Frequently Asked Questions
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What do you need to identify my bell?
An inquiry regarding a bell should include as much of the following information as possible:
Height of the bell
Diameter of the bottom of the skirt
Writing or engraving on the bell
Material from which the bell was made
History about the bell that you may have
Photo of the outside of the bell
Photo of the inside of the bell
What is the value of my bell?
The American Bell Association® is a hobby organization for bell collectors and enthusiasts. It does not provide appraisal services for bells. We also do not have a list of certified bell appraisers to give you as a reference.
To aid you in your quest to determine the value of your bell, you could post a request on the “Bell Talk” Forum and ask if anyone could give you an opinion of the value of your bell. Your chances of getting a response will be increased if you also post a photo of your bell. Without a look at the bell, it would be difficult, indeed, for anyone to give you fair guidance. Please understand that any response would be the personal opinion of the responder and s/he would not be acting as a representative of The American Bell Association®
If you retained your purchase receipt, have reviewed prices online or have copies of the yearly issue of The Bell Towersm magazine that reports on bells sold at ABA’s annual auction, you may be able to find approximate values.
Sometimes, it’s only after extensive time as a member, meeting with others, and discussing bell purchases that you can feel comfortable with valuations.
Selling Bells: Can I post a bell for sale?
The American Bell Association® does not allow free advertising of bells for sale on our website, but our bi-monthly magazine for members accepts ads from non-ABA members who would like to sell a bell or collection. This is where you’ll find your best target audience. There is an additional fee of $20 for non-ABA members. If you would like to place an ad, please contact …
Selling Bells: What do I need to know to sell my bell collection?
Selling a collection can be a long and difficult process. The seller must be prepared to utilize several methods, depending on many factors – the size of the collection, the types of bells involved, the time available, the contribution of effort toward the process and the reputation of the seller in the bell community.
Preparing a list
Each bell must be described (pictures make identification clearer) in sufficient detail to entice a buyer. The bell must be accurately described (size, weight, material, source, manufacturer, age, markings, etc.) and the condition stated truthfully (cracks, crazing, chips, finish, patina, rust, wear, fading, labels, missing parts, replaced parts, repairs made, discoloration, damage, etc.) so as to be certain the potential buyer is fully aware and can make a good faith offer. The sale is to be made based on the descriptions alone. Many items are poorly described, or the condition couched in terms that make the sale impossible or create dissatisfaction.
Setting the price
Some people say, “The value of your bell is the price a buyer will pay for it on any given day!” But that advice doesn’t help you determine what price to put on a bell or collection you want to sell nor does it help you know the monetary value. For more information about the values of your collection, please read the article at …
This article pertains specifically to railroadiana but the advice is universal.
The American Bell Association® does not provide appraisal services for bells. We do not have a list of certified bell appraisers.
Determining the value of any antique, collectible, or bell is difficult. Value depends on many things such as its rarity, history (who owned it – where, when, and why), manufacturer, the material from which it’s made and its condition. Probably the most important factor is the number of people who are interested in buying it.
Prices also vary by the method used in selling. Auctions have added costs for commissions or buyer-premiums, but the excitement of the sale can drive prices very high. The size of the audience, and the specific interest of some within that group, will affect the auction progress, and therefore the final price. Sales through dealers will require a commission as well, and the return to the seller is less than the sale amount. Private sales will give the seller the full amount of the sale, but the price may not be optimal.
Generally, bells originally made in quantity, if still in excellent condition, with all parts still intact (the clapper is important) are worth at least their original price. Larger bells will be different. The resale market for big bells is limited. With large metal bells, the value of the material itself can set the price. Occasionally, value rises because of demand as with any item. Limited items, or single pieces always command higher prices.
The best way to establish value of a single bell is to research the sales of similar bells. The online auctions are becoming the trading places for many collectibles. Many antique dealers have a web presence as well. Sometimes a search can yield direct price quotes on similar objects. Local antique shops or flea markets in some cases offer an opportunity to test the interest and potential.
Finally, professional appraisers can give you an idea of value, but generally charge for their services, so that must be weighed in with your intent to sell. Showing bells to a local antique dealer may result in a suggested value. They may even wish to purchase one or more for resale or offer to take them on consignment. For a nominal placement fee, most online auction sites allow a “reserve” price to be set, and you can test the market to establish price, lowering it if interest is weak. It is not for immediate results, but repeated searches yield value knowledge, and may be the only way to set a price.
Utilizing a dealer
Obviously a very large collection will take considerably more time and effort before completion of a sale-out. Several routes are available. The sale can be done through a collection broker/dealer who will prepare all the sale descriptions or utilize a live sale or auction where the buyer can physically inspect the bell before offering to purchase.
The dealer will expect to profit from the investment of time and effort, and you will need to weigh this added expense against your need for assistance. Some dealers may operate on a commission basis, and some on consignment. In those cases, the return to the seller is not immediate. But a dealer can be a more comfortable route for you to take.
