To Polish or Not to Polish
by Ethe Ringland
Originally printed in The Bell Tower, the official publication of the American Bell Association International, Inc., December 1974. © American Bell Association International, Inc.
That is the question many of us with metal bells try to solve. The answer probably narrows down to one's preference, but let us consider some varied opinions.
First, there are those who feel the urge to keep everything around their home bright and shiny -- possibly the perfect housekeeper, or the owner of a small enough collection of bells to keep everything pleasing to the eye.
Secondly, there are those who say to remove the grime and dirt of time also takes away their value. A former member of our Bell Study Club, an antique dealer, concurred with this idea.
So, one must decide what a collection means to him or her ... a hobby to enjoy, giving some thought to the study of the history of bells, or is a resale at some future time foremost in your mind?
If value prevails over beauty, you would probably not want to polish an antique bell.
There is a third group. I belong to this. Generally speaking, I like to see my bells ... old and new ... shiny. We live where sulpher in the air dulls the finish in a few weeks, so it is a continuous routine to keep them looking nice. To me, a shine enhances the beauty of an item of silver, brass and bronze.
However, polishing has a number of exceptions. I never polish my old Oriental bells, nor do I clean the inside of any bell. One of my Oriental bells has some dirt caked inside (probably it was unearthed); I would not remove it.
For some reason, I do not like to shine my sleigh bells - only the Swedish sleigh bells which have always kept a shine after being in my family a long time. I admire the old leather straps and the age shown on sleigh bells, and always feel sorry when the leather disintegrates and the strings must be modernized. (One strap is all metal ... hence looks better modernized).
Removing a finish is another subject. At some period, overseas, some bells were coated with a brown or black substance.
I have two lady figure bells, 5: and 5.5", that had this brown finish. Worn places showed brass underneath. After removal of the brown, the beauty of the dresses was enhanced.
Another illustration is my ten pound Jenny Lind bell which had a black finish. Enough bronze was revealed to urge me to remove the black. The beauty of design in the dress was then revealed.
Lois Springer, in her book The Collector's Book of Bells, shows a picture number 262 of a camel bell. She notes that for a time the Persian national emblem on the bell went undetected under layers of grime. This is another example of cleaning bells to bring out hidden beauty.
Several black bells in my collection do not present a problem, one being my Hemony Cursader with much patina. This sign of age should never be removed.
Another one of my bells does present a problem: the St. Peter's bell on a saucer. The finish is black. The round place where the bell covers the saucer is bronze. The evangelists, cherubim, pope's crown, and crooked cross are completely black. I feel sure this bell would be more beautiful in bronze; perhaps some day I shall get up the courage to make it so.
In conclusion, to polish or alter the appearance of a bell, narrows down to one's preference, and that means that I will continue to polish, and you will continue to do what brings you the most pleasure.