THE AMERICAN BELL ASSOCIATION® got off to an informal start under the name of 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 said 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.
Eleanor Jean and Edward Carter were founding members and offered to write a newsletter for the members of the new club. Membership jumped from three to seventy in the first year. When Mr. Carter 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 editing and printing 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 and postage was just .02 each! Readership grew to almost 2,400, and Robert by then 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
Many members learned of THE AMERICAN BELL ASSOCIATION® through the generous advertising of S.S. Sarna. Sarna imported and sold thousands of bells each year and put information about the ABA and the Collins address on a small tag attached to each bell.
Our official symbol — The “General Grant Bell”
The first national convention took place in Chicago in 1946 with 23 of 128 members present. Augusta Littmann entertained the members at her home during the second convention in St. Louis in 1947. She presented the Association with a dinner bell from the home of General U.S. Grant, which is now our official symbol.
At the third convention at the St. Elmo Hotel in Chautauqua in 1948 the name was changed, and we became known as THE AMERICAN BELL ASSOCIATION®.
The ABA Today
THE AMERICAN BELL ASSOCIATION® continues to be an active club with 35 local chapters in the U.S. and abroad. Our annual conventions, held in various locations throughout the U.S. and Canada, are friendly reunions of bell friends where members learn fascinating facts about bells, share bell information, and have a chance to view exhibits of thousands of antique and modern bells!