15th C. Sounding Belt -or: building a belt with bells

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Destichado
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15th C. Sounding Belt -or: building a belt with bells

Post by Destichado »

So, throughout the bulk of the 15th century, there existed a fashion of wearing bells.

An old thread (Here) calls them Dusing or Dupsing. Following this as a search term yields knightly plaque belts, but no bells. An older website (Here) calls them Folly Bells. Also a search term that yields no results. (except another 15 year old SCAdian website) I like the proposed "Sounding Belt" or "Thundering Belt".

Nevertheless, whatever they were called, the fashion exists. Here's what I have so far, arranged into a rough chronological order:

Image
The Crucifixion
1404 or 1414 Konrad von Soest

Image
attribution in picture

Image
St. Maurice, 1411

Image
Tristan and Isolde, unknown edition
Looks like 1420s

Image
attribution in picture

Image
attribution in picture

Image
Roman de la Rose
which I think is from the Meister des Rosenromans edition, 1420-1430

Image
Frieze completed in 1475, but depicts Engelbrecht I van Nassau (died in 1442) who wears what appears to be an earlier style of armor than his son Jan IV. See: https://www.flickr.com/photos/roelipila ... otostream/

Image
c. 1480 Unknown Master, German
Altarpiece of the Seven Joys of Mary

I know there's a good bit more out there; I saw paintings featuring them when I was hunting for plaque belts and other 15th century fashion, but foolishly I didn't think to save them. But nine is a start.
  • What we see so far is (in all the images where we can tell) that these bells are *almost* always hung from a plaque belt, except in one case where they are hung from a collar of enormous chain.
  • The belts are almost always worn at the natural waist -with the apparent exception of the 1420s, where the belt is also worn at the high hip (modern belt height), and of the woman, who wears the belt fashionably (in that decade) under the bust. There is *no* instance of the belt being worn at the low hip -in fact, St. Maurice is wearing a large plaque belt at the low hip, underneath the small plaque belt that holds up the bells!
  • There are five instances of round bells, four of pear or teardrop-shaped bells. All of these appear to be crotal-style bells with a pea instead of a clapper. After research (ie: trying to find bells to buy) the "purse"-like wrinkling on the bottom of the bells on the van Nassau frieze, and the slashes on the bottom of the bells in the Devonshire tapestry, appear to be depicting a medieval version of Claw Bells. (Note: that claw bell was made with a pea that was hung as a clapper, so perhaps we shouldn't rule clappers out entirely)
    So far all round bells appear in the first half of the 15th century, while teardrop-shaped bells range from 1420-1480.
  • The chains these bells are hung from varies from perhaps a single link (1420, 1480), to a hand's breadth (1404, 1405, 1411), to as much as a foot or even eighteen inches.
    The chains can be surprisingly heavy! In three cases, the links appear to be at least 3/4" wide perhaps larger. In both cases were bells are worn over armor, the chains are very heavy. In the case of civilian wear, the chains appear to normally be more diminutive.
  • We can see straight off that standard jingle bells are almost entirely inappropriate. What we want are much larger and heavier. The bells on the woman's belt are fairly standard, but on men's belts, we see 2"-3" diameter bells for the round bells, and 2"-4" lengths for the teardrop shape.
    Searching e-bay for "Camel Bells" (for the teardrop shape) or "Elephant Bells" (for the round shape) has gotten me awfully close to what we are looking for. The 3" round elephant bells are just about perfect. Unfortunately, for the teardrop shape, I have so far been unable to find bells longer than 2". That's going to give the bells a much higher chime than the longer bells I would prefer.


Thus, this topic.

A long time ago, before research, I bought some long, tall bells from Argentina that purported to be brass. They weren't. They were gold painted steel. But! They had a beautiful windchime-like sound. I don't know much about bells, but I assumed that length = lower tone, like it does in horns. Since the bells I bought were very thin, I also assumed that had something to do with it, but I really have no idea.

I made a prototype from thin brass, and it clanks more than it rings, but when it rings it has a reasonably pleasant low tone, like what I'm looking for. I'm looking for advice. How do I make it clank less? How do I keep the low note in the bell? Can I make these sturdier without sacrificing tone?
Last edited by Destichado on Tue Dec 30, 2014 1:56 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -ie: know how to make bells?

Post by CTrumbore »

(Nevermind.. missed it in the first readthrough. nothing to see here).

have you looked here?

http://classicbells.com/categories.asp?cat=4

They have some crotals.
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Mac »

Des,

This is a very interesting project!

