A Brief History
The American Bell
Association got off to an informal start under the name
of The National Bell Collectors Club at
Institution in southwestern New York State in 1940.
Mary Alter Collins, who
spent her summers at Chautauqua, won the 1940 annual
poetry prize for a nature poem, "First Pastures." The
prize was a purse of money. Mary purchased a Sarna bell
at the book store and said to the clerk, "I will be the
first bell collector!" The clerk said there were other
women staying at Chautauqua who collected bells and
soon the five women got together and decided to start a
society of bell lovers.
Eleanor Jean and Edward
Carter were founding members and offered to write a
newsletter for the members of the new club. Membership
jumped from three to seventy in the first year. When
Mr. Carter went to the armed services in 1942, Eleanor
Jean gave up the publication. Mary Alter Collins and
her daughter-in-law, Louise Collins, thought it would be
an interesting challenge to edit the magazine. The
publication was called "The Bell Tower" in honor of the
Miller Bell Tower at Chautauqua.
Institution's Miller Bell Tower
Louise and Robert
Collins continued editing and printing the
magazine until 1988. Early issues were printed on
a mimeograph machine and all issues were mailed from the
rural mailbox of the Collins home. The monthly six-page
newsletter cost just $1.00 per year and postage was just .02 each!
Readership grew to almost 2,400, and Robert by then had
a press in the basement with state-of-the-art collators
and staplers. In 1988, after 45 years, the
job was moved to a printing house.
A.C. Meyer, a
wholesale druggist from Cleveland, published a
six-page pamphlet, "Bell Collectors of America," in
which he had gathered
the names of bell collectors for the
Many members learned of
the American Bell Association through the generous
advertising of S.S. Sarna. Sarna imported and sold
thousands of bells each year and put information about
the ABA and the Collins address on a small tag attached
to each bell. Many people first learned about ABA
through these tags.
The General Grant
official symbol -- The "General Grant Bell"
The first national
convention took place in Chicago in 1946 with 23 of 128
members present. Augusta Littmann
entertained the members at her home during the second
convention in St. Louis in 1947. She presented the Association with a
dinner bell from the home of General U.S. Grant,
which is now our official symbol.
At the third convention
at the St. Elmo Hotel in Chautauqua in 1948 the name was
changed, and we became known as The American Bell
The American Bell
Association continues to be an active club with 40 local
chapters in the U.S. and abroad. Our annual conventions
in various locations are friendly family reunions where
members share bell information and shop for more bells.