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Antique sleigh bells

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  • Antique sleigh bells

    I have half a dozen sleigh bells that were once mounted on a leather strap - got them for a few dollars at a yard sale a while back. I would love to do something to hang them for the holidays (and beyond!) but am not sure if they can come apart to be re-mounted on new leather or even on a ribbon. I also have a 2-3 inch bell with a hanging loop that I'd like to include in the string.
    Secondly...the smaller bells have a patina of rust on them - should I leave them as are for a vintage look, or polish them up? I know that the bigger bell might be brass (a magnet doesn't stick) or copper - should I leave that one looking antique too? It would be fun to hang them in the house or ride with them (none of my geldings drive, unfortunately! As OTTBs I think they might have an opinion about that!
    Thanks for the ideas!
    Founder of the I LOFF my worrywart TB clique!
    Official member of the "I Sing Silly Songs to My Animals!" Clique

  • #2
    Are the rusty bells round, cast metal or thinner sheet metal? Sounds like they are riveted on your strap, since you can't get them off the strap? I am not a bell collecter, so I don't know if cleaning them up would aid or hurt the possible value. For me to use them, I would probably clean them up to at least slow the rust eating them. The cast metal bells should be able to be removed from the strap, so they are easily transferred from one strap to another when strap wears out or gets broken. They have a longer stem on the back, with a hole in stem for pinning or threading a string thru on the back side of the strap to keep the bell in place. Riveted bells were less valuable to start, made cheaper, had a shorter life expectancy.

    The brass bell is probably best left tarnished with age. It won't deteriorate with the tarnish, shows the age. Check for any maker's marks if you think it could be valuable, so you can look up what they sell for. You might want to check the clapper inside and the loop it hangs on, which are usually steel and can rust off. I would clean off the steel inside, so the steel doesn't just break and get lost from being rusty.

    I have a couple old bells that have lost the clapper, which was replaced with a horseshoe nail clapper! It is steel, so the bell rings well using the nail. I use them to bell the lambs and calves, so I know where the animal is out in the field. With the broken clapper, they have little value anyway. Sure makes a sweet sound!! Sound also travels well, much better than those nasty tin-can sounding bells from the farm store. Kind of like having wind-chimes in the field as the animals wander about. The animals wearing the bells will wear off some tarnish, just from hair on the metal. I have 4 very shiny old bells, with no effort on my part!

    If you can't get the smaller bells off the strap, they probably are not safe to use riding without breaking. Especially if you add the bigger bell to the pull on the leather strap. You might just use the single, larger bell to go riding with. I would think it will give you PLENTY of sound outside with the one bell. The sound of bells will travel very far, especially if there is snow. You might even get annoyed with the sound if your horse is not smooth gaited, they make it jangle instead of chime or ring out musically.

    They are your bells, you can use them as you like. You don't have much money in them. Bells are still very available, both old and new.

    Do be VERY CAREFUL using the bell with your horse. You might want to start jingling the bell when you give treats, snacks, so horse tolerates the noise. Then lunge or long line him while jingling the bell loudly outside. Horse needs to have NO REACTION to bell, BEFORE you try riding him with bell aboard. Some horses NEVER accept bells quietly.

    Don't tie the bell on horse or YOURSELF when you start using it or try riding with it. Be ready to toss the bell if horse reacts badly!! Having a friend ring bell beside you while riding, feeding treats, maybe then pass the bell up to you for practicing horse with it aboard. Take your time, get horse accepting, rewarded well with food for tolerating bell sounds, before you set off for Holiday Rides.


    • Original Poster

      Thank you for the great advice! I have ridden my older gelding with a bell during hunting season...am trying now to remember if I have with my youngest! I have a lot of tie rings on my Simco trail saddle that jingle, so hopefully getting him used to a bell will be no biggie. He has a pretty good head on his shoulders, but you can never be too careful! He is very treat oriented so introducing it that way should work well.
      As for the smaller bells, they are all detached from the strap they were on in their previous life before I got them. They are about the size of a large cherry tomato, and there is a ball-bearing sized ball inside to make them jingle. Shining the flashlight inside shows me what looks like a small rivet or stem on the inside. On the outside of the bell where it went through the leather is just smooth and flat. I was wondering if I could somehow use a flat screwdriver to pop it open and get a new leather strap.
      Just took another look at the larger one...it has four holes in the top, and a single (slit) opening in the bottom - the smaller ones have an X shaped design instead. Right nowthey are all residing in a bowl on my coffee table, so being able to put them back into use as either indoor decoration or on horseback would be great!
      ETA - the larger one has bits of straw inside from its former life!
      Founder of the I LOFF my worrywart TB clique!
      Official member of the "I Sing Silly Songs to My Animals!" Clique


      • #4
        No advice on what clean with-- but some of those bells are worth alot of money, so check some websites before "cleaning them up"! There are whole booths of people who sell nothing but bells at various places like the Midwest Horse Fair, etc I didnt know there were such avid collectors out there. There are ways to know whether they are authentic or not, and apparently there is enough in that there are folks who try to fake antique bells. Either way a fun addition to holiday rides for sure.


        • #5
          This might be a good time to pay a visit to Brubacher's...I'm sure they could remount those bells for you.
          What you allow is what will continue.


          • #6
            We had one driving horse who wore them merrily around her neck and went riding or driving with the kids. My other horse wouldn't be in the same barn with them at first.

            I hung them on a harness hook and quietly jingled them from time to time. He got used to that but it was about as far as we got with bells!
            Ride like you mean it.


            • #7
              My usually fairly spooky Paso had no problem with bells when I first introduced them. I put them on his girth when we trail ride during hunting season. Always gets me in the holiday spirit!
              What's wrong with you?? Your cheese done slid off its cracker?!?!


              • Original Poster

                Originally posted by mht View Post
                This might be a good time to pay a visit to Brubacher's...I'm sure they could remount those bells for you.
                Now that sounds like a road trip! Haven't been up to KW in far too long - passed through this summer on the way to the Stratford Garlic Festival, but that's it!
                Founder of the I LOFF my worrywart TB clique!
                Official member of the "I Sing Silly Songs to My Animals!" Clique


                • #9
                  You might want to take them to be looked at by a local antique dealer, if possible, before cleaning them....

                  I also purchased a bunch of (12) sleigh bells at an estate sale a few years back. I paid $10.00 for them, with a bunch of other small items. The were all brass, however, had a pattern on them, and were attached to a very old leather strap.

                  So I threw them on ebay that November, thinking they would sell well for Christmas, they had a lovely jingle. They were a bit larger than all the others listed, I think they were for a draft harness.

                  I couldn't believe it when they sold for $250.00+ the next week!! One of my best sales ever!!


                  • #10
                    Leave the Patina! I love PBS and their little shows about antiques (And other shows) and the one thing that has been impressed upon me is LEAVE THE PATINA... collectors hate nothing more then when people polish the patina off!

                    If you ever wanted to sell them the Patina will fetch you more.
                    Chambermaid to....


                    • #11
                      Yea, don't remove anything, other than loose dirt. Depending on what's underneath, you may do damage.