|Before the dawn of electricity, bells served a myriad of purposes: They once summoned servants, church members, local fire brigades and air raid patrols.
For nearly 80 years, there has been a special group dedicated to preserving and promoting the rich legacy of bells of all shapes and sizes: the American Bell Assoc. International, Inc. (ABA).
“People usually say, ’I didn’t know there was a society of bell collectors,’” Carol Jurin, ABA president of Perkasie, Pa., said.
“Members have ABA business and rack cards to distribute to antique malls and interested people,” she added. “In recent years, the ABA website has attracted people searching for bells.”
Established in 1940 by a group of fellow bell collectors meeting at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y., the ABA was organized for educational and scientific purposes related to the collection, study, preservation, restoration and research of all kinds of bells.
As a result, the ABA’s bell collections vary depending on member interest, whether they are bells made of brass, bronze, ceramic, glass, crystal, porcelain, wood and less traditional materials.
“There is a history of big bell casting and ringing,” Jurin said, adding, “Town criers have used bells to assemble the public to tell them the news.”
According to the club’s history, Mary Alter Collins, who spent her summers at Chautauqua, won the 1940 annual poetry prize for a nature poem called, “First Pastures.” The prize was a purse of money.
After purchasing a Sarna bell at the local bookstore, Collins said to the clerk, “I will be the first bell collector!” The clerk told Collins there were five other women staying at Chautauqua who collected bells, and they soon gathered together and decided to start “a society of bell lovers.”
Formerly named the National Bell Collectors Club, the ABA has grown into a network of bell collectors, ringers, carillonneurs, artisans, manufacturers, technicians and dealers.
“The ABA does not deal with strictly one type of bell,” Jurin said. “For example, I only have one farm bell in my backyard, but some members strictly collect large bells and have all of them mounted outside.”
In 1946, the ABA held its first national convention in Chicago, with 23 of its 128 members present.
In 1947, Augusta Littmann entertained fellow members at her home during the ABA’s second convention in St. Louis where she presented the group with a dinner bell from the home of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, which is now the ABA’s official symbol.
Jurin has a long history with the ABA, which was launched when she started collecting bells as a teenager during family vacations. “Wanting to have a unique collection, at travel stops, I’d look for and purchase a bell,” she recalled. “As a Christmas gift in 1976, my parents gave me a membership to the ABA.”
Now, decades later as ABA president, Jurin leads the organization through the ABA executive board, which meets with the membership committee yearly at the national convention. “As president, I have in my care the organizational General Grant Bell, which is rung at the beginning and close of Convention,” she said.
Currently, the ABA has more than 700 members, with 35 local chapters in the U.S. and 20 other countries.
“Our annual conventions, held in various locations throughout the U.S. and Canada, are friendly reunions of bell friends where members learn fascinating facts about bells, share bell information, and have a chance to view exhibits of thousands of antique and modern bells,” the ABA’s website said.
Each year, Jurin said, a convention bell is produced using various techniques.
“The conventions include informative bell talks, a bell auction and meetings of old and new bell friends,” Jurin said. “The convention has a family reunion atmosphere. The bottom line: all members enjoy bells, no matter what phase.”
To keep members well informed and updated throughout the year, the ABA prints an official, bi-monthly publication, The Bell Tower magazine, edited by ABA member Marilyn Grismere of Mason, Ohio. “Each year, all auction prices are printed in the September/October The Bell Tower,” she said.
“To reach the millennial collectors, the ABA has a fantastic webmaster who keeps track of members and non-members using the forum,” she said. “After using our forum, the non-members receive an e-mail explaining what an ABA membership provides.
“At the July 2018 Convention, we had two teenage boys accompany their grandparents,” she added. “Both were present during the annual auction; one actually buying bells. Many new members join after using our website.”
For more information visit: https://americanbell.org