Here is what Wikipedia sayeth about the pitch. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_%28instrument%29 "The frequency of a bell's note varies with the square of its thickness, and inversely with its diameter." As I interpret that, the pitch will rise significantly with any increase in the thickness of you starting stock. If you are trying to keep tone low, you probably want to increase the diameter while using the same thickness of stock.

My impression from the color of your brass is that you have hard soldered and then acid pickled the bell. If that's so, the bell is more or less annealed from the soldering, and that may deaden the sound. Perhaps tin/lead solder is the way to go.

Mac
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Mac »

This article may be of interest. http://www.ukdfd.co.uk/pages/crotal-bells.html

Mac
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Kel Rekuta »

The fantastic round bells that we used to get for the equestrian trade were dapped in two pieces and crimpled together. No soldering. As Mac suggests, work hardening might be significant for tone. Certainly the crap bells out of the Orient these days don't have the clarity of tone the old Hussey-Gwenda English made bells did.
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Baron Alcyoneus »

I've seen an original medieval bell, but it wasn't large. It was cast.

Fools wore them, and I think that derives from a requirement that tourneyers wear them at some point.
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Ernst »

"Clarksdale Bells" were introduced by the Soto entrada into the southeastern US in 1539-1541.
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Destichado »

Mac, your article and background material proved invaluable, thank you.

Based on that, I decided the next step was to take the thickest brass I could reasonably think of working with (14 ga), increase the diameter to about as much as I could justify in context, and just see how the bells sounded.
Turns out, they sound pretty great! http://i.imgur.com/YaAN7nP.jpg

They are about 75% larger in diameter than the first bells, but over four times as thick. I was afraid that meant they would be high, tinkly things, but they actually sound exactly like some of the higher notes (they each have different tones) on wind chimes.

I hard soldered the bells, quenched them, and then worked them over a mandril until they were smooth and round, to work harden the pieces again. I'm doming the bottom hemispheres now, and hope to fit them tightly enough that I can soft solder them on at low temps.
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Mac »

Des,

I am glad to be of assistance, and look forward to seeing you your bells come out.

How do you plan to attach the bottoms? Will you crimp them on, or use soft solder?

Mac
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Destichado »

Mac, I plan to use soft solder. I'll be doing at least one test, maybe two (with and without decorative elements on the bell), and if it rings well I'll go ahead and assemble all the others that way. I spent the last evening sinking bell ends and raising them closer to their finished diameter. About halfway done.


My belt plates came in today! I'm using sand cast brasses from Architectural Iron Designs, and they're robust, to say the least. :shock: They'll need a lot of modification to get them to do just what I want, but when I'm done I should have something that's nearly bombproof and awfully close to the image of the period piece.

My goal is a reproduction of the belt in the Altarpiece of the Seven Joys of Mary -but with larger, less tinkly bells, like the ones from the van Nassau frieze or the hunting tapestry.
So, here's what I'm going for:

Image

And here's where I am, so far:

Image

:mrgreen:

There's an awful, awful lot of work yet to do --for one thing, I have to cut the molding off of every single blessed one of these to make them look right (and fit my waist)-- but so far I am encouraged.
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Mac »

Do you envision this belt as a leather-backed thing, or as a hinged construct?

Are you going to grind out the "berries" in the centers and put in gem stones? That would be a lot of work, but it would yield a high bling value in return.

Mac
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Destichado »

I'm honestly torn right now. A little bit of both? :?

It was my original intention to braze on studs or Chicago screws and affix the plaques to a belt, but also to cut hinges for them. Kind of a belt and suspenders approach.

I was inspired by the beautiful plaque belts Bractea is making over in Poland, particularly this one: (pic is a link)
Image

And in my memory, I envisioned that belt having all its plaques hinged -because plaque belts are supposed to be hinged, right? But over the weekend I looked them up again for reference, and saw that's obviously not the case. So now I'm questioning my plans for making the belt. Any advice? I've never made (or worn) one of these before.


Setting stones into the belt is a little bit ambitious for me, right now. I've never set a stone before. I do intend to clean up the casting with punches and gravers, and bring it up to a good polish.
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Mac »

There are a small number of extant belt plaques with hinges, but it does look like the default thing was to have the plaques mounted on a leather (or textile) backing. The big advantage with hinges is that you know perfectly well what's gong to hold it closed....a loose-pin hinge. The disadvantage is that you have to get the length right the first time, and then you are pretty much stuck with it.

