Reed Organ Saucer Bells (Cymballa)


UPDATED!!   Late 1800’s, USA.  Rare.  For years, I could only find sketchy information on these bells, and all indications pointed to the Hooper/Blake Foundry, Boston, MA (successor to Boston Copper, Paul Revere), as the manufacturer.  I kept digging and found out that information was inaccurate.  This instrument was invented by Rufus W. Blake while he was employed at Sterling Piano Company, in Derby, CT.  Blake previously founded Loring, Blake & Company, in Worcester, MA, but moved to Connecticut to join Sterling in 1872.  He became president of the company in 1887.  Both companies manufactured reed organs.  From all accounts, he made a very good living and was quite wealthy.  Unfortunately, Mr. Blake accidentally shot himself while cleaning his own gun and passed away in October 1901. 

This instrument was made for reed (pump) organs and activated mechanically from the keyboard, similar to the saucer bells used in Wurlitzer theatre organs in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s.  It subsequently became known as the “cymballa.” It is a 2½ chromatic (G5 to C7) octave set of bronze saucer (hemisphere, not cup) bells, suspended in 2 rows (15 bells per side) in a wooden rack.  Instead of being set up in keyboard order with the “naturals” on one side and “accidentals” on the other, each side plays a whole tone scale (G-B & G#-C).  The bells are graduated in size from about 3¼” to 1½” diameter and all are approximately 1” deep.  Lathe marks are very prominent outside on most, however 3 were not polished at all and are still mottled with what looks like impressions left from the sand mold.  The insides of all the bells are rough also.  The fundamental is tuned but not the overtones, which is the norm with hemisphere bells.  2 bells each are secured to 1 cast-iron hanger that is screwed into the frame.  The frame measures 19" long x 15 1/4" tall and has small holes (30, 1 for each bell) for rods, strikers and damper mechanism (now missing) to fit through.  Cymballas are very rare, I’ve only seen 2 other sets in my 12 years as a curator of this museum.  The only identifying feature is this decal on the wood:  "The Blake Bell Attachment.  Patented March 14th. 1882.  No. 576."  Click here to see the patent:  blake_bell_patent.pdf