Dating antique sleigh bells
Arguably the official “sound” of the holidays, the jingling of sleigh bells instantly puts a listener in the mindset of Christmas. Flip on the radio to virtually any station this time of year and you can tell within seconds if you’re listening to a holiday song — you’ll hear sleigh bells in the background.) One-horse open sleighs are, of course, jingling all the way, and it’s a well-known fact that Santa’s reindeer also wear bells. Who decided that putting bells all over a sleigh and harness were festive?Like other forms of equine ornamentation, bells on the harness, tack or horse itself were used as charms: they were said to bring good luck, ward off evil and protect against disease and injury.Traditional and authentic bells, with an open mouth and a clapper, were used on occasion and are still found on European working harnesses with one bell suspended between the hames.Throat: The “throat” of the bell refers to the number of slits, which allow the bell to vibrate and therefore ring.For horse-drawn livery or vendors, the bells also served as a commercial to let potential customers know they were in the area — kind of like an old-school ice cream truck.In both Europe and the United States, sleighing became a popular form of recreation in the winter as well as a method of transportation in the nineteenth century.Hip straps: Usually just a few bells make up a hip strap, which slides onto the back strap of the harness and hangs down over the horse’s lower back or hips.
As styles changed and stamped bells became vogue, bells were left undecorated and were polished to a shine.
The process of metal stamping revolutionized the bell-making industry as well as the tonal qualities!
Okay, now that you’ve finally selected what style of bell you’ll be using, you need to look at your horse and harness and decide where to put these things.
(I warned you that this article included things you never knew you never knew.) Shape: Crotal bells for harness purposes are commonly seen in a few shapes: round or egg-shaped bells were called arctic or globe bells by the makers. Less common shapes include the bevel or band bell with a slightly pointed face; square bells look impressive but are said to sound absolutely terrible (and are also quite fragile).
Other specialty custom bell shapes include acorns or flower buds.Individual specialty antique bells can still be found with fish-scale or ornate petal designs, but these are much less common.