Some plaque belts in art show a big old buckle and a looped over pendant. It's pretty clear how those work. Unfortunately, a lot of them don't give us any clue at all about the nature of the fastening. Some have an oversized central plaque, and it seems likely that this is involved with the fastening, but there are no guarantees.

My current best guess about the typical plaque belt is that it mounted on leather, and one of the plaques is fitted with a couple of hooks on the underside. This would work sort of like one of those big tacky cast zinc buckles from the 1970s. There would not be any real room for adjustment in this fastening, but at least you could assemble the belt with a particular final size in mind, and space all the plaques accordingly.

The thing that Bractea have done is practical, but I do not know of any examples of it. If you were going to do it that way, I think you should figure on wearing the buckle in the back. Late 14th and early 15th C seemed to have a lot more of this buckle-in-the-back thing than we see today.

Mac
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Destichado »

Image

The plaques are almost completely trimmed now. This is a slightly earlier picture, the small plates are now trimmed square to the very edges of the acanthus leaves, and the large plates have had their edges rounded, blended, and the back of the rosettes have been hollowed.

This stack of brasses originally weighed 12.3 lbs. With the molding removed and some fairly extensive grinding, I have it down to 6.3 lbs. Thanks to Bertus Brokamp's research [here], that puts me within historical tolerances -if only by a hairsbreadth.
In a letter from 1403 the then c. 33 years old Hanseatic merchant Hildebrand Veckinchusen living in Bruges says that:
'My large silver girdle weighs 12 marcs and 2 ounces Troyes (in silver), and with the belt it weighs 13 marcs and 7 ounces Troyes.'
The "large girdle" works out to 7.5 lbs, finished weight. So that's the absolute maximum weight I will consider acceptable.

I'll keep trimming a bit more for now, but as soon as my next order of parts arrives, I'll start assembling the hinges.
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by MJBlazek »

That's a pretty awesome idea. I need a center plate for my plaque belt, I wonder if I can find something like this.
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: know how to make bells?

Post by Destichado »

I apologize for straying from the original topic, but since this is already becoming something of a build thread, I guess this is the place to bring this up. [edit: Hah! I've changed the title! Now it's on topic! :P ]

Image

When I attempted to hard solder hinge sections onto the rosette casting, the casting cracked. I went ahead and finished soldering the hinge, then ground out and repaired the crack with silver brazing. I'd say the piece was probably 500-700 degrees F when it cracked -a sharp tick- it only cracked once, and it behaved fine afterwards. (Although I admit I was a little ginger when I went ahead with the hinge and the repair)

I figured this was unrelieved stress, possibly exacerbated by overly aggressive heating. So I tried to anneal the plaques before moving on with the rest. Every one of the large brasses cracked when I was bringing them up to temperature. I was *not* heating them aggressively, I was barely kissing each one with a propane torch before moving on to the others, but around 500 degrees, each one cracked. (marked in sharpie so you can see them, and so I can find them when I go to fix them)

I've been talking this over with friends on Facebook this morning, and the most plausible explanations forwarded so far have been:
-the brass these are made from is not suitable to hot work.
-the casting were not heat treated properly after pouring, possibly exacerbated by nickle in the alloy.
-there was internal porosity from the casting process used.

I am committed to my course now, but if I knew this beforehand I think I would have soft soldered copper roofing nails to the plates at low temperature, and used those to rivet the plates to a leather belt. Or possibly riveted through the plate with blind rivets.
As it is, although the first crack and repair is not visible from the front, the backs are flawed, so I think I'll go ahead with the leather (or possibly textile) backing plan, if only to protect my clothing from verdigris stains.

I hope I don't wind up making repairs to the small plaques as well. :?
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: building a belt with bells

Post by Gerhard von Liebau »

Not sure if this is useful, but it does have "clinking" bits on it... Might help with construction technique a bit.

http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/26072
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Re: 15th C. Sounding Belt -or: building a belt with bells

Post by Baron Alcyoneus »

I think this might help:
http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread. ... e-castings
I would contact the foundry and find out if they stress relive all their work, they might.
Depending on the size of the castings, this might require a sizable furnace.
@500 deg for 1hour for each 1" of material thickness.

The concept is to allow the metal to cool slowly from near critical temp allowing the recrystalization to sort it's self out in the most anealed condition.
This however may not be what tha part was designed for.
If the foundey knows what they are doing you should get the castings in working condition needing only cosmetic brushing and slight sanading.

I'll bet if you called the foundry forman he/she could really bend your ear about whats hapening at a molecular level. Bring a beer if they allow such things and then you could fill all of us in!!
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