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The History of Sleigh Bells

Jul 6, 2008
For many people, the melodic, rhythmic ringing of sleigh bells brings along inescapable images of winter and snowfall and the smell of Christmas, but were you aware that it goes much deeper than that? Sleigh bells have been with us for a very long time, and though we might be most accustomed to them in picturesque depictions a Victorian horse and carriage traveling through the snow, they actually go back quite a ways earlier!

Though today we'll find them everywhere, the bells that we know as sleigh bells were once only used for horses. Archaeologists have found similar bells in England, and the most early ones date back to when the Romans inhabited the northern lands. This means that these bells have been a part of the horse's harness for well over a thousand years. With this in mind, it can be thought that the bells were quite desirable, and they could be considered a sign of wealth and status.

You could also find single bells, extravagantly made of gold or silver, being used to decorate the warhorses during the Medieval age. These bells, called crotals, were definitely a sign of conspicuous consumption, and the ringing of these bells was thought to bring good luck and to ward off evil spirits and diseases.

It was not known when these ringing bells became common for wagons or sleighs, but it can be thought that the served both a decorative and a practical function. While of course everyone smiles to hear the cheerful ringing of sleighbells, they could also warn other people that there was a coach coming along the way, and on foggy nights, this could have saved lives. Sleighs can be difficult to stop without notice, and in many places, bells were required for the protection of those on the road.

During the nineteenth century, there was a fairly strong demand for sleigh bells, and they were mass produced in East Hampton, Connecticut. The bells that were made in this location were popular throughout the country, and these bells would adorn racing sleighs during competitions and the sleighs of people who just wanted to get around during the winter.

For many people, the first contact that they had with sleighbells was through the incredibly popular Christmas carol, known as "Jingle Bells," though originally, it's composer, James Pierpont called it "One Horse Open Sleigh." Written in the mid 1800's, this song is still sung at Christmas time and has been translated into many languages.

From ancient Roman times to the present, it is clear that sleigh bells hold a popular appeal, whether they are on a horse, or in our songs!
About the Author
Author collects Antique restrapped Brass Sleigh Bells and is an authority on the history of sleigh bells.
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