Wilbank foundry bells

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Wilbank foundry bells

Postby R.Uritis » Tue Nov 04, 2008 3:00 pm

Seeking information on Wilbank bells, including any photographs of bells from that foundry. Thanks, Robert
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby John Eachus » Mon Nov 10, 2008 11:42 am

John Wilbanks was a German immigrant who lived in Germantown, Pa. He cast bells. I only know of three in existance in the US. The bells are beautifully cast and have an excellent clear musical note that can be matched to new cast bells. John Wilbanks was asked by the City of Philadelphia to cast a new Liberty Bell; his contract specified that he must transport and dispose of the original. The City of Philadelphia filed a law suit when he refused.
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby hjlong » Mon Nov 10, 2008 7:09 pm

My Grandfather and subsequently my mother had a Wilbank Bell. We sold it about a year ago. It was about 20 inches at the base. It was a beautiful bronze bell with a cast iron bracket. It is the only one that I have ever seen.
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby Neil Goeppinger » Fri Nov 14, 2008 2:35 am

I've only come across one bell by this firm. It was available for purchase about 20 years ago and I passed on it because of the price. It was a small bell, about 14 to 18 inches in diameter. The inscriptions and reeds were large and heavy, and it appeared to be quite old (1800 to 1850 era). I don't think it was dated. -- Neil
I collect U.S. church and fire tower bells and research the foundries which made them.
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby admin » Sat May 16, 2009 4:19 pm

Here is a "way past due" request that I neglected to post:
This past week, I was asked to work a rare bell:

1832 J Wilbanks Bell Foundry, Philadelphia. My archives show only that this foundry was in Germantown suburb of Philly.
The bell is German profile cast bronze ringing a perfect G#, i.e. all five musical particles.

Does anyone have information concerning this foundry?

John Eachus


If you can help, please post a response.
Admin

This inquiry was originally sent to the ABA's Internet Coordinator. Responses are opinions of individuals based on their personal research and knowledge.
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby hjlong3 » Mon May 18, 2009 10:23 pm

John Wilbank was a Bronze Founder in Germantown, Philadelphia, PA. His greatest claim to fame was his ownership of the cracked Liberty Bell. In 1828, in preparation for a visit to Philadlephia by the Marquis de Lafayette, the ciry fathers renovated the old State House where the Marquis "held court". The Pass & Stow Statehouse Bell was cracked and had a poor tone. The city fathers contracted with John Wilbank to cast a new bell for the clock tower at the Old State House (Independence Hall). In order to reduce the cost, they gave the Liberty Bell to Wilbank for scrap value ($400). When Wilbank saw it in the clock tower, he felt that it would cost him more than $400 to remove and cart it to his foundry. The city sued him, and the Judge gave him ownership of the bell, but allowed him to leave it with the city on permanent loan. Subsequently, the Liberty Bell became the centerpiece of the Abolition Movement because of its inscription. In recent years, Wilbank's heirs sued in court to take possession of the Liberty Bell. The original court records could not be found, and the Liberty Bell remains in the possession of the National Park Service. This is all that I know about John Wilbank. His foundry was obviously in existence in 1828, and the new clock tower bell was delivered in 1832. The bell that my mother had was John Wilbank & Son, so the foundry probably existed for at least two generations. His bells are attractive and are similar in design to the British Bronze church bells. The current bell in the clock tower of Independence Hall is the Wilbank Bell.
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby cmecarson » Mon Mar 01, 2010 11:14 pm

I have an old grandfather clock which has been in my family for a long time which appears to be vintage 1800-1830 by the world maps which are painted on the face. The bell inside is stamped John Milbank. I'm assuming this must mean it was made my the same guy? Does anyone know of any other small bells made by John Milbank? Thanks!
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby hjlong3 » Fri Mar 19, 2010 9:51 pm

The age of your Granfather Clock would suggest that the small John Wilbank Bell within the ringing mechanism of the clock was made by the famous John Wilbank. I am not aware of any small bells that were made by him, but if he made large bells as part of large clock mechanisms (Independence Hall Clock Tower Bell), then why not for smaller clocks also. This is a rarity.
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby Carl Scott Zimmerman » Wed Apr 13, 2011 1:20 am

John Wilbank first shows up in the Philadelphia city directories in 1813, as a brass founder. From then until 1821 he was located at 46 north 7th street, which was also the northeast corner of Seventh and Arch. In 1821-22, he moved his foundry to 262 High street, where he remained until his death about 1842.

