How many different types of music bell sets do you know?

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It's risky to identify bells by their fittings because handles, springs, etc., that have worn out may have been replaced over the years. Also things are complicated by the fact that foundries that went out of business sold their molds to other foundries. So a bell stamped with the symbol of a certain foundry may not be from the original foundry. Also some info supplied by bell experts and foundries is contradictory...

1) malleted standing bells

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A reproduction is made today: NEW Montessori Materials Music Bells Set
Set of 13 pairs of movable brass bells that make up the chromatic scale starting with middle C (do) as follows: a) 13 bells with natural wood bases; b) 13 bells with decreasing diameters, and black or white wooden bases to correspond to the piano keyboard. Made by: Gonzagarredi, Catalog Item #: 1.MM.240 - Catalog Price: $813.00 sold at auction for $457.00 January 2005

2) 4-in-hand handbells

With resonator tubes:

Without resonator tubes:

3) American cowbells

4) European cowbells

5) Hard handle handbells (also known as 'school bells')

6) English handbells made by Schulmerich in PA

7) Sargent musical cowbells, made in CT

8) Deagan cowbells, made in Chicago, IL

9) Malleted chrome bells

10) Sleighbells

11) Soft handle handbells

12) R.H. Mayland Handbells
Made of nickel plated brass. They have leather handles. Each leather handle has a leather base that is stamped "R.H. Mayland, Brooklyn, N.Y." along with the note stamp. The clappers have felt pads. These bells were first manufactured in the US by the Mayland's Brooklyn, NY foundry, established by R.H. Mayland in 1866. This company was the first American firm to produce tuned musical handbells. Several years after Mayland had begun his handbell operations, the Chicago firm of J.C. Deagan, Inc., started producing tuned bells, including 4-in-hand bells, handbell sets, pullman (arch)chimes, tap bells, handbell carillons, chimes for organs, clocks, doorbells, vibraphones, xylophones and also produced tubular tower chimes from about 1920 to 1958. Both Mayland and Deagen discontinued their handbell operations, Deagan during the first world war, and Mayland during the 2nd world war. Government wartime restrictions on the use of metals was the major reason for the termination of handbell production.

13) 6 Malleted E. Biliger Chimes
Held up by leg stands.

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14) 8 Malleted E. Biliger Chimes
Held up by leg stands.

15) Made by E Biliger of Germany, a set of 12 metal chime bells with a wooden mallet. The box contains a metal stand that accommodates the bells in three rows of four with the largest at the bottom. A hand-written inscription on the box is a clue to the date these bells were bought: 'To dear Francis from Grannie, March 1936'.

16) Five Note Han Dynasty Royal Bell Instrument
Comes in a case lined with red velvet inside and locked by an ivory pick.It is a 5 note brass bell instrument which was used during the Han Dynasty or the time of Confucius and Christ.It is embossed with Oriental icons and letters and perhaps notes and played with a brass hammer.It is a replica. Measures about 6 by 10 inches and the hammer is 2 1/2 inches. Case is 2 by 12 by 7.

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17) J. T. Handbells

Late 1800's - Early 1900's, made in England.
Brass (or bronze?) bells, with the maker's initials 'J.T.' under the top flap of each bell. The leather handles are engraved with various patterns. The bells also have the note they signify printed on the straps. Clappers have pads on them. The bells in this set are as follows: 'D' printed on the strap and '14' on the bell itself '#C' printed on the strap and '15X' on the bell itself. 'B' printed on the strap and '16' on the bell itself. 'E' printed on the strap and '20' on the bell itself.
"J.T." stands for John Taylor, the famous English bellfoundry.

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18) Three Bell Musical Set
Each bell has a musical symbol on top representing the musical note of that bell. Each bell reads "WILKINSON'S PATENT" on bottom.Large bell is 5" wide, center bell is 4" wide and smaller one is 3 1/4" wide. Musical plate on top is struck with wood mallet to produce sounds. Each plate "floats" on a cushion-like material that keeps the plate from touching the brass bell and deadening out. 8" high x 10" wide.
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Also comes in a set of 6 bells. Large bell is 5" wide, center bell is 4" wide and smaller.
Reeds Patent 5320 Perry Plant WF Needham.

19) Whitechapel? soft handle bells
Made about 1890. Decorated top.

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The Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established in 1570.
The Mears family took over the Whitechapel Foundry in 1787. Various members of the Mears family ran the foundry until the final family member, George Mears, retired in 1865.
Today it is run by members of the Hughes family.

