Dating antique sleigh bells
However, as horse-drawn transport faded with the advent of the automobile, so did the bell makers: only a handful of the old manufacturers are still producing the classic bells and many strings still used today are vintage relics from days gone by. Not quite: within the category of “sleigh bells” there are a number of ways to classify the individual bells: shape, throat style, decoration and construction.
Body straps can come in the New England style, in which all of the bells are the same size, or the graduated style, in which bells get smaller as you travel down the strap.Neck strap: Perhaps a safer option than the body strap, the neck strap simply places those bells around the horse’s neck or collar.Bells might all be one standard size or they may be graduated.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.The hip strap is a common place to find Swedish bells with their deep voices.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.
Decoration: Old traditional cast bells from Europe commonly carried a petal or horseshoe design and were subsequently referred to as “petal bells.” Individual makers might include their initials, or perhaps the size of the bell.
As styles changed and stamped bells became vogue, bells were left undecorated and were polished to a shine.
Individual specialty antique bells can still be found with fish-scale or ornate petal designs, but these are much less common.
Construction: As mentioned above, harness bells were originally cast in brass.
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?