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Bell Knowledgebase

Bells have an important place in history. They become legends and landmarks of the cultural fabric. What makes a bell so special? Why do these metal forms draw so much admiration?

Bells are often installed in the center of town or at a place of prominence at someone's home. Bells are made of valuable materials like brass and copper. Quality bells are an art form with a distinct and beautiful shape. The sound that a bell made was also important, and, many times a bell would be recast to to achieve a certain level of sound.

What is a bell?

A bell is a cup shaped acoustic resonator made from casting metal. The striking implement is typically a suspended capper inside the bell or a mallet/hammer striker.

Types of Bells

There are three families of bells:
  1. Gongs are disc shaped bells, which produce a loud resounding ring when struck from the outside. A boxing bell is a commonly known gong.
  2. Crotals, also known as closed bells, are spherical bells with loose pellets inside. Crotals were inspired from early gourd instruments made over 3500 years ago. A jingle bell is a commonly known crotal.
  3. Bells are the most well known design with a cup shaped mouth and clapper inside. Bells can be divided into two cultures: eastern shape and western shape. Bells can be further divided into subcategories including: cowbells, handbells, tea bells, chime bells, church bells, sleigh/jingle bells, craft bells, farm bells, garden bells, knocker bells, windbells, call bells and turkey bells.

Eastern ShapeWestern Shape

History of Bells

Bells started being developed with the advancement of metallurgy in ancient China. Metallurgy is a material science that studies the physical and chemical behaviors of metallic elements and compounds. It is the process that forms the shape of bells through casting and forging. Before metallurgy, there is some evidence of pottery bells.

In 2000 B.C., the very first bells began to appear in East Asia, reaching West Asia by 1,000 B.C. Bells were primarily used in religious ceremonies, but also used as decoration. Bells were viewed as divine musical instrument. Their ringing was believed to provide peace and serenity to cleanse the mind.

What are bells used for?

Bells have developed many uses and meanings over thousands of years. Common uses of bells are below:

What is the meaning of "saved by the bell," "graveyard shift," and "dead ringer?"

In the late 1700s to early 1800s, there was a very real danger of being buried alive! This was due to a massive cholera outbreak and lack of medical equipment to detect vital signs. People would fall into a comatos state, exhibiting many signs of death. They would be presumed dead and buried in a coffin, only to wake up days later!

In response to this phenomenon, in 1829, Dr. Johann Gottfried Taberger designed a burial system using a bell. The body inside the coffin would have a thread tied to its hands and feet, which was attached to a bell above ground. The bell was put in a case, so nothing would ring it except for the pulling of the thread. Cemeteries were staffed with night watchement to listen for the sounds of bells ringing. This gave rise to modern day terms of, "saved by the bell, "dead ringer, and "graveyard shift."