C. S. Bell Co. of Hillsboro, Ohio
By Neil Goeppinger
So many people have inquired about bells made by the C. S. Bell Co. of Hillsboro, Ohio, that we have decided to post an article on bells by this firm. It isn't surprising so many people have a bell by them as they were the largest producer of big bells in North America. During the peak bell production decade of the 1880's they turned out as many as 20,000 bells each year.
In 1858, Charles Singleton Bell, a Scotsman, started his firm and made Mogul stoves, caboose stoves, coffee hullers and pulpers, grinders, corn and cob crushers, burr and hammer type feed mills, sorghum and maple syrup evaporators, plows and garden rollers, cane mills and counter-mounted meat grinders. The story goes that one day, Mr. Bell dropped a piece of steel and it struck something on the way to the floor making a ringing sound. He then decided to try making cast bells of steel instead of the traditional cast iron. In truth, there is little difference in the sound of the two materials. He sold about 1,000 bells his first year, and soon concentrated on the casting of bells.
They sold bells under their own name, and also sold them through Montgomery Ward, Sears Roebuck, and the Henry Field Seed catalogues. The catalogue bells did not have their name on one side, but did say Cast Steel Church (or School) Bell on the other side.
The firm was run by three generations of the Bell family, the last being Virginia Bell Thompson who ran the firm for 34 years. A year after her death, it was sold out of the family in 1974 and the new buyers ceased casting all bell sizes above dinner bells (also called farm bells). The firm was still making bells until after 1984. Sometime after that they sold the bell molds to a California company. The Hillsboro firm is still in business, but making furnaces and other items, not bells.
About their bells: The C.S.Bell Co.bells were made in diameters from 12" through 48" (in 2" increments), then the size jumped to their largest at 54". The farm or dinner bells were 12" through 18", the school bells ran from 20" through 28", and their church and fire alarm bells ran from 30" through 48", then jumped to 54". The school bells were cast with a thinner wall to give them a higher "dingy" sound so they would not be mistaken for the church or fire bells.
Dinner bells came with a yoke over the top of the bell to which it was bolted a clapper inside the bell, and a cradle to mount to a post in which the yoke and bell could swing.
School and church bells had a yoke, clapper, two A frame stands (shaped like the letter A), and a wheel for a rope to swing the bell. School and smaller church bells came with an iron wheel, and the larger church bells came with a wooden wheel. Fire alarm bells were the same as church bells, but without a yoke as they were stationary, not swinging bells, and they had a triangular clapper so there were two balls at the two lower points of the triangle. This was so the bell could be rung rapidly to sound the alarm.
During WWII, the firm produced ship and air raid bells for the Navies of the U.S., Great Britain and Russia in great numbers.
Values: Most steel and iron dinner bells run from $125 to $225 depending on size and condition. School bells run from $250 to $400, and Church bells run from $500 on up. Large bells are a thin market and it's really what one person will give and another will accept. I've seen a school bell in an antique shop for $2,400. I'm guessing it's still there.
A very common question is where can I buy parts for my bell. The parts are unique to both the company which manufactured them and the size of the bell, so the chance of finding a part which doesn't need to be machined or cut and welded to fit are slim. The best bet is to buy a bell that has all its parts, or to mount it as a stationary bell and swing the clapper to ring it.