Cataloguing: Keeping an Inventory of Your Bell Collection

Are you keeping an accurate inventory of your bell collection? Most people have some records but too many of us say, “That is something that I must do when I get time.” Wait no longer. Start now to record facts about your bells. Making an inventory, cataloguing, listing — call your records what you wish, but keep the facts on paper, notebook, card files, ledger, [or computer]. While you are doing it, make two copies and keep one in your safety deposit box in your bank. Don’t keep all records in one place. Fire and theft are rampant in this world so be wise. Take all precautions.

From an educational lecture given by Edna Renick, ABA Member, at the 1974 ABA Convention and re-printed from The Bell Tower, December 1974

Reasons that should spur the collector to keep records:

No one can remember accurately the time, place purchased, price, and interesting lore of each bell. Carry a notebook always and as you purchase a bell, jot down the place, date, price and size of the bell. Attach the sales slip with seller’s name and signature. This can be very important. Memory occasionally confuses us when we procrastinate; get your notes into permanent files as soon as possible.

If you want special insurance for your bells, you must produce an accurate listing. Most insurance companies offer Fine Art Policies for Antiques, etc. This is fairly expensive but if your collection is a major investment, then you are wise to investigate insurance. Some companies will insure collections under Homeowners’ policies with limitations but you will need proof that this means an inventory. Remember, photographs are a help, too.

File card catalogue systemLook to the future. Most collections will be appraised. We don’t live on forever or we will need in time to reduce our living area. There are many reasons for appraisals. Help your appraiser by having good records. I have appraised bells that had a coded listing known only to the person who had originated the idea; keep your cataloguing as simple as possible.


I have looked at many systems and find they are usually individual. Choose one that you will keep. An elaborate filing might be burdensome and never get done in our busy lives today. Categories can make problems for you and also can be helpful. Our simple system is broadly made into categories. All glass is under ‘G’; porcelain, pottery, and ceramic under ‘P.’ I am sure you can find a system that appeals to you. Just listing each bell as it is purchased to one easy way, but it has its faults, too. For example, if you break or sell a bell and don’t remove the number from your files, or make notation of it, you create a problem. Keep your records up-to-date.

We all tend to be gatherers, defined as collectors of anything that looks like a bell. The very inexpensive knick-knacks don’t need the attention that a rare French flint glass bell or a primitive wood nodder, should have. Choose a system that is easy to maintain but one that won’t burden you with detail. Remember: other people will have to read your notations, so do keep them clear.

Special Notes

Computers and smartphoneA lovely glass bell recently came to us. When I bought it, I asked the fine craftsman if he would sign my slip. His signature was on the bell. This bell will be more valuable in years to come because I have the proof of the maker. By the way, the bell is clear glass with soft festooning of cranberry, ribbon inserts in the handle, and a sharp finial. Price at Mr. Kraft’s Glass Apple Studio in Toledo in 1974, was $25 plus tax.

In our collection, there is a small sheep bell, very ordinary, but I found it years ago, and this makes it worthwhile. Attached was a card stating, “Given to Mrs. Nancy Johnson by Col. McCormick from the Chicago Daily Tribune Farm.” The bell is 2 7/8” in diameter and 3” high now has history. Nancy Johnson was one of the founders of the ABA (National Bell Collectors [Club] and we are glad to have a bell from her collection.

Do keep the legends; the personal notes; the scraps and pieces of information that help us to know more about bells. Cataloguing can be one of the best gifts you can give yourself and your loved ones. You can make your collection live on in the lives of others.

(From an educational lecture given by Edna Renick, ABA Member, at the 1974 ABA Convention and re-printed from The Bell Tower, December 1974)