History of the ABA
The American Bell Association International, Inc (ABA) got off to an informal start under the name The National Bell Collectors Club at Chautauqua Institution in southwestern New York State in 1940.
Mary Alter Collins, who spent her summers at Chautauqua, won the 1940 annual poetry prize for a nature poem, “First Pastures.” The prize was a purse of money. Mary purchased a Sarna bell at the book store and said to the clerk, “I will be the first bell collector!” The clerk told her there were other women staying at Chautauqua who collected bells, and soon the five women got together and decided to start a society of bell lovers.
Founding members Eleanor Jean and Edward Carter offered to write a newsletter for the members of the new club. Membership jumped from five to seventy in the first year. When Edward went to the armed services in 1942, Eleanor Jean gave up the publication. Mary Alter Collins and her daughter-in-law, Louise Collins, thought it would be an interesting challenge to edit the magazine. The publication was called “The Bell Tower” in honor of the Miller Bell Tower at Chautauqua.
Louise and Robert Collins continued to edit and print the magazine until 1988. Early issues were printed on a mimeograph machine, and all issues were mailed from the rural mailbox of the Collins home. The monthly six-page newsletter cost just $1.00 per year; postage was $.02 each. By the time readership had grown to almost 2,400, Robert had a press in the basement with state-of-the-art collators and staplers. In 1988, after 45 years, the job was moved to a printing house.
ABA’s official symbol — The “General Grant Bell”
The first national convention took place in Chicago in 1946 with 23 of 128 members present. In 1947 at the second convention, Augusta Littmann entertained the members at her home in St. Louis. She presented the organization with a dinner bell from the home of General Ulysses S. Grant. This bell is now the official symbol of ABA.
Growth and change
At the third convention, held at the St. Elmo Hotel in Chautauqua in 1948, the organization’s name was changed to The American Bell Association.
In 1984 the name was changed again, in recognition of our members in Canada and around the world, to The American Bell Association International, Inc.
Many members learned of ABA through the generous advertising of S.S. Sarna, who imported and sold thousands of bells from India each year. He put information about the ABA and the Collins’ address on a small tag which was attached to each bell.
The ABA continues to be an active organization with regular chapter meetings around the world. Our annual convention is held in various locations throughout the U.S. and Canada. With anxiously awaited reunions of bell friends, members learn fascinating facts about bells, share bell information, and have a chance to view exhibits of numerous antique and modern bells!