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Welcome to
Mt. Vernon Community Presbyterian Church


Brief History of Hand Bells

I mentioned in church recently that the church purchased our 3-octave hand bell set over 36 years ago!  This is just a drop in the bucket compared to how long bells have been around.

The oldest existing bells with handles, found in China, date from 1600 B.C., although different kinds and shapes of bells have been found all over the world.

Skip forward many centuries.  The art of tower bell ringing was becoming established in England around the 16th Century.  A set of five to twelve bells was rung in a numerical sequence, not a melodic pattern.  This was called "change ringing".  It took hours of practice pulling on the ropes to cause the bells to ring in different orders creating patterns of melody.  No surprise that the practice and the actual ringing disturbed the surrounding community.  Not to mention how cold it was for the ringers in winter.  As a result small bells were developed so ringers could practice indoors and not disturb the neighbors. The hand bells we know in the United States are descendants from the tower bells in England.

Believe it or not English hand bells are believed to be introduced to America by the Peake Family Ringers in the 1830s and in 1840 by P.T. Barnum!

English hand bells come in different sizes, the smaller ones having the higher tones and the larger bells having the lower base tones. The bells are made of copper and tin, and are cast in a manner that heat and cold will not affect the tone.  The handles were once made of hard leather but now are made of vinyl.  The clappers will only move up and down and have special springs to prevent the clapper from resting on the bell.  Each bell is marked with the musical note on its handle.

An interesting fact is there are only two American makers of hand bells.  Both companies, Malmark and Schulmerich are located in Pennsylvania!  They have a very big rivalry so their bells are not compatible with each other.

In order to keep our bells in tip-top shape it’s time to have them completely refurbished.  The cost to do so will be $3,900.  Schulmerich will replace the interior assembly, handles, discs, then clean and polish the bells.   To buy the bells new would cost over $11,000 so this is a wise investment.  Any donations to defray the cost of the refurbishment would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your help!

Joyfully Ringing,




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