Virtual Handbell Museum

 
 
 

Malmark, Schulmerich, Taylor, and Whitechapel... familiar names in the handbell world, but have you ever heard of the Wells or Shaw foundries?  How about JenCo or Trusonic?  Many companies have manufactured handbells and by sifting through old catalogs, journals, books, and talking to collectors, repairmen and foundries, I've found quite a few.  There is evidence of handbell foundries dating back to the late 1600's, with at least 12 or so in operation between 1850 to 1920.  William Butler’s book, “Musical Handbells,”  lists even more.  Some were in business for a quick minute, while others endure to this day. 


At first glance all these bells look much the same and are easily mistaken for old Whitechapels.  Upon closer inspection you will see subtle differences.  Identifying bells by their fittings is not always accurate because old parts such as felts and leathers may have been replaced over the ages.  Springs, clappers and leather tooling might be different on bells from the same foundry, as improvements or stylistic changes were made.   Owners may have modified bells also.  The Shaw bells I purchased from an estate have very short clapper flights.  One could easily assume this is an identifying trait of that foundry.  Further examination revealed marks indicating the flights were filed down.  Foundries didn't always sign or number bells.  Dating can be tricky even if the bell has founder’s initials, as patterns may have been sold when the business was dissolved.  Sometimes it’s best to get a 2nd opinion.  Such was the case with my Dunn bells, but 3 foundries and 2 experienced collectors verified their pedigree.


The original parts are retained whenever possible during the restoration process.  Felts, pegs, staple pins, and springs normally need to be replaced, but clappers, handguards, and sometimes even handles can be saved.  (My WDs all have the original leather collars, although the handles are new.)  I try to find out as much history as I can on all the bells I purchase, as it is interesting, plus it guards against unknowingly buying stolen bells.  Some of these anecdotes are included in the descriptions or captions. 


NOTE:  These are descriptions of actual bells from private collections.  Since collectors usually do not have samples spanning all the years of production from one particular foundry, they are intended as a guide only.



Acknowledgements, Resources

Contact:  snelson@rider.edu    Return to:  Virtual Museum Home    Susan T. Nelson, Composer    Outside the Box Bells


All information on this website ©2000 Susan T. Nelson.