The history of the bell has been, and continues to be, the subject of many scholarly monographs. So far as we are now concerned with the collectable trappings of the horse, there are two types of bell of particular interest.
Brass cased hame, six 1800´s horse brasses and a rumbler bell with the initials of Robert Wells (1764 - 1835)
These are the aristocrats among horse bells and always much prized by their owners. Daniel Defoe refers to such bells in his journal of a tour through England in the early 1700's, but the best account of them comes from the pen of Gertrude Jekyll in her book Old West Surrey published in 1904. Miss Jekyll is now celebrated as one of the great gardeners and garden designers of the Victorian era, and she also possessed a clear eye for social change and country matters. Here she describes the latten bells worn by a team of horses.
There were four rings of bells in the set, and each set had four bells, except the one with the three largest bells of deeper tone; each set made its own chord, while the whole changed and jingled in pleasant harmonies. The leather hood was often scalloped or evenly jagged at the lower edge and generally had a pretty running ornament of barley, incised with a small gouged in the surface of the leather. A red woolen fringe hung inside the hood; sometimes it came only a little way down, but generally was so long as to hide the bells completely. The two spikes passed down the two sides of the collar along the harness.
The original use of the bells on the harness was to give notice in the narrow lanes, so that a carter hearing the distant team, could either wait before entering the lane, or draw to the side in good time at some wider part- There is a legend of two carters who purposely ignored the warning, met in the middle of the narrow lane, and fought the matter out. How the battle ended and how the teams and wagons were got out remains unrecorded in local history.
The most vivid account of the bells and their use is enough to whet the appetite of almost any collector in this particular field. Although Miss Jekyll described various forms of decoration on or attached to the leather hood of latten bells, many sets are seen entirely plain.
The second kind of bell under discussion here is spherical and known as a ´crotal`.
Often described as ´rumbler bells´ they contain a metal ball that causes the bell to ring at every movement of the horse. They were made in a number of sizes ranging from small sheep bells to crotals measuring 11.5 cm in diameter. The underside has a broad mouth like opening, and there are four round holes in the top of the sphere surrounding the cast loop for hanging. The large bells tend not to be worn by wagon horses, but by fire engine horses and cab horses. The smaller horse bells were frequently hung in sets of four from the headband. An engraving by Albrecht Dürer of 1515 depicts horses hung with many crotal bells.
Many bells bear the cast initials of their makers, and one of the most often found is R.W. The initials are those of Robert Wells (1764 – 1825), one of the finest bell founders of the 1700's.