Collectors Corner: Ring My Bell
By Michele Alice
Across the nation, bells are ringing, summoning our nation's youth to another year of intellectual stimulation.
Ooops! Wrong bells. We're actually referring to those larger affairs that could be heard all over town, and to the hand-held variety that teachers used to swing to announce the beginning of classes while standing outside their schools' front doors.
Throughout their long history, bells have served a multitude of purposes. They've rung out from church spires, civic buildings, national monuments, maritime vessels, fire trucks, front doors, bicycles, dinner tables, and parlors. They've hung from the necks of cows and enlivened sleigh rides. They've called farm hands to dinner, and advertised the town crier. They've adorned Christmas trees and wreathes. And they've been sold as souvenirs and tchotchkes.
For each of these kinds of bells, there are collectors, though admittedly, the larger the bells, the fewer the collectors. And bells can be very, very big. The largest bell in recorded history is known as The Great Bell of Dhammazedi. Cast in 1484 for the Schwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma, the bell weighed an estimated 300 tons. It still exists, under approximately 25 feet of sediment at the bottom of the Yangon River, where it sank in 1602 after a Portuguese warlord attempted to remove it.
Most collectors today concentrate on the much smaller bells that were manufactured for personal and household use. The majority of these were made of glass, crystal, porcelain, sterling silver, brass, or bronze. (Tip: always keep a small magnet about your person when attending sales: bronze is not magnetic.) Some of the rarer pieces include late 19th century flint glass French bells with enameled bronze handles in the shapes of animals and with coordinating clappers. These four-inch pieces can fetch several hundred dollars each at auction.
English "wedding" bells, with long handles topped by a group of tapering knobs, are also very popular, as are any vintage pieces manufactured by noted companies like Reed & Barton and Waterford and Wedgwood, souvenir pieces like those from Chicago's 1893 World's Fair, and cross-collectibles such as those made of Depression, carnival, or milk glass or featuring a particular motif such as of birds or angels. And while not as common as in Victorian times, companies such as Fenton Art Glass continue to manufacture highly decorative pieces for the collector.
Luckily for collectors, bells can appear anywhere from second-hand stores to thrift shops, yard sales, estate sales, and auctions. And while some can be quite expensive, most can be added to a collection for quite reasonable prices. In fact, it's not all that unlikely that you could secure a "find" for very little if you know how to, for example, differentiate between types of glass or are able to identify makers marks.
Interested in learning more about collectible bells? Check out the resources listed below, and
American Glass Bells, by A. A. Trinidad, Jr.
Bells and Man, by Percival Price
Collectible Bells: Treasures of Sight and Sound, by Donna S. Baker
Collectible Glass Bells of the World, by A. A. Trinidad, Jr.
More Collectible Bells: Classic to Contemporary, by Donna S. Baker
American Bell Association International, Inc. - Founded in 1940, organization hosts annual convention and publishes The Bell Tower , a bimonthly magazine. Site offers articles, FAQs, forum.
Bells Collecting - About Bells and Bell Collecting - Helpful site includes "Types of Bells," "Collecting Bells," "Caring for Bells."
Bell Collection - Here's just one collection on Pinterest. Nice pics!
Jing-a Ling…Hear Them Ring - Article by Jeffrey B. Snyder for Unravel the Gavel provides insight on the production of glass bells.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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