Selling your collection yourself
Smaller groups of bells, selected portions of a large collection (or individual bells) can best be sold through personal contact or the online auction sites. Personal contact allows the potential buyer to examine the bell and make their own judgment as to its value. Online or mail sales must rely on the descriptions.
If the collector is or was an ABA member, often other ABA members may be willing to help or buy some of the collection. Fellow members may be familiar with the collection or may even have seen the bells during the course of previous meetings. They may have an interest in several. Some chapters hold auctions or sales within their group.
Several online auctions are available but using them requires an investment of time and money in listing, packaging and selling. Bells sold through such auctions tend to be the unique or special ones. Groups of bells can be sold as a lot.
Although bell collectors visit these sites looking for bells, the sites also have exposure to collectors of other objects, of which bells may be only a part (e.g. railroad memorabilia collectors are interested in all things “railroad” including bells. Some people focus on angels and some bells carry that theme as well).
Renting space in an antique mall (or flea market in some areas) will allow the entire collection to be seen and bells can be handled by prospective buyers (under controlled circumstances if necessary — reduces the need for a list or catalog. This can take a long time and cost of the space rental becomes part of the overall result.
Advertising in The Bell TowerSM the ABA’s bi-monthly magazine is relatively low cost and directs the sale to people who are primarily interested in bells, but this is a smaller group. Special rates are available with membership. Some collections have been sold through that method.
Finally, the ABA has an auction at its annual convention, and members buy and sell bells there. Time and space keep this method restricted to special bells. Members and dealers also are at these conventions and many bells are sold to convention attendees.
In the end, several or all of these methods may need to be employed, and still there will be many bells left unsold. They can be sold as a lot, grouping many similar types. Often these remaining bells will be of little or no value (they may be simple souvenirs or mass marketed in large quantities). These often become gifts and prizes among members.
Experience has shown that receipt of a collection, or even a few or one single bell, is often the beginning of an interest in bells, and the initial step toward a new ABA member. Several collections (and members) are second and third generation. Sharing a collection, or part of a collection, with children, grandchildren, friends or neighbors can be rewarding and educational. A unique collection of carefully selected specific types can be museum quality and donated to be shared by many people.
Donating a bell collection to ABA?
Many of our ABA members and also the relatives of former members are finding ourselves in the position of trying to decide what to do with our collections.
The unfortunate fact is that the younger generations seem to have little interest in collecting, whether it be stamps, coins, Depression glass, railroad memorabilia, etc–or bells.
It is just possible that there might be an ABA chapter or member(s) somewhere close to you that you might contact to see if there might be an interest in some of your bells …
It is doubtful that anyone would want the whole collection.
Most of us are downsizing, and unfortunately, we no longer have a large number of active local chapters.
One possibility is always to donate the collection to a non-profit such as Goodwill or Salvation Army and take a tax write-off.
Looking at closed eBay auctions is one way to get an idea of current value for various bells.
Breaking up a collection?
Please read the article at …
This article pertains specifically to railroadiana but the advice is universal.
How can I find a chapter near me?
See the Chapters page for a geographical list of all chapters nationally, and world-wide.
Membership: Can I join the ABA even if I have only a few bells?
Yes, you can join us even if you have none!
Any person interested in bells may join the American Bell Association® Our members are of all ages and interests. Some specialize in a particular type of bell; others have an assortment. Some have a few and others have many. To join visit our Membership Application page.
Membership: If I join mid-year, what are the dues?
Membership is renewed annually, 12 months from your starting date. A reminder of your renewal will be sent in advance. To join visit our Membership Application page.
The Bell Tower℠ Magazine: How can I get a copy of The Bell Tower℠?
The Bell Tower℠, ABA’s bimonthly magazine, features illustrated articles about bells, announcements of bell-related events, and news. A complimentary information package that includes a copy of the magazine can be ordered by sending a request to … email@example.com
Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
The Bell Tower Magazine: Is there a library rate for the magazine?
Libraries may subscribe to The Bell TowerSM magazine by submitting an application form and paying the membership fee for one individual. To join visit our Membership Application page.
What is my bell made of?
Large bells are made of iron, steel, bronze or brass. The methods of making iron and steel bells are the same, and the two types of bells are very similar. Steel is a mixture of iron and tin. To test, use a magnet. If it will stick to the bell, it is either iron or steel. The less expensive church bells are iron and steel bells. Iron and steel bells are shaped the same but are different from the shape of bronze bells. They are shorter from the lip to the top as a percentage of the diameter of their mouth. Iron and steel bells have a rougher finish than bronze bells because they come from molds which are used over and over again, while a bronze bell mold is only used once. Iron and steel bells are normally painted to prevent rust, while bronze and brass bells are not painted.
If a magnet does not stick to a bell, it is then either bronze or brass. Brass bells were not over about 20 inches in diameter and were used as railroad locomotive bells, fire engine bells, or other emergency bells. Brass is a mixture of copper and zinc and has a high penetrating shrill sound, appropriate for alarms. Brass bells do not make a pleasing sound.
