Accession number: 1974.03.30
Date: circa 1845 – 1974
Materials: metal, brass; metal, iron
Measurements: 8 cm L x 6.3 cm DiameterLength refers to iron strip.
Description: A brass horse bell with three iron weights hooked by S-shaped hooks inside. An iron strip is fastened to the top of the bell.
History of Use: Horse bells have a long history dating to 800 BCE. They were believed to attract good luck, and ward off injury and evil. They could also be used to flaunt one's wealth and status. However, their practical purpose was to warn pedestrians that a horse and vehicle were coming so that they had time to remove themselves from harm's way.
In the 1800s, sleigh culture became very popular in North America. This included sled and harness races, as well as pleasure rides in the winter. Bells were used during these activities, and became known as "sleigh" bells. The popularity of these activities created a boom in bell manufacturing. However, in the early 1900s, Henry Ford's Model T automobile changed the transportation world for good, and many bell manufacturers went out of business.
Most of the horse bells on horse harnesses are small and round in shape, with small slits that allow sound. The open-mouthed shape of this bell indicates that it is a latten or Shaft bell, which would attach in a row to the vehicle rather than the harness.