Welcome to the ABA! Bell Talk Forums Small Bells old school bells

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    • #10907

      I am looking for an old hand held school bell for a friend who has purchased an old school house and moved it on to her property. Can you tell me the significance of the numbers on the wooden handles of these old bells?

    • #13940

      Do you have photos?

      The numbers could be from a couple of sources:
      1. The manufacturer / retailer could be putting on either Model or Inventory numbers on the handle.
      2. More likely it’s the school board inventory numbering. You might check around the area it came from, with the various school districts to see how they inventory their equipment. You could probably use the numbers to chase down what school district it’s from and, if they still have the records, even what school, in that case.


    • #13941

      Across the small bell casting industry, manufacturers adopted their sleigh numbering system to identify hand bells having various mouth, opening, diameters. Size numbers were also directly related to other physical characteristics as bell height, clapper or tongue diameter and length of handle. Before 1900, numbers were a single digit ranging sequentially from 1 to 14, 14 being the largest bell. Some company catalogs listed a number zero hand bell but to my knowledge it was never stamped. Numbers were usually stamped on the handle’s upper section near the bell’s finial, fastener. The small bell industry did not standardize the mouth diameter to size numbering system untill after 1875, however most companies did not embrace these standards. Mouth diameters of various configuration bells for a given size varied widely, for example a number 7 bell could have a mouth diameter ranging from 4 to 6 1/2 inches. Stamping a bell size was not the norm procedure. I do not know who or when the sizing started however the earliest known stamping was by Russell and Erwin Company of New Britain, CT sometime before 1856. After 1860 most companies produced more than one configuration hand bell. Why they stamped some of their product line and not others is unknown. Very few bell configurations were produced in all 14 sizes. However in 1902 Bevin Brothers Manufacturing of East Hampton, CT produced a hand bell in sizes from 0 to 15. In general, hand bells having the same configuration were produced in sizes of 1,3,5,7.9,13 and 14 while other configurations were produced in 3 or less sizes. To a collector the size stamping is a vital piece of information in determing the manufacturer and time frame in which the bell was produced.


    • #13942

      Excellent Point Jeff!

      It hadn’t occurred to me that they would have stamped the handle for that purpose, but that makes sense. The school could have had a hand bell band group and this would be one of them then. It really depends upon what the number is, that he was mentioning, for example a 5 digit number vs the 2 digits you talk about. I assumed it was the larger number for inventory purposes, as all the schools I went to or taught at did that. Because it is difficult to mark the brass objects the handles were what was marked.

      The few hand bell ringer sets I have seen, were totally unmarked as you mentioned with one exception. That set had a couple of them stamped in the brass at the top and not in the strap (they had straps rather than wood handles).

      I guess we will need to wait for a reply as to what the number actually is, and possibly a photograph, to work out the next step!


    • #13943

      Jeff Bell copied me on some additional information he had sent to Susan. I thought it should be shared.

      Gracious Good Day Susan,

      My name is Jeff Bell, a member of the ABA. I not only collect
      American cast hand bells but also a historian of sorts. For several
      years I’ve researched the various companies that included hand bells
      in their product line.

      I understand you have a question related to the number stamped on the
      bell’s handle. The numbering system was used by various manufacturers
      to identify bell sizes of bells having the same contour or
      configuration. Sizes was defined by:

      A) Bell’s opening diameter, know as the mouth diameter

      B) Dimeter of the clapper, know as the tongue

      Other bell characteristics related to size would include bell’s
      height, weight, handle length and over all or total hand bell height.

      Not all companies or bell configurations were stamped. Bell sizes
      were not standardized until after 1875. The earliest known company
      that stamped their hand bells was Russell and Erwin, sometime before
      1856. This company was located In New Britain, Connecticut and was
      producing hand bells as early as 1849. Bell sizes ranged from 0 to
      14, depending on the company and approximate dates of manufacture.
      For example, a number 14 bell was not produced until after 1865. A
      number 14 bell would have a mouth diameter of about 7 inches and
      weigh around 5 pounds.

      There was one company, still unknown, that cast the bell size on the
      upper inter-surface. With one or so exceptions, bell companies did
      not identify their products. Numberious companies that were casting
      hand bells between 1808 to present day but only a few of their bell
      configurations are known.

      I trust this answers your question. I welcome any additional
      questions you may have.

      Have a great day,


      Thanks, Jeff, for your valuable information!

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