American Bell Association `Bell and Tell` article

Cataloguing Your Bells

BELL TAGS ARE IMPORTANT! Just a number doesn’t tell you anything. I have seen relatives and friends regret the number system when the master book was misplaced, lost, or stolen. Any number that can be easily removed may be eventually lost – whether it be on a gummed label or by felt pen. Identification marks can be made with an electric needle but this method of marking makes it difficult when change ownership.

By Flora Ranney, Past-President of THE AMERICAN BELL ASSOCIATION
A tag tells every reader something about a bell. Try to write identification that doesn’t appear on the bell such as who used the bell or identification of the figure on it. It is best to use small tags that can be attached to the clapper and easily hidden under the skirt. Sometimes longer strings will be better for taller ones such as for tap bells. Even with glass bells, the tag can lie flat on the shelf under it. My notebook is in chronological order of acquisition, which is great if you start early as I did. When a new bell comes into my home, before I find a place for it, I tag it and record it in “the” book. When recording, I use only one side of the page so I can use the reverse side as I get more information.

I wrote but little detail at first, but now some bells require a page! I advocate a card file system but how you do it is up to you but just be sure to do it! I list minimum information I feel is important. Some bells require more description than others depending what information is available. I feel it is so important to catalogue that I make it simple as possible.

It is up to you to decide how important you make each bell. More information can easily be added to a card, or the card can be replaced if you learn that some details are incorrect. When a bell is sold or given away, the card can accompany it and the new owner will be delighted.

I have made an alphabetical list of categories that can be used; choose the ones that apply to your collection. If you specialize in one type of bell, you may prefer to use categories of different materials. Each category may be numbered individually as AN 4 for a cowbell (animal) or FM (figural – metal) for a metal figurine bell of Queen Elizabeth II.

Many collectors display their bells in categories, so it will be convenient to work on one shelf at a time. I find the more categories one has, the easier it is to find the different types of bells. These categories help me with a bell talk when specializing in a particular type of bell.

Information is easily forgotten by the owner – especially details – and never learned by a friend or relative so record the most important facts about each bell.

I could give numerous examples of how the value of a bell was increased because of the knowledge that was recorded. Attach tag to clapper or hang down the back of the bell without the clapper. Write important fact that does not appear on the bell. Don’t put details already engraved on bell.

Cataloguing your bell in numerical order by purchase date is easy if you are just starting. The same information is needed whether you do it in a notebook or on file cards. Use a different 4.5” x 6” card for each bell.

The Identification Card

  • Name
  • Acquired Date and Place
  • Materials
  • Dimensions
  • Description
  • Condition
  • Use
  • Other information

1. Name of bell (include catalogue number by purchase or record in alphabetical order by category)
2. Date of purchase
3. Place of purchase or acquisition (age, place made, country of origin, name of maker – company or individual)
4. Material of which bell is made (color, patina, clapper, and handle)
5. Dimensions (shape, height with and without handle, diameter, and weight)
6. Description (pattern, type, decoration, symbolism, inscription, imperfection, markings inside and out)
7. Cost (purchase price, value or current price – be specific)
8. Sound, tone (high or low pitch, bright or mellow sound, thud)
9. Condition or quality
10. Use (by whom, when, how, where, why)
11. Story and picture – (how acquired, history of person or scene portrayed)
12. Personal identification (number in set or series, serial number of manufacturer, location of documentation, stickers or labels put on card, cleaning instructions)

A photo, drawing, tracing or picture from the box or advertisement or Bell Tower may be glued to the back of the card. I also have glycine envelopes the same size as my file cards so the maker’s tag or certificate can go into that. Glycine envelopes can be purchased from stamp dealers. Archival quality post card or photo sleeves can also be used. These can be found in scrap booking supply stores and antique shops.

Alphabetical Order by Category

AN – Animal bells used by beasts of burden
AM – Animals on bells
AT – Antique bells before 1900
B – Baby rattles and toys with bells
BI – Bicycle bells
C – Call Bells (tap, twist, twist, twirl)
CA – Candlestick bells
CO – Commemorative bells
CON – ABA Convention Bells
D – Door bells (alarm and house)
DU – Dual purpose bells
FM – Figurine or figural bells in metal
FP – Figurine or figural bells in pottery
FL – Flowers in/on bells
G – Glass bells
H – Historical bells
I – Indian bells/ Bells of Sarna
L – Liberty Bell replicas, Centennial
M – Mission bells
MU – Musical bells
O – Oriental bells, Gongs, Rattles
P – Peerage bells
R – Religious Bells
S – Souvenir Bells
T – Tea Bells
U – Utilitarian Bells
W – Wind bells

Choose the categories that apply to your collection.

(From an educational lecture given at the September 1978 New England Chapter, ABA, meeting and re-printed from The Bell Tower[sm], March 1979) • (Article edited by Carolyn Whitlock, 2008)