Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Call of the Bell Pull

A very old, 1820 or 1840, English hand made, beaded needlepoint bell pull.  Hangs beside the marble fireplace in my Ladies Parlor.

Hand made needlepoint bell pull made by Mrs.  Stark. From the Gentlemen's parlor. 
Beaded English needle point bell pull hangs in dining room.

This is one of the many needle point bell pulls that I have made. This one is signed and daded and hangs in the blue guest room on the second floor.

Early antique, 1820-1840- English hand made beaded  needlepoint bell bull, Ladies parlor.
    A bell pull is a woven textile, cord,needlepoint,or other object that connects with a bell or bell wire, and which rings a bell when pulled, for to call  a servant. Bell pulls are used to summon workers in homes of people who have butlers, maids or servants. They often have a tassel on the bottom. The bell pull is one element of a complex interior mechanical network which typically in Victorian times involved a range of bell pulls in a room, where a servant would wait for the bell command.
     Some homes had elaborate bell systems. All sizes of bells with different tones to mark which room the servant was being called to, was needed . Some systems had numbered bells and the number was connected to a certain room. Some systems were marked  with a name such as,"parlor."Two types of metal. iron and copper were used in the making of the bells so each bell could make a certain sound. Each servant had  to learn the different sounds and what room they applied to. The bells were usually located in the kitchen where most of the servants would be, until needed. A wire pulley system went through the walls and  when the bell pull was pulledy, a bell would ring.A small hammer was required to hit the bell to make it sound. My kitchen at, My Old Historic House, has 6 bells, each mounted on a single coil steel spring and attached to a pulley and leaver,that is hooked to a wire that went through the walls from the kitchen to the rooms  were the bell pulls hang. 
    Beginning in and around the 1850's, most fine homes in America had a bell system and used bell pulls. Mary Lincoln had the first bell pulls at the White House. Records show that she bought a number of bell pulls on one of her many shopping trips to New York.  Antique tapestry , needlepoint and fine stitched cloth bell pulls have been around for centuries. Through out history, they were created out of rich fabrics and professional woven and hand needle pointed. Most of the bell pulls we find today were made by the home owners, who took great pride in there workmanship. They were a flattering display of wealth. They ranged in all shapes ,sizes and color. 
      Servants were  expected not only to be efficient,biddable and unseen, but they were to be available and ready to serve at an instance's notice, when the bell was rang. And a modern bell system inspired this type of service. 

Part of the original call bells hanging in my kitchen.

    With Missouri, where , My Old Historic House is located, being a slave state, Elgin, the builder of my home, had slaves. I know this to be a fact ,as I have found, Mrs. Elgins's first husbands, last will and testament. He gave his wife, upon his death, 25 slaves and $125,00.00 and 125 acres of land. This was a very wealthy lady of 1860. When Elgin added onto the house, he no doubt added the servants bell system. And the bells remain today. They no longer work as the wires in the walls have since broken or deteriorated. I pull the bell pulls all the time and no servant appears. I guess the reason being, I seem to be the only servant at, My Old Historic House. 
   Today the bell pull has been replaced with an electric call button. People who still have servants only need to push a button. Through the years at ,My Old Historic House, these changes have been made as well. Under the dining room table on the floor is such an electric button, one only needs to step on it, to call for the servants. It is indeed in working order today, but, again when I ring it, no one comes, as I am the only servant at my house. 
    Bell Pulls have been used in interior design since they were first invented . I think they are quite handsome and add to almost any decor. They have been sold in antique shops for years and the really old, needlepoint ones, are quite collectable and can fetch a good price. In the 70's I was stricken with an illness and had to spend a great deal of time on my back. I took up needlepoint and needle pointed almost anything that would stand still. I have projects all over Missouri, where I did a lot of custom pieces for people  and in return helped me earn a little much needed money. If one would figure the hourly wage it would probably come down to about .10 a hour.I did become quite good at it and fast. Latter I seemed to only want the really old needlepoint bell pulls ,so one by one, I sold off the ones I made. I have one I kept and it is included in this post, I pictured my initials and a date for you to see. The two bell pulls that I have that are my pride and joy are antique English  needlepoint and contain bead work. I am crazy for any antique  needlepoint items, but, if they have beads, I just flip right on out.  I also have one that has a lot of history connected to it. It is not ancient, probably around 1920's or so. But it was made by the wife of a former Governor of Missouri, Mrs Lloyd Stark. He was Governor of Missouri   in 1939. I bought this an an estate sale in 1974, and I have had it all theses years. The Governor and his wife are both from Louisiana,Mo. about 9 miles from here. That is the town where the famous Stark Nursery, the oldest and biggest in the world, is located. The Stark family  sold there family home in in the 70's and  moved to St.Louis. 

The Stark bell pull, Gentlemen's parlor.

English beaded early needle point bell pull, Dining room. 

The beautiful hardware on the Stark bell pull.

Hardware of the Eglish bell pull.

Ladies parlor, English beaded needle point bell pull.
Dining room bell pull.


