President of the American Bell Association
July 30, 2014 at 1:56 pm #12431Carolyn WhitlockParticipant
The Wirral grandmother who is president of the American Bell Association
• Jul 30, 2014 08:00
• By Dawn Collinson
• © Trinity Mirror Merseyside
Dawn Collinson talks to the bell collector who is a big noise in the USA
Negotiating customs at an airport can be tricky at the best of times, but for Joan Elliott it was fraught with a unique potential problem – she had a precious piece of American history in her hand luggage.
Joan was transporting a bell which originally belonged to General Ulysses S Grant, the man who led the Union Armies to victory in the American Civil War before becoming the 18th President of the United States.
The large bell, complete with wooden stand and etched inscriptions, is now in her safe keeping for the next 12 months having made the journey from Richmond, Virginia to Merseyside.
“It is rung to start and close meetings of the American Bell Association,” explains Joan. “And I am the first president of the association to come from outside the US.”
The grandmother, who lives in Spital, Wirral, was honoured at this year’s ABA convention after 20 years of membership and an astonishing collection of bells which numbers in excess of 1,000.
She admits that there’s barely a shelf, display cabinet or unit in her home which isn’t packed with bells of every description, including her most recent and expensive addition: one made of hand-blown filigree glass, bought for her by her husband David to celebrate her inauguration.
Joan’s collection dates back 40 years, and began modestly with a simple holiday souvenir.
“A friend went to Toledo in Spain, and it was at the time when people brought things back to give as gifts,” she recalls. “She gave me a little bell, really just because it was pretty and ornamental, and the seed was planted from there.
“What happened then was someone gave me a miniature school bell, and other people bought me them for birthdays and Christmas. I bought my own, too, when I went on holidays, just because I thought they looked attractive.”
With her window ledges mounting up, she says friends became more cautious in their buys, trying to avoid duplications.
So it was then that Joan, a retired occupational therapist, took the collection into her own hands and broadened her horizons across the Atlantic.
“I became a bit more selective in the ones I was buying, specialising in crystal and what we call wedding bells which are between 10 and 14 inches in height and are highly decorated,” she explains. “On visits to the States we started to go to their flea markets which are very different to anything we have in the UK and I’d often buy from there and bring them home.”
Although the internet opened up another option for Joan, she says shipping charges can be prohibitive. “Some of the American ones especially are really very nice, but unfortunately the cost of getting them here has become astronomical so now I look and like … but keep turning the page.”
Once her collection topped the 1,000 mark, 73-year-old Joan says she decided to categorise them around the house. Some shelves are reserved for royalty – birthdays, marriages and coronations – others are dedicated to events or celebrations. She has more than 100 different lady bells shaped like ladies and gentlemen.
The Ulysses S Grant bell now stands in pride of place and, as the first Brit ever to hold the position, Joan says it was an honour to be chosen. The ABA has been going for almost 70 years, with many enthusiasts inspired by the mission bells on the Mission Trails of the West Coast.
“First of all I was asked to be a rep for what they call the Eastern district, which covers all the states down the eastern side of America and Canada, and also Europe,” she says. “I did that for two years and then became second vice president before I was made president earlier this month.”
Taking on the job has not been without its complications, she admits. “For two countries so similar, there are lots of differences,” she smiles. “One of my tasks is to make sure everything is done in accordance with the bylaws of the association, which brings its own problems because I’m obviously not familiar with the American legal system. But I’m managing and I’m enjoying the challenge.”
It’s impossible to put a value on Joan’s bells, insurers don’t recognise it as a collection because each one is individual, but she says she gets most pleasure from just looking at their various designs.
“The only problem is the dust, although I call that my protective coating,” she laughs. “If we have people coming to stay then there’ll be a blitz on the bells, but often I’ll do them in sections. Then they’ll show up the neighbouring group so I just keep going. “Some are more tedious to clean than others, and really need time allocating, but the crystal and glass are easier so it balances out. “My grandchildren used to come and visit when they were little and I managed to make the dusting into a game – but they’re 16 and 18 so I’ve lost my cleaning team now!”
August 4, 2014 at 6:09 am #17811robfromcanadaParticipant
CORRECTION: The ABA has had two previous presidents from outside the USA, Martha Innes (1974) and Mollie Carriere (1982), both from Canada.
August 4, 2014 at 8:19 am #17812Joan ElliottParticipant
Hi Rob, unfortunately as sometimes happens with newspaper articles, there were a few errors. 🙁 My age for one! 🙁 and I referred to being the first outside of North America, ie the continent, not America, as in the country.
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