Handbells have been traced back as far as 5th Century BC in China, although bells of various kinds and shapes have been found all over the world. Handbells were established in England as a way for bell tower ringers to practice and not disturb the entire community. Eventually this type of ringing became an art in itself. English handbells were thought to be introduced to America by the Peake Family Ringers in the 1830’s, and in the 1840’s by P.T. Barnum. By the 1950’s and 60’s, hundreds of groups were springing up across the US in churches, schools, and other organizations.
Practices are very important as few “ringers” have their own bells, and they are quite expensive. The choir members divide the bells for ringing. It is important that each person (or their substitute) be at practice since an entire tonal section would be missing.
English handbells come in various sizes. The bells are made of copper and tin, cast and pitched in a factory (Schulmerich Factory in Hatfield, PA, in our case). The handles were once made of hard leather, but are now made of vinyl. The clappers will only move up and down, and employ special springs to prevent the clapper from resting on the bell. Each bell handle is marked with the musical note it plays.
For additional information on handbells go to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handbell
Handchimes are frequently rung in conjunction with handbells. Handchimes were originally intended as a training tool for prospective handbell ringers.
For additional information on handchimes go to Wikipedia:
Handbell Musicians of America (HMA) is the leading handbell guild organization in the United States. Their Vision Statement is "Unifying people to create a diverse community in which handbell musicians of all skill levels realize their full potential through a musically-respected art form". Their website is: www.handbellmusicians.org
HMA publishes a quarterly magazine (Overtones) that can be accessed at: www.handbellmembers.org/overtones-current-issue/
The International Handbell Committee (IHC) sponsors an International Handbell Symposium every two years, rotating between the eight different member countries of the IHC. Their website is: www.internationalhandbells.org/about/