It's not clear from the directory how early in his career he began casting bells, but the 4000-pound bell which he cast for the State House in December 1828 shows that he must have begun such work several years earlier. From the 1839 directory on, he was identified as a bell founder rather than a brass founder, which suggests that this aspect of his occupation had become more important than it previously was. Nevertheless, he continued to have a diversity of interests - probably more than can be found in the directory listings.

The 1821 directory shows that he was also a "mineral water manufacturer". In the 1824 directory, he identified himself also as a bell hanger - one who installs sets of call bells in houses, etc. - so he probably made the small bells which he was installing. From about 1829-30 to about 1837-39, he operated a dry goods store at the same address as his brass foundry. In full-page advertisements in the 1839 and 1840 directories, he devotes about 1/3 of the space to a silk manufactory, 1/3 to bells (from large church bells down to small hand-held bells), and 1/3 to the manufacture of various kinds of scales. The silk manufactory doesn't get further mention, but the scales manufactory appears in a classified business directory which was first published in the early 1840s. (The city directories had no classified section until 1844, and then only a rather small list based on subscribers to the directory.)

Wilbank's death is indicated by the fact that the 1843 city directory lists Mrs. John Wilbank, bell founder, at the same address. (The separate business directory for that year must have been prepared earlier, because it still lists John.) The following year, she is gone, and the foundry is in the hands of Joseph Bernhard, who had not previously appeared in the directory. In the business directory, it's classified under Bell Founders, under Brass Founders, and under Brass Scales. The Brass Founders entry includes "Mineral Water Apparatus Manufacturer." So Joseph Bernhard carried on more than one aspect of John Wilbank's business interests.

The Philadelphia city directories don't show any evidence of a connection between John Wilbank and Germantown. (The High street of his day was not today's High Street in the Germantown neighborhood, but an alternate name for Market street in downtown Philadelphia.) On the other hand, those directories never gave a residence for him, so it's possible that he lived in Germantown and worked in the city. But that's a rather long commute for those days - Germantown is about 8 miles from downtown Philadelphia.

I have not investigated other sources of information beyond the Philadelphia city directories, so I'm sure there must be more information yet to be discovered about John Wilbank.
Carl Scott Zimmerman
Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - home of 36 bell foundries or bell sellers, 1821-1961.
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby hjlong3 » Sat Apr 16, 2011 4:07 pm

Carl,
It's fascinating what you have been able to retrieve about John Wilbank and in particular the link to John Bernhard who probably learned his trade under Wilbank. The location of Wilbank's Foundry on Arch Street places it near the Foundry of John Stow who recast the cracked Whitchapel bell at his foundry on 2nd ST with the assistance of John Pass, iron founder of Mount Holly, NJ. John Stow could have been a mentor or colleague of John Wilbank. Just speculation at this point.
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby hjlong3 » Mon Apr 18, 2011 9:15 pm

