Exciting New Facts of V for Victory Bell and its Designer
by Kay Nelson, condensed and edited by Carolyn G. Whitlock
Originally printed as a supplement in The Bell Tower, the official publication of the American Bell Association International, Inc., 1980. © American Bell Association International, Inc.
This story has its beginning in April, 1977, when Sally Roy of the Ontario Chapter of A.B.A. sent to me, as Chairman of the Northern California Bell Friends Chapter, a copy of their newsletter telling of several bells, including that of the “V for Victory” bell. In the Ontario Chapter write-up, it spoke of my good friend, Mrs. Violet Yates of British Columbia, trying in 1972 to locate a Mr. Conrad Parlanti, the designer of the “V for Victory” bell in “the Berkeley, San Francisco, California, U.S.A. area”. She had no success in locating the gentleman. I knew that Vi was a thorough researcher, and yet I became challenged to see what information I could possibly find about this designer.The Search for Conrad Parlanti
San Francisco and Berkeley are two really separate cities facing one another on opposite shores of the San Francisco Bay. On April 27, 1977, I decided to go through Information of the phone company, checking on the name Parlanti.
With no progress realized after many telephone calls, I called a Palo Alto library friend, asking her assistance in checking in Thomas Registry as to any correlation listing of the name Parlanti, a bell maker, or metallurgist. Again, no success! Almost as a joke, the librarian laughingly asked if I had looked in our Palto Alto area phone book. I said, “No… but to satisfy both of us, I would.” Looking back on that evening, I recall I had mixed emotions of utter shock, happiness, and eagerness when there, before my eyes, in our own phone book, were the listings of a Dr. Conrad Parlanti!Dr. Conrad Parlanti – A reality
The next morning, April 28, 1977, I called Dr. Conrad Parlanti’s telephone listing. A lady with a beautifully soft and European accent answered. By this time I had my message of inquiry concerning a Conrad Parlanti almost memorized, so I quickly told her of my search.
She became quite excited, saying she was Mrs. Conrad Parlanti, and what a marvelous story concerning the search for her husband and his connection with the Victory Bell. She said the doctor was in Boston on business, and upon his return she would contact me, and we would certainly get together.
I eagerly waited for Mrs. Parlanti’s return call. Weeks went by and I became concerned and puzzled as to why no word from her. I finally decided on June 13 to call and refer to our April conversation. The minute I said my name, she immediately started to apologize. It seems their playful cat – who loves to eat paper – had chewed their telephone memos, one of which was my name and phone number. She could remember my name was Nelson but not Al’s name, or our street as listed in the phone book. She had tried calling all the Nelsons in the phone book, with no success as to the Mrs. Nelson associated with bells. She said she attempted to reach all listed Nelsons, but several were not a home – this probably being our case. So it seems she had been waiting all these weeks for me to call again!
Several days later I was the luncheon guest of Dr. and Mrs. Parlanti. Their warm personality and polished charm made our time together both stimulating and informative. We discussed all facts of the Victory Bell and I am now writing the following information directly received from Dr. Parlanti.Dr. Parlanti’s Own Words About His Connection with the Victory Bell
It is important here to remember that the following information is from direct quotes of Dr. Parlanti and that it is he who is speaking in the first person pronoun.
“Sometime during World War II, I was driving to a meeting with Light Alloy Control in Banbury, England. On my way I saw a pile of aluminum ingots in the open field. On inquiring about them, I was told that they were ingots cast from destroyed German aircraft over the United Kingdom.
This intrigued me and I thought that on V. E. Day it would be great relief to everyone to ring in Peace on Victory Bells cast from metal of destroyed German aircraft. I set about designing such a bell.”Original Handle Design
“My original design for the bell had a different handle from the ones seen today. The motif I wanted associated with the bell was the “V” for Victory so exploited by Winston Churchill and his famous statement, ‘Never has so much been owed by so many to so few.’ I also wanted to associate the musical signature used by the British Broadcasting System when talking to the people in the occupied countries in Europe. They used the first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, which by its dot-dot-dot-dash, gave the ‘V’ sign in Morse Code. Originally this correlation between the symphony and Morse Code and the Victory sign had been proposed by a Mr. Victor De Lavalye, then living in exile in London, but who was a member of the Belgian government. Winston Churchill constantly used the ‘V’ sign with two upraised fingers.
“I felt that on V. E. Day, the bells, by my originally planned handle, could be he by many people with each person in the line holding on to one side of the ‘V’ handle, and the next person holding on to the other side of the handle. In this way, the bells would truly unite the people holding on to the bell handles. I wanted the bells to reach all parts of the United Kingdom and in this way people would become linked together, ringing out their peals of victory on metal knocked out of the skies during those terribly dark war days.