20) Soft handle handbells
Non decorated top

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21) Pitched sleighbell sticks
Each stick has a different pitch of bells

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22) Petit & Fritsen
Chromatic handbell set

P&F bell-founders since 1660, in Aarle-Rixtel, Holland. These bells were sold in the USA as early as 1952 when the first and only full 5 chromatic octave set of 61 bells was purchased. The last order to the USA was in 2002. These bells may still be ordered from the company, though they are not manufactured any more.
These bells have a strong overtone of a third above the intended note of the bell. You can tell the approximate age of your P&F bells by this overtone. If the first overtone is a major third, your bells were manufactured prior to about 1970 . If your bells have a minor third as the first overtone - they were made later
P&F bells are made of a bronze alloy of 76% copper and 24% tin, (smaller bells have a slightly higher percentage of tin). Some P&F bells also have a little lead in them, too. .

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23) Single Sleighbells

CAST BRASS AND THE HANDLES ARE HARDWOOD. Bells are numbered from 1 to 10.

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24) Maas Rowe church handbells

2 Octave set (25 handbells) of Maas Rowe handbells: G4 through G6. These handbells were still manufactured in 1993 but are no longer manufactured today. Replacement parts can still be purchased, though.
The casting tonality is comparible to Schulmerich, and could be played with Schully, Malmark and/or White Chapel interchangably. The handle is one piece molded plastic. The clapper assembly has a lot of slop. It even pivots slightlyinside the casting at rest.

(Thank you very much, Erica Hoffman, for the info.
Anyone interested in the refit process of Maas Rowe handbells and pricing please contact Erica at:

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25) 38 vintage bells by Deagan, 3 chromatic octave set

Each bell has a letter and some have a # sign near the letter. These bells are silver plated brass or bronze (non magnetic) . 38 total bells, 4- 2 1/2" size marked F,D,D#,E 10-3" size marked G,A,B,G#,C,C#,F#,A#,F,E 4-3 1/2" size marked D#,D,C#,C 5-4" size marked B,G,A#,A,G# 5-5" size marked E,D,F#,F,D# 2-5 1/2" size marked A#,B 6-6 1/2" size marked F#,G#,A,G,F,D# 1-7 1/2" size marked D 1-8" size marked C# One has no handle. So the set is missing 4 bells C4, E4, C5, & C#5.
These bells look like they may have come from a carillon or an organ but they could have been used as "hand" bells.
There is a resonator tube ("tin cans" attached to each bell, like stovepipes) to emphasize one of the primary or secondary frequencies or to amplify the sound of the bell as a whole. That could lead one to think that they were used mechanically in an organ, bandorgan, or carillon type of instrument. However, if they would be carillon-type bells, it is strange that the clappers are *inside* the castings.
The pipes very slightly enhance the note & possibly its duration, more noticeable in the larger ones, hardly any difference in the smaller ones, an experiment that was probably tried & thought not worthy of continuing with the extra cost & weight of the pipes I would guess.
The handles look similar to those of Whitechapels handbells.
On one of the large bell leather handles "J.C.Deagan" & underneath "Chicago" is stamped. The clappers & staples also have the bell note stamped on them in the same style as the bells & handles.
The bells are all slightly larger in casting size to note, compared to most bells, the C#4 is about equal to a G3 in size.
Sold at auction in 2003 for $1,300. (Thank you very much, Ian, for the info).

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26) English Choir Bells made by Warners of London

A set of 14 Brass (or bronze?) Antique English Choir Bells made by Warners of London ranging from a low E to a high D. Starting with the lowest bell E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D.
Sold at auction 2004 for $167.

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25 Antique Handbells with leather straps. Diameters range from 2 inches to 4 inches. Heights range from approximately 2 inches to 4 inches. Bells are numbered from 1 to 13. Notes are C, Cis, D, Dis, E, F, Fis, G, Gis, A, B, H
(Gis is the European notation for G#, and B,H are the European (especially German) equivalents of B-flat and B-natural, respectively. The European equivalents of the other flat notes are Des, Es, Ges, As).

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28) Decorated Austrian cowbells

Brass 26 bells (midle and low octaves). Each bell was marked by a black mark on the top of the handle and in the rear of the bell with its note. Sold at auction 2004 for $408.