Carl,
I have some additional information about Joseph Bernhard. He was an apprentice to John Wilbank and first opened his foundry on Market Street(presumably the Wilbank Foundry) in 1845 as Joseph Bernhard Bell & Brass Founder. He moved to 120 N. 6th ST in 1852 where the Bernhard Company continued until 1880. His home was at 156 N. 11th ST. I found an address for John Willbank Bell & Brass Foundry on Shoemaker St below 8th. This would have been near the 7th and Arch St address that you found.
I still wonder whether Willbank was apprenticed to John Stow whose foundry was on 2nd St. and marked with the"Sign of Three Bells". John Stow was born 2 Feb 1727 and died March 1754 in Philadelphia less than a year after recasting the Liberty Bell and established his brass foundry in about 1750 after completing his apprenticeship, but I could not find out who he apprenticed to. John Pass had an iron foundry in Mount Holly, NJ before joining Stow in Philadelphia and appears to have learned bell founding as an apprentice in Valleta, Malta. Stow's foundry had never cast a large object before recasting the Liberty Bell and his furnace could not handle a large melt. They apparently poured the Liberty Bell in multiple pours. Metallurgical analysis demonstrates that the liberty bell has differing % copper and tin at different levels of the bell and had as much as 26% tin in many parts, a fact which would have contributed to its poor tone and proclivity to cracking.
Bernhard has the distinction of having drilled out the crack in the Liberty Bell and recast the"Sister Liberty Bell" in 1847 after it was destroyed in the fire at Olde Saint Augustine's Church in 1844. It currently resides at the Falvey Memorial Library at Villanova University. Other Bernhard bells were at Lutheran Church of St. James-1845, Concord, NJ; Warrior Rock Lighthouse-1855, St. Helens, OR; New Dungeness Lighthouse-1855, New Dungeness Spit, WA;St. Mark's Church-1858, Mauch Chunk, PA; The Friends of Old Saint Thomas-1860, Chester Heights, PA; Christ Ascension Lutheran Church-1861, Philadelphia, PA; First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood-1852, Blackwood, NJ;
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby LynCampbell » Thu Apr 21, 2011 2:59 am

I hope this is the information you need.

Philadelphia decided to reconstruct the State House steeple. Council also decided to replace the State House clock with a new one in the steeple. It was decided the new clock should have a new bell.

A foundry owner named John Wilbank cast a 4,000 pound bell. In December, Wilbank's bell took the place of the old State House Bell, and the Liberty Bell was moved to a different part of the new tower. The bell that was installed as a clock bell in 1821 disappeared -- It's assumed that Wilbank took it as part of his payment. Wilbank was also supposed to haul away the Liberty Bell at that time.

The city sued Wilbank for breach of contract -- because he did not take the Liberty Bell with him. Wilbank argued that draying (hauling) costs exceeded the $400 the Bell was assessed at. They haggled in court before a judge ordered a compromise: Wilbank would pay court costs; the City had to keep the Bell, which was technically considered "on loan" from Wilbank.

Over the years, Wilbank's heirs have agitated the city of Philadelphia to give them the Bell which they considered rightfully theirs. In a 1915 agreement, the family agreed to keep the bell on loan as long as it hung in Independence Hall.

In 1984, an heir of Wilbank named James McCloskey claimed the Bell for himself, noting that it had moved to a pavilion a block north of Independence Hall. He claimed that he wanted to display it in his hometown of Baltimore, or barring that, melt the Bell down "and make seven million rings -- all cracked -- and sell them for $39.95 each."

Rung to celebrate the Catholic Emancipation Act. A newspaper article from 1914 claims the Bell cracked on this occasion. Again, the story was written nearly 100 years after the event. There was no mention in the comtemporary press that the bell cracked at that time, however


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Last edited by LynCampbell on Thu Oct 04, 2012 11:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Wilbank foundry bells

Postby Barry Wilbank » Mon May 23, 2011 8:59 pm

Interesting insight about John Wilbank. Some of the information i knew, but there was some new areas that I was unaware of. I owned a cabin in Tenn. and met with John Eachus while there a couple of years ago. I brought some pictures of a Wilbank bell that I own. It was struck with a hammer? and marked on the "side" of the bell, (mostly one side). It is dated 1822 and it appears to be a church bell? I will try to post some pictures. The address is correct - High Street back then, is Market now. Can't figure out the picture thing yet... keep trying. Not a user friendly site for a person like me, who is not god with computers, but I'll figure it out.

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