all have been close together and part of the same property.
Bells this size were used for many things. Telling people when to start factory work, quit for lunch, etc. On river landings, on bridges, the list goes on and on. That is why they kept them on hand for sale rather than waiting for an order before casting one, as in the case of bronze church bells. Since some of the inventory would get carried over from one year to the next, they didn’t date this size bell very often. Thus, most bells this size are not dated. As to age, there is no way to know, but to just go with the odds, there were more large bells made during the 1880’s than any other decade. — Neil
March 1, 2007 at 5:19 am #12998
Thanks, gentlemen, for your information. Three final questions:
Is is your view that my bell is brass or bronze?
Have you ever seen the eagle ornamentation on a Fulton bell before?
What’s the proper way to preserve an antique bell? I work with antique furniture as a hobby and, in those instances, less is more… the least amount of restoration and preserving as much of the original finish (even if it is worn) is best. Should I polish it or, say a light cleaning and then wax it?
Thanks again in advance.
March 1, 2007 at 4:18 pm #12999FrankParticipant
I was sure Neil would ‘chime’ in. He is the expert on larger bells. Yours is certainly a keeper.
If I can speak for Neil a little. From one of his presentations, I recall that a brass bell goes “dong” and a bronze bell goes “d-o-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-g”. In other words it resonates for a much longer time that brass.
Did I get that right, Neil? 🙂
March 2, 2007 at 3:46 am #13000Carolyn WhitlockParticipant
ABA Past President Rita Walker has also chimed in. She has asked me to post an image she found on page 52 of That Vanishing Sound by L. Elsinore Springer, Crown Publishers Inc., NY, 1976. Springer says, “…only one such company ever flourished in Pittsburgh. This was the Fulton Brass and Bell Foundry, dating back to 1832. Its long and colorful existence, through generations of Fultons, made the name almost a byword where steamboat, church, factory, and other bells were concerned in western Pennsylvania. The name was also preeminent throughout the South and West, as well as in distant lands, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tribute of 1859.
As early as 1835 a set of Fulton chimes received an award as the “finest sounding chimes,” but the firm’s greatest achievement came when it cast a two-ton tocsin for the Pittsburgh fire alarm system. This is undoubtedly the largest ever cast in the State of Pennsylvania. After years of service, its primary usefulness ended when the fire alarm system was modernized; then came the day in 1920 when its voice was heard for the very last time as it rang 1-8-4-5 strokes to mark the anniversary of Pittsburgh’s disastrous fire of 1845. Today the huge tocsin rests before the Historical Society Building – a proud but silent symbol of the city’s past.”
Now, in the picture that Rita sent, there is an advertisement for Andrew Fulton, Bell and Brass Founder, which appeared in the Pittsburgh City Directory for 1862. It is credited to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. It reads:
Bell and Brass Founder,
No. 70 Second Street, Pittsburgh
Made to order. Counter Railings,
Every variety finished in the neatest manner.
Anti Attrition Metal.
For Steam Cylinders.
Stop & Gauge Cocks
of all sizes for Steamboats
Mineral Water Punps
Brass for all kinds of oil turning,
He is prepared to furnish to order
Church, Steamboat, Factory & other Bells,
Of all sizes from 10 to 10,000 pounds
Also, all descriptions of fittings for oil wells and refineries.
In addition, the page shows a photograph with a caption that says:
“Cast by a Philadelphia founder who seems little known, this one-of-a-kind bell is inscribed in memory of Robert Fulton: T.W. Levering Fecit Philadelphia A. D. 1816. Now Fulton is gone. He is no more but he left his genius to carry us from shore to shore. Union Steamboat.”
I have just gone to Photobucket so I could add Rita’s picture but got a message saying the website is undergoing some maintenance so I can’t post it right now.
March 3, 2007 at 3:49 am #13001
My thanks to Harry, Neil, Frank and Carolyn. You have all been very helpful. Stay tuned… on the way home from work today I stopped at an estate sale and found two more bells! Three bells in two weeks! At this rate, if I actually go looking for them, I will have to take a truck! RU
March 3, 2007 at 4:05 am #13002Carolyn WhitlockParticipant
Congratulations, Robert! You’ve been bitten by the “Bell Bug!”
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