Vintage Handchimes


MANY thanks to Michele Sharik, who graciously donated these chimes to the Virtual Handbell Museum! 

1977 – Mid 1980’s, England.  Invented by Toby Heriz Smith and distributed by Schulmerich.  I’ve always heard that these old chimes were aluminum, but that didn’t ring true, given how strong and heavy they are for such thin walled instruments.  A kitchen fridge magnet confirmed my suspicions… they are made from steel!  The material looks like standard, square industrial tubing that was used for awnings, chairs, etc., in the 50’s and 60’s.  There is a welded seam on the underside that runs the length of the tube.  It is more visible on the inside than the outside, because the chimes are painted with a smooth, baked on finish.  Naturals are white, and accidentals are black.  They do not have plugs like present-day instruments.  Larger chimes have a hole to facilitate vibrato.  The walls of the tubes are thinner, and the sides of the tines are much longer than modern chimes, with only approximately a 1/4" gap between them.  They are heavier than their modern counterparts, and some are longer too.  The clapper mechanism is a simple lever system.  It consists of a loop of wire (about the thickness of a coat hanger) that has padding at the strike point, and is secured to the chime by a piece of bicycle inner tube.  Larger chimes have a felt grommet on the clapper for additional padding.  A sticker with the note name is affixed directly to the tine.  The sound is mostly fundamental, but there is a faint, lower minor 3rd sounding on the F5; a lower major 3rd on the A5; and a lower major 2nd on the Bb6.  Very unusual!  The tone has a rapid decay, compared to modern handchimes.  Tuning is A440.

Similar instruments, minus clappers are described in David Sawyer’s book,Vibrations: Making Unorthodox Musical Instruments." (See “Bamboo Bonca” and “Metal Bonca” p.22-25.)  Boncas are open or stopped tubes with slits cut to form tines, and played with a mallet.  The groundwork for the modern handchime was laid by John Shore, with his invention of the tuning fork in 1711; and of course, J.C. Deagan, who experimented with, and patented many forms of stopped and unstopped, pitched tube percussion instruments.