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29) English Handbells made by Malmark

Malmark ( produces bronze handbells from C2 to C9 (7 octaves) and aluminum handbells from G1 to F#3 (2 octaves), as well as other related products.

30) Christine's Bells

I received the following e-mail about these bells:
I was searching the internet for information on antique handbells and found your site.
I have an old wooden case with 5 handbells (7 open spaces for the rest of the set?) They have soft leather straps and each has a number 12,13,14,15,18.
The only marks that I could see were the number on the top of each bell.
I did notice fine grooves on the inside circumference of the bells.
The picture showing one little "mallet" like thing - that has a wooden "stem".
The clapper stems don't seem to have been hammered. I could be looking at the wrong part of the bell so leave a little room for my error here.
Is the clapper pin the metal stem of that swings the ball or the little wooden insert in the ball? The box and bells were given to me by a gentleman who owned a restuarant in the San Francisco area. He was from Germany and actually played these bells. The story that I have been told is that they were his grandfather's and then his father's and then his. The letters on the box are his initials.
I would like to know more about where they came from and who made them as well as how old they really are. Can you help me or perhaps put me in touch with someone that might know? I appreciate any assistance you can offer me on this.
Thank you,

Here is what some bell experts had to say about Christine's bells:

From J.O.:
I own some bells that look similar to those in the pictures: William Dunns and maybe some Whitechapels and John Taylors. They roughly date from the mid 1850's to early 1900's

From L.A.:
I have some old Whitechapel bells that look a good bit like the ones in your pictures. Leather handles are typical of Whitechapel bells

From I:
The clapper spring is of a shape used by Robert Wells of Aldbourne Wiltshire England. The Wells family bellfoundry dates from about 1713 to 1825 when on June the 28th James Wells was declared bankrupt, & on August the 24 Thomas Mears of Whitchapel Purchased the Wells foundry. Ref: from "Musical Handbells" by William Butler.
I think more Wells than Lester

From S.N:
The springs do look like Wells (or Lester), but I do not think they are Robert Wells bells either. I have a one oct. diatonic set of them and Wells bells have his initials "RW" (or some variation like RWELLS, RWE) raised in the inside of the bell, just like Cors bells. The bell pictured doesn't have any initials inside, or evidence of their removal that I can see.
It's risky to identify bells by their fittings because handles, springs, etc., that have worn out may have been replaced over the years.

These bells are definitely not:
Petit & Fritsen handbells - casting shape, outside of bell appears like it was polished smooth, clapper mechanism is way different
Shaw (staple is too thin)
Cors or any of the founders that cast their initials or names in relief inside bell
Taylor 1900 or newer (could be older Taylors from early 1800's. I have one of those and the bell pictured looks remarkably similar).
Probably not William Dunn, Deagan or Mayland either.

From B.B:
First, do you think that the bells and clappers are of the same date? It is difficult to tell from the prints, but the ring markings do not look as though they are cast-in/machined in. They look more like wear marks.
Are the clappers pegged in? I agree that they do not look like Wells clappers. Is there a broken-off iron cast-in clapper staple under the inner leather washer?
I'm not sure if I can see a note stamped on one of the straps. If they are so marked it would make them later in date.
Have the bells been turned - inside and out? They look as though they may have been.
If I were to hazard a guess without any more information I would think that they might be Whitechapel cast, late eighteenth century.

Sold at auction 2004 for $138.

How many sets of bells designed for children do you know? Click here

Who were the bell ringers of yore? Click here


Bell Ringing In History

Handbells are amongst the world's longest surviving musical instruments. Bells are mentioned in the Bible, and have existed as early as 1500 BC in Israel and Africa. They were of the crotal type, spherical in shape, with a pellet inside making the sound with its rolling action. They were rung by shaking, the ringers hand holding a small finger grip.
The first handbells to be rung by holding a handle, with a clapper connected to the inside of the bell came from China, India and Korea and date back to 1400 BC.

It appears that the earliest bell ringing technique of non-suspended bells is the "dropped arm" technique. Used by Celtic bell ringers, the bells were held below the ringers waist line, by the side of the body. Many medieval manuscripts show such ringers in their border decorations.

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Handbell ringers at Edward the Confessor's funeral, detail from the Bayeux Tapestry.

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Detail of a bell ringer from the Saxon cross discovered at Winwick, Cheshire.

Thank you very much to campanologist Carl Scott Zimmerman for his very kind help in providing both information and technical support.

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