What is a Crotal Bell?
Bells have been produced for over 4,00 years. The earliest known bells were made in China earlier than 2,000 BCE. They were familiar objects in ancient Egypt, Greek, Rome, and India. They served as ritual objects, magical objects, religious objects, signaling and warning devise, and musical instruments. They were also used for decorative purposes.
Early bells were cup-shaped and struck from the outside with a striker. Crotal bells differ from these early bells in that the striker is contained inside the bell in an enclosed chamber with perforations allowing the sound to transfer out of the bell. The striker is less a striker, in that it is a loose pellet or pea of metal that jiggles around inside the bell.
Crotal bells are thought to have been used during antiquity (8th century BCE to 6th century CE), the earliest datable crotal bell is from the 9th century CE. These early crotal bells were recovered from burial sites in Sweden. (Source)
Before the age of motorized vehicles, crotal bells were used on horse-drawn carriages. These were used to warn other vehicles that they were approaching, much like today’s vehicle horns. They were hung on a small leather and iron harness bracket above the horse collar on small vehicles and driven into the wooden frame of the wagons on larger vehicles. (Source)
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What are Crotal Bells Made of?
Early English crotal bells were made of a variety of metal types including tin, sheet metal, copper alloy, and pewter and tin alloy. Pre-1600s bells were typically made of white metals, as evidenced by their corrosion color. Later bells or those with addition of copper, would corrode in green. (Source)
Crotal bells in the United States are often made of bronze or brass. These have many names including pellet bells, rumblers, sleigh bels, horse bells, hawk bells, and jingle bells. Most US crotal bells were produced from 1845 to 1920. (Sourcce)
What do Crotal Bells Sound Like?
Have you ever heard the bells associated with Santa Clause? The ones people traditionally decorate with during the holiday season? That is basically the sound of a crotal bell. Depending on the size, the sound will change. Smaller bells have a higher tone, while larger bells have a lower tone.
Because crotal bells have a small pea of metal inside them, and small openings, the sound they make is clear and concise. These bells are often considered rattles, rather than bells, because of the loose pellet inside. Most traditional bells have a swinging clapper in them that makes the sound.
Clues You’ve Found an Old Crotal Bell
Some older crotal bells will have a maker’s mark located near the center of the lower half of the bell. This can be a symbol, or the initials of the maker, or both. There were roughly 170 British foundries producing crotal bells from the middle of the 1200s on, so many bells have these maker’s marks stamped on them. (Source)
Check the color, decoration, weight, and shape of the bell. These are good determinations of whether it is old or not (more on that in the next section).
What Shape and Markings Determine Age?
There are many defining marks to show the age of a crotal bell. The first is decoration. In many instances, the top and bottom decorates is indicative of age. Early bells, pre 1700s, typically have the top and bottom both decorated. During the 1700s and 1800s, just the bottom half was decorated typically. After that, there was no decoration on the bells, they were simply plain.
The second clue is to look at the color. The grey color of some crotal bells tend to be older than the green color. These were made of higher tin content dating them earlier than those made of more copper.
The loop, or sprue, is a suspension loop added to hang the bell. These are also indicative of age. Most were cast with the bell then drilled. Later bells had the sprue added after casting. The cruder the sprue the later the bell, is the typical rule. Small, elegant sprues were early bells, large out of proportion sprues were later bells.
Another good indication of age is the weight of the bell. Early crotal bells are heavier than later bells. This is due to their composition. (Source)
Shape is another great way to tell an old crotal bell. Early bells were petal shaped, with four petals, open bottom, and struck from the outside. Slightly newer crotals had small openings at the sides, with the bottom pinched together with a small pea of metal inside to give it sound. There was also teardrop shaped crotal bells, followed by the familiar round shaped crotal bells. (Source)
Are Crotal Bells Worth Anything?
Crotal bells, like all antiques, vary in price. Some sell for as little as $25, while others go for upwards of $300. This is all due to the size, composition, and complexity of the design. Not all crotal bells are created equal.
|Description and Link||Value $$$|
|UNIQUE BRONZE CROTAL BELL (Ebay Link)||$75.00|
|ANTIQUE BRASS CROTAL BELLS (Ebay Link)||$29.50|
|Early 1800’s H. S. & Co. Brass Shank Bell Crotal (Ebay Link)||$123.75|
|William Seller Made In York 1675-1687 Crotal Bell (Ebay Link)||$350.00|
The more decorative the bell, and the better the condition, the more money it is worth. Newer crotal bells will not be worth as much as they were mass produced and were likely used as decorative bells. Older bells were used in a variety of applications, and were produced in smaller quantities, making them worth more. (Source)
Where to Search for Crotal Bells
Europe is the best place to search for crotal bells. As mentioned earlier, Britain alone had over 170 crotal bell foundries during its time. Bells have been found all over the United Kingdom, and the European continent.
One metal detectorist found a crotal bell at a Swedish tavern site. In Sweden, these bells were attached to a chain and hung around the neck of leading male flock leading lamb. The bells kept the flock together and were though to ward off evil spirits. (Source)
Bronze Age crotal bells have been found in Ireland. These were a teardrop shape with a piece of baked clay or pebble inside. These were found in what is no dubbed the Dowris Hoard, in which 48 crotal bells were found. (Source)
There are places in the United States to find older crotal bells, too. They will likely not be as old as some of the ones found in Europe. The eastern portion of the US is the best place to find these older crotal bells. One great video I saw by the Potter County Diggers in Pennsylvania showed them uncovering the lower portion of a large crotal bell, and an entire crotal bell on an old homestead site. (Source)
You can likely find some newer crotal bells all over the US, including the western portion. Because the eastern portion of the country has been inhabited by European colonists longer, older crotal bells are
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- What is a Crotal Bell? http://www.ukdfd.co.uk/pages/crotal-bells.html
- Crotal Bells on Vehicles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crotal_bell
- English Crotal Bell Material: http://www.ukdfd.co.uk/pages/crotal-bells.html
- US Crotal Bell Material: https://www.army.mil/article/253975/fort_mccoy_artifact_crotal_bell#:~:text=They%20are%20often%20made%20of%20bronze%20or%20brass%20and%20are,hawk%20bells%2C%20and%20jingle%20bells.
- Crotal Bell Maker’s Marks: http://www.ukdfd.co.uk/pages/crotal-bells.html#:~:text=Many%20crotal%20bells%20carry%20a,or%20in%20some%20cases%20both.
- Age of a Crotal Bell: https://www.thedetectinghub.co.uk/viewtopic.php?t=526
- Shapes of Crotal Bells: http://www.ukdfd.co.uk/pages/crotal-bells.html
- Crotal Bell Prices, eBay: https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p2047675.m570.l1313&_nkw=antique+crotal+bell&_sacat=0
- Swedish Tavern Site Crotal Bell: https://www.metaldetectingworld.com/detecting_tavern_site_p16.shtml
- Dowris Hoard: https://offalyhistoryblog.wordpress.com/2021/01/09/the-dowris-hoard-by-john-dolan/ Crotal Bell uncovered in PA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOz4jYEH3eQ