Bronze bells are made of 78 to 80% copper and 20 to 22% tin. They were more expensive than iron or steel bells and had a more melodious tone. Bronze bells could hold their “hum note” up to a minute after being struck, while iron and steel bells could not. The best church bells were made of bronze.
Who made my bell and what can you tell me about them?
There were over 400 identified makers of large bells in the U.S., so there isn’t enough space here to discuss them. A book published in 2016, Large Bells of America, and available from Amazon or Barns and Noble, or free through Inter-Library Loan at your local library, has 117 pages devoted to the known information on those firms with photos of many of them. If you have an iron or steel bell with no identifying markings, it could have been made by the C. S. Bell Co. of Hillsboro, Ohio, or the American Bell Foundry Co of Northville, Michigan, for sale through catalogues by Sears Roebuck and Co, Montgomery Ward, Henry Field Seed Co, or the American Seating Co.
What was my bell used for?
Large bells were rung in different locations and in different ways for different messages.
Church Bells: The bell tower of a church was often the reference point people used to know the time of day. Also, the bell summoned the community to come to church services. During church, the Lord’s Prayer was often accompanied by the quiet ringing of the church bell with the tolling hammer. The bell was usually struck softly three times, at three different points during the Lords prayer. The church bell was rung by swinging loudly to call people to church. Deaths were announced in different ringing series in different communities, and often it was different for a man, a woman or a child. In a small community, if they knew who was ill, the people could usually figure out who had passed, i.e., “for whom the bell tolls.” In some communities, if it was a prominent man, they rang out his age. In other communities, they rang out the age for everyone who died.
Fire Bells: Fire alarm bells were rung rapidly and the bell did not swing. The fire bell was mounted high above the ringer and had an eye on the bottom of the clapper. Two ropes were attached to this and ran left and right (the width of a person’s shoulders) to pulleys. Then, the ropes ran through these, down to the ringer below. Thus the fire bell could be rung rapidly with a rope in each hand. Often the fire bell was mounted in its own tower in front of the fire station.
School: A school day’s beginning and ending were announced by a bell which was twenty to twenty-eight inches in diameter and cast thinner than a church or fire bell, so its sound was higher and unmistakable. These bells were normally cast in two-inch increments of diameter and were almost always made of iron or steel.
Town Meetings: For meetings they simply rang the bell at a time when they wouldn’t be having a church service, such as in the evenings.
Other Uses of Bells: Other uses of bells on the “smaller end” of large bells include:
Plantation bells to call workers to and from work.
Dinner (also known as farm) bells to call people for meals.
Ship and riverboat bells to announce they were coming into port or river landings, and to mark time.
Buoy bells to warn ships of reefs and rocks.
Lighthouse bells accompanied a light to increase effectiveness for alerts and guidance.
Bridge bells warn or alert both land travelers and river travelers that a drawbridge, lift bridge or turnbridge was about to open or close.
Fire engine bells to warn that the fire engine was approaching at high speed.
Locomotive bells to warn of an approaching train.
(Note the life-and-death value of using bells in many cases, such as in a thick fog where lights would not be noticed as early as a warning sound.)
I have an old 1810 Ava Maria Bell from Mexico. What can you tell me about it?
These bells are modern day reproductions and are still being made. They are cast to look crudely made, wrapped in diapers soaked in urine, and buried for a few months in dirt to produce an aged appearance. They are mainly sold to tourists.
Will painting my bell hurt the sound?
The quick answer is No. Iron and steel bells came from the foundry painted to stop rust. Bronze and brass bells were not painted but painting them will not hurt the sound.
How do I restore my bell?
There are professional firms which offer this service. The Verdin Co of Cincinnati is the largest of these, but you can also google bell restoration firms to find others. If you want to do the restoration yourself, chapter 3 of the book Large Bells of America covers this subject including photos. It is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or for free through Inter-Library Loan at your local library.
Where can I get missing parts for my bell?
For bells made by the C. S. Bell Co. of Hillsboro, Ohio (the largest maker of bells in the U.S., now no longer making bells) parts can be obtained from Prindle Station at www.prindlestation.com they bought the mold patterns from the C. S. Bell Co.
Lower Bells at www.lowerbells.com casts parts for many bells including A-frame stands, wheels, clappers, yokes, etc. Todd Lower is the owner and the quality is good.
The Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio at www.verdin.com often has extra parts available from bells they have converted to ring electrically.
Church Specialties LLC www.churchspecialtiesllc.com usually has a selection of used bell parts available.
Ebay www.ebay.com usually has some bell parts listed.
What is the value of my bell?
Large bell values change over time. For current values consult the following …
Listings on ebay and the list of sold bells on ebay will give you an indication.
Check the price of bells offered by Lower Bells and Brosamer’s Bells on the internet.
Also, looking up the price of scrap tin and copper on the internet, then weighing your bronze bell and applying the price of scrap copper to 80% of your bell’s weight and the price of scrap tin to 20% of its weight will give you the scrap value of your bronze bell. That may seem sacrilegious to compare an antique bell’s value to scrap, but it is often higher than people think.