Cowan Collection


Frances and Marlow (...of Mayo Clinic/YouTube fame! See links below...) are far too modest to brag of their considerable contributions to the bell world, so I’ll just have to do it for them!  They are soloists, directors, ringers, craftsmen and inventors.  In 1954, they founded the “Y.M.C.A. Boys Chorus and Bell Ringers” and “Choral Belles” girls choir, of Des Moines, IA, which they directed for 27 years.  The choirs, which boasted 50+ members in each group, toured the U.S. and abroad regularly, singing and ringing.  They donated countless hours to the choirs, while rehearsing, managing, organizing, and directing, culminating in 40 to 50 performances per year.  A self-sufficient group, the costs of touring were defrayed by free-will offerings, plus each child contributed with earnings from recycling, candy sales and other fund raising projects.  The choirs performed for churches, schools, prisons, hospitals and also at such prestigious places as West Point, Annapolis, Disney Land and World, and the New York World’s Fair.  Through the years, over 500 children treated audiences, ringing handbells, as well as some highly unusual, novelty instruments such as tuned bicycle sprockets, frying pans, bicycle horns and organ pipes!  The Cowans are still actively involved in promoting the art of ringing by helping churches and community groups to start handbell choirs.  They provide “loaner sets” for those waiting for their new bells to arrive, and give workshops on ringing, organizing and directing bell choirs.  They direct the youth and adult bell choirs at their church, and the two do 8-10 solo/duet performances per year on handbells and their other novelty instruments. 

CBR Handbell Repair, their refurbishing business, has been transforming old bells into new for over 40 years.  About 1,500 bells (and climbing!) pass through their shop every year.  They have restored handbells from 14 different foundries including:  Bells of David, Deagan, William Dunn, Golden Bells, Jenco, Malmark, Mayland, Petit & Fritsen, Schulmerich, Shaw, H.R. Street, Taylor, Tru-Sonic, and Whitchapel.  Many of these brands haven’t been produced for years, so they have to fabricate parts as needed.  Also, Marlow is the only handbell craftsman I know of that has successfully repaired a cracked casting.  Take a look at the “before and after” pictures of my Dunn bells he refurbished… you won’t believe your eyes!  They also make tuned cowbells, available in 8 note diatonic sets to 2 full chromatic octaves.  Their collection contains rare, one of a kind instruments, many of which were made by Marlow himself.  All photos and descriptions below are courtesy of the Cowans.

2-in-Hand Bells

4-in-Hand Bells

Deagan Cricket Bells

Deagan Triple Octave Organ Chimes

Electric Door Bells

Mayland in Stages of Restoration

Multiple Sleigh Bells

Musical Disks

Musical Rocks

Tap Bells

Trusonic Octo Melody Bells

Piccolo Bells

Whitechapel Saucer Bells

“Over 90 and Loving it” video:

Original YouTube Video:

Story Behind the Video:

Appearance on Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know:

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