“The ringing of these bells would be reminiscent of the written and musical sign that had maintained the hopes of so many millions of enslaved people, and which would mean that freedom was being heralded in.Portraits and Wording on Bell
“I molded portraits of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin around the bell and at that time did not intend any wording to be around the bottom of the bell. It was my intention that various factories would make these bells, they would be sold at an attractive price, and the proceeds would to go to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. I never intended to receive any monetary reward from the design or sale of the bells and I want to stress that I never have received any money in connection with these bells.Handle Design Changed
“I made several permanent molds of my design idea and presented them to my associates in the metal field. My dream of the ‘V’ handle was knocked out on the grounds that it was too expensive to make the actual open ‘V’ handle and the bells would not sell so well because of the higher price tag. I did not object to changing the handle design because of this reasoning (of hopefully getting as much money from the sale of bells into the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund as possible).
“This is the handle design that was agreed upon and which is one commonly seen on existing bells: solid piece of aluminum, ‘V’ letter molded onto handle surface, both sides; no dot-dot-dot-dash motif. I have been told and shown diagrams by Mrs. Kay Nelson of other handle designs using the dot-dot-dot-dash insignia in several different ways, but this was not used on the original Victory bells. Since I did not even try to obtain a patent on my design, I would assume that factories later took liberties with the original pattern and made various handles and shapes, still using the faces of the three famous men and the several word patterns seen on different bells.Different Wordings Around Base of Bell.
“I am aware that the bells do not all have the same wording and this I can only tribute to the various factories changing later somewhat that wording just as they did the handles. Additional molds were made at these factories but most of the factories did not put their factory mark or name inside. There have been bells seen though with a factory name in them.Sale of Bells Throughout the United Kingdom
“These bells sold for One Pound each and were very popular. Later, I made a mold for some larger bells, but of the same design, and I invited as many as possible of the Battle of Britain boys to come to the foundry and each cast a bell, on which we then inscribed their signatures. These were later brought to the Hungaria Restaurant in London where immediately after the close of the war, soldiers of the Battle of Britain were special guests, and where Flanagan and Allen auctioned off the large bells to famous people attending the gala dinner. All bells were sold at very high prices, the money going to the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund. One bell sold for as high as 1200 Pounds.I Owned No Victory Bell
“The great irony of this whole story is that all those years when the bells were being made, I would off and on acquire a supply of them and give them away to friends and relatives. I came to the sudden realization that this was a foolish act because the bells then were all sold from the common market and I did not have a single bell for myself. I finally wrote to the R.A. F. Benevolent Fund asking if they could locate a bell for me. They placed a notice in their magazine, and a lady reading it sent me one of my own designed bells. Her story is indeed curious but I have no reason to dispute her words: it seems that this lady living in the south part of England had lost her husband, Freddie, in the War. Her large house and many possessions became far too much for her to manage herself, so she decided to move into an apartment. She gathered up items for sale around the house – a Victory Bell being included. That night she dreamed her deceased husband said to not sell the bell, that the R.A.F. had a need for it. She thought her dream a silly fantasy, but asked her friend how to contact the R.A.F. office. Upon obtaining the address, she wrote and told them of her owning such a bell and her strange dread; to her surprise, the officer wrote back about the note in the magazine and the designer-wanted ad. She said she wanted no money for the bell and was pleased that her husband’s bell had a special place in America with the designer! This particular bell was not of such good quality as others I have seen, and the tone is not so clear, but I was grateful to receive the gift from this English Widow.Acquiring a Second Victory Bell – A Special Gift from the Nelsons
“On April 14, 1978, Mrs. Parlanti received a call from Mrs. Nelson saying that she and her husband had located a Victory Bell they wished to give us as a gift. We were most touched and appreciative of their generosity. The lines and details on this bell are clear and with the proper depth. Wording is easily read, and the rim has the correct thickness. We are indebted to Kay and Al Nelson for their kindness and thoughtfulness.
“Mrs. Parlanti and I had the pleasure of taking the V for Victory Bell given by the Nelsons to Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, for a special service on Battle of Britain Day. Our Victory Bell was used in the service on Battle of Britain Day. Our Victory Bell was used in the service and was rung in the Cathedral for all to hear. A most meaningful experience!”
Here ends the direct quotations of Dr. Parlanti.Summary
I hope this new information on the Victory bell is of benefit to all members in our Association. I am a firm believer in feeling that the more we research and learn about a particular bell, the more meaning that bell will have to us.
-- Kay Nelson