     These bell pulls are really hard to take pictures of. I have tried every angle and direction, but nothing seems to work. So they are the best I can do. I wish they were better because they really are very beautiful.
    I have been having kinda trying times these past few weeks. The roof on, My Old Historic House, has been in need of attention. I found some one to do the work, they seem to know what they are doing, well, when they show up. I just hate people who start a project for you, get your deposit, work one day and go to the next job so they can get that deposit. What is wrong with people? Also I have a problem with the Mud Douber insects. I hate them. I don't know why the Lord every made them, what good could they do. Living on the Mississippi they build nests all over the outside of the house. I have spent the last week, up and down ladders cleaning them off. A nasty job.Besides all that, the river takes a tole on any thing painted here. Every year the porch floors, I have 5, have to be sanded and re- painted. Another hard and nasty job. I know it is not correct to do, but I am replacing the wood floors with plastic, as soon as I can rob a bank. Top it all off, business has been so bad since the US Gov. played games with the  National debt thing   and scared everybody to death.It is hard to run a house hold on SS. 

   Well-------not that I have ranted and raved, I would like to say, I'm sorry and invite you all to come anytime for a tour. I will leave the lights on and Sissy Dog will meet you with a jump and a kiss. I promise to be nice and not carry on so. I hope you are having a better day than I am. 
This picture is from an old English book and it shows a lady ringing for the servants, must have been a problem, as the men seem to be up set?


Ruffles and Relics said...

These are really beautiful...Your posts are always an interesting and enjoyable read.. I would love to take a tour of your home ...maybe this spring!! Good luck with roof and the mud dobbers!!


How totally beautiful and gracious, my dear Richard! So devine you always give us a little history of your forever fabulous things, I so enjoy reading about the bell pulls...around this area too, they had many servants where this bells where used for maids and servants to be ready, and this is not so long ago, my mil had a couple of maids and she used her little silver bell so they can come and clear the table...she died in jan 09. Although I always had a maid and when the girls where snmall, I had two, I never got used to the bell, like the rest of the family did and do! Thanks for coming by and what is the monkey bread?! Love FABBY

xinex said...

Your bell pulls have so much intricate details, beautiful Richard! I have one that I got from an estate auction but it's very simple, just has a tassel at the bottom....Christine

Rosemary@villabarnes said...

I've always looked at bell pulls as a beautiful piece of art. Yours are just fantastic. I especially love the beaded one.

Glenda/MidSouth said...

Enjoyed seeing your collection of bell pulls and the history.
Sorry things are not going to well for you right now - hope it will get better.

debchester said...

Thanks for sharing the information about bell pulls. I have been searching for hardware recently and have a dealer looking for some. There are two lovely needlepoint pulls in my favorite antiques store in Oklahoma City, but they are so costly that I'm thinking of stitching my own.

Even when you were having a bad day, you could still share lovely pictures of lovely things. You have a generous spirit, and no one deserves the affliction of mud daubers!

lvroftiques said...

As always great collection Richard. They are so beautiful and sooooo time consuming to make! I used to do needlepoint myself and it would sometimes take me a year to finish a large piece. So I really have an appreciation for the time and love invested.
Wouldn't it be lovely if some servants actually did come running when you pulled? *winks*
I have a couple of them but nowhere near as grand as yours. The metal ends of your pulls are just as amazing as the pulls themselves!
Thank you for sharing another of your fabulous collections Richard. I savor every post. And I hope those nasty bugs are gone as well as hoping the darn workman finishes the job!! Grrrrr! That would make me crazy too! Vanna

Robin's Egg Bleu said...

Gorgeous collection!!! I wish we could use these at the Whaley House, but so far there's no record I know of that they had a bell system.

By the way, I apologize for missing a message from you regarding the large 1830's portrait painting I'd mentioned to you. Sometimes I forget to go back and check my comments page.

We still have the portrait if you are interested!

Sissysmom said...

Richard, every time you post I think that is my favorite collection of Richards!!! The bell pulls are lovely. I have always wanted one, just haven't been able to afford the ones I want. I so appreciate all the information you share. I cannot wait until you next post and I'm sure it will be my "favorite" too!!

Mud dabbers do not sound fun, but right now I am fighting the battle of the earwigs!! They love the heat this time of year and multiply like crazy...I hate them!! Bob, the bug guy, comes next week and I cannot wait!

Give Sissy dog a pat on the head from me! Hope the roof gets finished soon!

Deanna said...

Hello Richard.
Beautiful beaded work....I cannot imagine doing this tedious work. These are lovely Bell Pulls and it must be a pleasure to have them in your lovely home.

God bless,

Anna at the Doll House said...

What beautiful needlepoint work Richard, and how good that you still have this bell pull in your home. I think that your own work is the most attractive one in your collection.

There is an electric bell-push system in my house but sadly, no servants to answer my call.


mississippi artist said...

Lovely bell pulls. I once had several-wonder what I did with them? The one you did is lovely, I can't see well enough to do stuff like that anymore-nor do I have the patience to work on something for that long! I agree if our goverment keeps on we will all be as poor as church mice!

