[Bell Historians] Yesterday's CCC conference

Carl S Zimmerman csz_stl at s...
Thu Nov 6 18:04:09 GMT 2003

Yesterday, David Bryant started a very interesting discussion by asking:
>I know we've discussed the matter before, but what do people feel about
>forming a society of bell historians.

I am prepared to add an international flavor/flavour to such a 
society, since I think it unlikely that there would be enough 
interest to form one in the USA. And I'm willing to support it to 
the extent I can through e-mail, Web work, and a reasonable annual 
subscription fee. As a starter, I'll now contribute a few comments 
on points that have been raised up to now, as well as raise some new 

While the administrative aspects of forming and maintaining such a 
society will be vitally important, perhaps the most important thing 
"up front" is reaching a consensus on the purpose of it. Actually, 
that probably should be "purposes", because a broad spectrum of 
effort is likely to be more productive (in terms of both recruitment 
and influence) than a very narrowly focussed one. Just for starters, 
here's a rough draft:
1. To encourage study of the history of tower bells and related 
subjects (especially their use and their manufacture);
2. to provide channels for sharing information about such history;
3. to promote the conservation of historic bells, fittings and 
frames, and, where possible, their continued use for their original 
4. to work actively with other private and public organizations in 
furtherance of the above purposes.
Don't like that? Write a better one! and post it for others to chew on.

I deliberately used the term "tower bells" rather than "church 
bells", because even though the majority of historic bells are in 
churches, we should not appear to be neglecting those which are in 
secular locations. But if you can think of a better term, suggest it!

David Bagley wrote:
>It may be a nice old bell, sitting in a nice old frame, but if it 
>can't be rung then it is totally useless.
Not "totally", though I agree that it's currently useless for its 
original purpose. Still, it may well be useful for historical and/or 
sentimental reasons, which shouldn't be ignored. And there may be 
potential for restoring it to its original use without loss of either 
historical or sentimental value. Let's try to avoid the classically 
American-style snap judgements. :-)

A significant advantage to establishing a society of bell historians 
is that it would be independent of the constraints inherent in trying 
to operate under the aegis of any of the existing organizations. 
That's not to say that it wouldn't cooperate with them; rather, it 
might be able to take on tasks that they are unwilling and/or unable 
to do. I fully expect that most members of the proposed society 
would also be members of other bell-related organizations (ringing 
guilds and societies being the most obvious examples). It's a matter 
of how best to organize to accomplish certain goals by working with 
others who share them.

Anne Willis wrote:
>Bell Historians need those people who look at the bells, frames and 
>towers just as much as the people who are prepared to go through 
Absolutely! David Bryant expanded upon this point very nicely, and 
later mentioned the term "industrial archaeology". I first heard 
that term from a staff member at the Smithsonian Institution, and by 
an extreme coincidence heard it again from a stranger who telephoned 
me while I was in the midst of writing this paragraph. Conventional 
historical methods only uncovered for me the business histories of 
the St.Louis bellfounders; I had to examine the contents of hundreds 
of belfries to uncover part of the practical history of what they 
produced and to deduce something about how they did it. (Oh, 
yes--the caller's co-worker used to teach Industrial Archaeology at 
the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.)

Like other contributors, I didn't start out being enthusiastic about 
bell fittings. But in exploring old belfries, my mechanical 
aptitudes were intrigued to notice the many different ways in which 
American bellfounders addressed the problems of suspension, support, 
rotation, etc. So now, when I find a bell, I pay as much attention 
to those details as I do to the size, pitch, style & inscriptions of 
the bell itself. (Hmmm...yet another topic to add to the To Do list 
for the Tower Bells Website!)

In a sense, the subscribers to this List already form a society of 
bell historians; it's just that we don't yet have the formal 
organizational structure that would provide the necessary platform 
for promoting the views which most of us seem to share. Let's 
continue to talk/write about it until we reach a consensus on how to 
accomplish more on a collective basis.

Carl Scott Zimmerman, CCP <XNS-Name:=Carl Scott 
Certified Computing Professional (ICCP) Campanologist
Co-Webmaster: http://www.GCNA.org/
Webmaster: http://www.TowerBells.org/
Avocation: tower bells / Recreation: handbells / Mission: church bells
Voicemail: +1-314-821-8437 (home) E-mail: csz_stl at s...
Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - - 19th c. home of at least 33 bell
. . . . . . . . . . . . . foundries or resellers

More information about the Bell-historians mailing list