[Bell Historians] Dove inexactitudes

Carl S Zimmerman csz_stl at s...
Tue Oct 1 16:02:25 BST 2002

As one who has been compiling technical data about tower bells for 
more than four decades (want an exact time period? it'll be wrong 
tomorrow!), I concur enthusiastically with Chris Pickford's proposal. 
Here's why:

Chris wrote:
>In an ideal world, one might give - sequentially - all recorded
>weights for a given bell, thereby making the status of each weight
>crystal clear. But where there's only one version this can't be
>done. I would argue that <7-1-16 (a neutral example where nobody
>worries about whether or not the bell is over a ton!) is more
>satisfactory than an arbitrary approximate weight (is it 7 1/4, 7 or
>6 3/4?) and avoids the risk of people re-submitting the exact weight
>that they've "newly" discovered.

In a compilation such as Dove's Guide or my own database of carillons 
(and chimes) of the world, there are several different concerns which 
the compiler attempts to balance. The two which may be the most 
difficult to reconcile are the desire to be as informative as 
possible and the necessity of presenting information in as compact a 
style as possible. Yielding entirely to the first results in a 
multi-page article about each installation, but takes so much space 
(and reading time) that it is almost impossible to get a good overall 
view of the field of interest. (The forest is obscured by the tree 
trunk in front of one's face.) Yielding entirely to the second 
results in a densely-packed and difficult-to-decipher table of 
encoded technical minutiae. (The near-sighted person can't see 
beyond the closest leaf to the surrounding forest.)

What made the original (printed) Dove's Guide so valuable to 
generations of ringers and campanologists were two things: First, he 
had found a format which presented useful information so as to be 
both readable and portable. (Pocketable?) Second, he worked 
diligently to make that information as accurate as possible within 
the limitations of human error, historical ambiguity, etc. &c.

It seems to me that the real point of the present debate is how to 
retain the virtues of Dove's Guide while also being more informative 
about the meaning of one part of its content, namely, the "given" 
tenor weight. (Let's not get into the argument about what a county 
reference means; that's been done elsewhere!) All participants in 
the debate have tacitly accepted that a single weight should continue 
to be presented (though one may hope for the existence of an audit 
trail behind it). Thus the argument is over what that weight should 

I'm sure that we all understand the differences in meaning of the 
traditional deliberate inexactitudes: "7 cwt" is less exact than "7 
1/2 cwt" which is less exact than "7-1-16". And we expect that the 
first two forms are estimates while the third is the result of the 
bell being weighed, presumably by means of a scale that had been 
properly calibrated by HM Standards Office (or whatever the proper 
name of the appropriate agency is).

But those three expressions also have more strict meanings, thus:
7 cwt => this weight is known or estimated to the nearest hundredweight
7 1/2 cwt => this weight is known or estimated to the nearest integer 
multiple of 56 pounds (and possibly also to the nearest integer 
multiple of 28 pounds, although we can't be certain of that, since no 
one writes "7 2/4 cwt")
7 1/4 cwt => this weight is known or estimated to the nearest integer 
multiple of 28 pounds
7-1-16 => this weight is known to the nearest pound

In the past, it was generally assumed that over time one would 
progress from a less exact to a more exact knowledge of the "true" 
weight of a bell. That is, increased precision of measurement 
implied increased accuracy of knowledge. But what started this 
debate was recognition of a situation where that implication is 
false--a bell whose weight was known to the nearest pound underwent 
weight-reduction surgery, leaving it at a weight which is currently 
unknown but certainly less than what was previously measured.

Arguments over whether to present the previous exactly-known weight 
or the present inexactly-known weight reflect the debaters' personal 
preferences, but fail to address the real problem. As has already 
been pointed out, using the previous exact weight is a lie, and using 
an inexact weight when an exact weight has been previously reported 
can only cause confusion. Neither is desirable.

Chris's proposal has the twin virtues of simplicity and clarity. By 
adding a single character to the formerly-exact weight, it is 
possible communicate this fact: "The weight of this bell was 
formerly known exactly; it has since been reduced by an amount that 
is unknown but certainly exceeds one pound." Carrying 25 words of 
information in one character is an economy of communication that is 
hard to beat! And if that one character could be made a hyperlink to 
the audit trail, so much the better. Even without that, there is no 
risk of confusion with any of the other forms for reporting weights.

I'll also take this opportunity to propose a further extension of 
Chris's idea. That is to include with any exact weight a character 
which indicates how that weight was obtained (if known). For 
example, "C" might indicate cast weight, "T" = tuned, "F" = with 
fittings, etc. Not being in the business of weighing bells, I have 
no idea how many such alternatives there might be, nor whether other 
people would really find them useful. But this could be informative 
without consuming much space.

=Carl Scott Zimmerman= Co-Webmaster: http://www.gcna.org/
Voicemail: +1-314-361-5194 (home) mailto:csz_stl at s...
Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - 19th c. home of up to 33 bell foundries

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