Researching Indian Elephant Bells
May 2, 2009 at 4:49 pm #11117quietmanMember
I am so excited to have stumbled upon your site – You folks should be able to point me in the proper direction.
Recently, while cleaning out my basement, I came across an elephant bell that belonged to my paternal grandmother (I remember it sitting in the “no touch” curio cabinet at her house when I was a child). The bell is roughly 4″ tall and 3″ in diameter at the widest point. (I’ll get a photo posted as quick as I can). With the help of a jeweler friend, we found the following makings on the “fingers” of the bell:
“Made in India”, “682M”, and the initials “JHS” or “JNS”. The body of the bell is engraved and according to my jeweler friend, was done by hand. I have done some preliminary research but I need to talk to folks with much more depth of knowledge. Questions:
In rough terms, the bell is over sixty years old. The engraving (to my eye) is very intracate; other than the “makers markings” (correct term?), can the location of a foundry or the artisan be determined by “interpreting” the engraving? I’ve worked around folks who own Native American artifacts and, sometimes, the origin of the artifact can be identified by the “style” of the artwork (clan marks, ideographs, and the like).
I ran across an article about Indian wax casting; can examination of the body of the bell determine how the bell was cast?
I’m not deluding myself (I don’t think); I seriously doubt this bell was anything more than a memento. What I’m curious about is where it originated and perhaps understand how it came to be in my grandmother’s curio cabinet. If possible, I’d like to find more of them; other than the family connection, the one I have is just so, ah, unusual? distinct? I showed it to a couple of people and you should have heard them speculate about the history of it; a ton of fun.
Thank you in advance for any help you might offer.
May 12, 2009 at 12:34 am #14601hjlong3Participant
A picture would be quite helpful. The markings on your elephant bell are typical of a Sarna bell. The letters are probably SSS representing SS Sarna. This would have been one of his bells from the 1950s. In the 1960s the name changed to Bells of Sarna. The current issue of The Bell Tower has a reprint outlining the story of the late Mr. Sarna.
Harry Long, MD
May 12, 2009 at 2:34 am #14602GarryParticipant
Harry is usually (ok always) spot on with his knowledge, so you have some great info here!
Here is an article on the India casting process I posted earlier:
I also own one that I am researching. What I have been able to find so far is a bit light, but quite interesting.
They seem to come in three styles:
1. Totally utilitarian – no markings
2. Fancy utilitarian – inscribed type markings, usually swirls. The type of markings tend to be indicative of specific areas of India – but I haven’t come across a definitive “pattern = this area” listing.
3. Fancy Decorative – Usually with colored enameling – for royalty, hand bells, and parades etc. Typically are newer bells.
They are all cast, and have evolved over time. The earliest [of the caged style – see further down about the earlier jingle bell ones] has relatively thin rounded needle like tines, quite wide apart (probably didn’t break off as often as you bent them after inserting the metal ball). As you move up through time, they came closer together (probably as the process of casting improved) and Flatter (likely to produce a better tone and easier bending). The newest ones now only seem to have an open bottom (think of your bell with the tines cut off 1/3 of the way down all around and flattened to more of a skirt type look). The freely mobile ball inside is now a clapper attached like other bells.
The flattened end fits through the leather harness like a button on your shirt.
The highly decorative ones are also used as hand bells in shops etc.
As you move closer to the Burma area the bells change – particularly the older ones. These older ones especially have circular loops rather than the flat button hole tops. The really old ones are also solid “jingle bell ” type with a single horizontal slot on the bottom.
My study of Sarna bells indicates that the markings you describe are likely a model number he assigned them (you don’t indicate if the numbers are raised, incised or if they are etched into the bells, or if they are on the inside or outside). I’ll take a guess, that you found them partially hidden on the tines and that they were etched into the metal after casting. When Mr. Sarna brought the bells in, the clients wanted names etc. for them. Apparently that typically was not done in India – there they just identified it by the function it held (i.e. a bell for the beggar was a particular style and a bell for the door another and the bell for a certain ceremony yet another shape). So Sarna actually ‘invented’ names for them to meet his customer’s needs. I suspect that the 682m is a model number he came up with, and the JHS/JNS was probably his supplier. But this is a flat out guess.
It is not likely that you will be able to chase down the numbers, unless you were to come across some of his original paperwork.
Anyway, I hope this helps somewhat!
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.