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Books about tower bells

In spite of the usefulness of the World Wide Web, printed books retain their importance as handy repositories of well-organized information, in a format that is easier on the eyes than an illuminated computer screen.  Here we present a selective bibliography of books that are related to tower bells, either in their entirety or in a significant part.  Each entry is accompanied by either a brief description or a full review. 

Contents: (and number of entries in each section)

Within each section, entries are presented in reverse chronological order of publication.

Recent publications

Bells of Falmouthby   Ken Peal
Stories from a historic Massachusetts town, uncovered by curiosity about its bells
EBookBakery Books, 2023
ISBN 978-1-953080-43-1
9" x 6", paperback, viii+96pp, illus.

>>   Review, by CSZ

Ken's interesting book not only provides a catalog of an important category of surviving historical artifacts, but also presents the social and economic contexts that led to the original acquisition, usage and (in most cases) eventual survival of each one.  As such, it helps us to appreciate the heritage of a soundscape that our ancestors knew and that we can to some extent still hear today.

With a chapter about each bell (or group of related bells) plus some background material about bells in general, this book provides excellent coverage of its subject.  While I could have wished for more photos of the bells themselves, their absence is partly explained by the relative inaccessibility of many of the bells.  And it is more than compensated by the inclusion of locator maps, tables of essential details, and a listing of the inscriptions on surviving or otherwise known bells.

Altogether, this book is a fine example of what historians elsewhere could do to document and preserve an important but often under-appreciated part of our heritage.

Other reviews are available at the book's listing on the Websites of both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

American bellfounders

Large Bells of Americaby   Neil Goeppinger
History of Church Bells, Fire Bells, School Bells, Dinner Bells and Their Foundries
Suncoast Digital Press, Inc., Sarasota, Florida, USA, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-939237-45-3
8.9"x11.4", hardcover, 180pp
>>   Click here for everything you need to know about this marvelous book,
          especially if you already own a copy!

Paul Revere & the World He Lived Inby   Esther Forbes
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1942
At least two printings exist, in different sizes but with identical content and pagination.
>>   In this authoritative biography of a great American patriot, seven pages (470-476) are devoted to Paul Revere's work as the first important American bellfounder, and there are further mentions of that work in several other places (see the Index to find them).


Is This My Home?by   Lynnli Wang, illustrated by  Asako Maruyama
Metz Grand Carillon, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA, 2021
ISBN: [none]
8.6"x5.5", paperback, 20pp

>>   Review, by CSZ

This delightful little children's book explains the three tower bell instruments of Indiana University at Bloomington (two carillons and a chime) through the tale of Arthur the squirrel, who seeks his old home in the Metz Carillon but finds a new one in the relocated and expanded Metz Grand Carillon.


Historic Alabama Bellsby   Thomas Kaufmann
The History Press, Charleston, South Carolina, USA, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-4671-4495-7
6"x9", paperback, 160pp

>>   Review, by CSZ

This well-written book begins with an introductory chapter, followed by one which briefly identifies and locates ten early bells, ranging from an 1847 Meneely to an 1881 McShane, and including an 1849 T.I.Dyre Jr. and an 1848 Regester & Webb.  The next eight chapters alternate between the history of a significant American bell foundry and an Alabama example of its work:  Revere, 1828; Hooper, 1859; Blake, 1880 & 1894; Wilbank, 1841.  A chapter about the Liberty Bell (both the original's visit to the state in 1885 and the 1950 Paccard reproduction) is followed by twelve chapters in which the historical significance of both an old bell and the building in which it is located are covered.  A concluding chapter expresses hope for the installation of real bells in currently empty bell towers.

The book is filled with interesting black-and-white photographs of bells and buildings.  Unfortunately, many of those depicting bell inscriptions are almost impossible to decipher.  This is only partly because bells are inherently low-contrast subjects for photography.

No typographical errors were noted, and only three very minor errors of substance.  The 1887 McShane bell pictured on page 34 is not connected to a place (unless the year is a typo).  The location of the C.S.Bell foundry (mentioned on page 37) was in Hillsboro (not Hillsborough), Ohio.  The proprietorship of the Buckeye Bell Foundry in 1876 (mentioned twice on page 143) was not "Vanduzen Tift" but the partnership of E.W.Vanduzen and C.T.Tift, commonly shown on their bells as "Vanduzen & Tift". 

The author's expertise as an architectural historian shines through in the relatively extensive coverage of the histories of the buildings which house the listed bells.  That emphasis on history might explain the general lack of technical information about these bells, such as weights, sizes, and musical notes.  That might also explain the curious shift of emphasis from foundry histories in the first half of the book to building histories in the second half of the book.  It would have benefitted from more information about the histories of Naylor Vickers of England, the two Meneely foundries of New York state, McShane of Baltimore and Buckeye of Cincinnati, as well as the significant differences between bronze and steel bells and the changes in mounting methods through the decades of the 19th century.

Nevertheless, this is a very good general interest book, which may help to stir more widespread interest in the long-neglected tower bells of America.


Bell Ringingby   John Camp
Chimes—Carillons—Handbells: the World of the Bell and the Ringer
David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1974
ISBN (old style): 0 7153 6088 4
8.5"x5.5", hardback, 160pp, including 16pp of b/w photographs

>>   Review, by CSZ

The author, an English change ringer, has selected a title that may seem to imply a broader coverage than this book actually has.  With a brief introduction, 13 chapters, three appendices, a bibliography and an index, it provides comprehensive coverage of all matters related to change ringing, with only brief excursions into a few other ways that tower bells may be rung.  Nevertheless, his somewhat casual style of writing, along with his inclusion of many interesting historial details, makes this a book of very nearly general interest.

There are two graphical errors—Figure 2 (p28) fails to include a ground pulley for the bell rope, and the photo on p108 (top) is upside-down.  I do not venture to critique what is written about change ringing.

The reviewer's copy of this book, formerly in the holdings of the Norfolk County Library, was signed by the author.

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This page was created on 2019/11/18 and last revised on 2023/10/28.

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