Sweet Old Vintage said...

Enjoyed the informative post... The pulls are interesting and lovely... The only one to answer it at my house would be me...LOL

Curtains In My Tree said...

Every time you post about something I want to run and try to locate one for myself. first it was the stafforshire dogs
then the french sofas
then toile bedspread like you red one
now i want a bell pull however i want someone on the other side also to answer LOL

I know all about workmen getting your deposit then leaving, my last workmen got very upset with me when I insisted they finish my job and quit running off, they polietely explained that is how they make money buy having several jobs going at one time.

my dirt dobblers make their beds inside my windows bewtween the storm window and window pane

Richard all your troubles and woes you still live in a mansion remember that some of us dream of living in a house like yours

xoxox to you & Sissy

i might just make it over for the apple festival I am putting that on my calendar

Beverly said...

Hang in there, Richard. It all gets done in time - even though it is often painful.

I adore all of your bell pulls. I have always admired them.

Curtains In My Tree said...

Richard & Sissy

if you know anyone who loved their dogs more than anything and you can give this sweet person some comforting words go visit her blog . It is sad , she lost her pet



Shelia said...

Hi Richard! Oh, your bell pulls are so beautiful and what treasures! So many little dainty talented fingers worked very hard making these!
I'm sorry about all that's going on at your old historic home. I'm sure it will all work out.
I'm so sorry! I thought I had told you that I received the calendar! I got it and it's gorgeous! I'm going to post about it for Pink Saturday! Thank you again for drawing my name.
Be a sweetie,
Shelia ;)

Cassy said...

Very nice collection of yours.

Cassy from Learn How To Play Lead Guitar

BeautifulDees said...

Lovely all of them....I love how you keep the past looking so lovely.
Thank you for your dear comment's,it help's to have friend's help us along in life. I hope your bussiness pick's up, you certainly have such awesome thing's.

The Dusty Victorian said...

Gorgeous bell pulls! Richard,
Well done, as usual.

bj said...

These are really magnificent, Richard..I have always been interested in bell pulls. I have a very COUNTRY reproduction little bell pull and have nearly pulled it to pieces and, as yet, not one single maid or cook has answered it. :))
Enjoy your beautiful things.
xo bj

Pat@Back Porch Musings said...

These are beautiful Richard.

Do you know Eagle Fork Farm at Moscow Mills? We know the folks who own it. Their home has been in the same family many years. I remember someone telling me it was a stop on the under ground railway. Lots of history in our neck of the woods.

PAT said...


Bohemian said...

Dear Richard... of coarse I still Love you! *Winks* Thanks for stopping by & I'm glad I stopped by today because I saw one of these at Sweet Salvage's Sale & didn't know what it was, I thought it was a broken belt, but it was so outstanding in the workmanship of the beadwork that I almost bought it... now I wish I had! *Le Sigh* This is why I Love coming here, it always gives me an education & what NOT to pass up on my Treasure Hunts! *LOL*

Blessings from the Arizona Desert... Dawn... The Bohemian

Ann@A Sentimental Life said...

love how you are always educating me. I actually am not familar with these? Guess we did not have any..no servants! The workmanship is beautiful!

Bohemian said...

As I recall Richard that Bell Pull... which I thought was a broken old Belt, was only about $35... I was going to buy it to incorporate into one of my pieces of wearable Art, but decided against it. Now I wish I had purchased it... very unlikely it is still there since the Shop it was offered at is a once a month occassional Sale with a variety of Vendors. *Le Sigh* Had I known what a True Treasure it was... or even WHAT it was *Winks*, I wouldn't have hesitated to scoop it up! Now, thanks to you, I'm better educated to recognize these particular Antiques when I see them again!

Dawn... The Bohemian

Coloradolady said...

These are simply amazing. So ornate and detailed. I enjoyed the history too, how fantastic to have these.

My favorite is the beaded one...amazing it is in such wonderful condition.

Jil~Say It With Roses said...

How interesting! I have never given bell pulls much thought other than to admire their artistry.....now I will look at them a whole different way and all thanks to you Richard!

I think your work is beautiful and your bell pull wonderful! Thank you so much for this interesting bit of history!
Your new Michigan friend,

Shelia said...

Hi Richard! Pop over to my blog and see my post about the wonderful Frenchy calendar and hopefully send a few folks your way!
Have a wonderful Saturday.
be a sweetie,
Shelia ;)

Victoriana Lady said...

Oh Richard, your home is so lovely!! I am a big fan of blue. :) I inherited my great aunt/grandmother's Blue Willow dishes which I treasure. My first cup of tea at the age of 8 was in grandmother's tea cup. :)
Thanks for bringing back the sweet memories...

LV said...

You certainly have a lovely home filled with beautiful treasures. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour of it. My very favorite thing was the very first picture of the window.

Love Of Quilts said...

I can over from Shelia's. I would wish for one your pulls if it would bring me someone to just help out in cleaning house. We can wish can't we. Lovely old home you have.I could go for thoses blue platers. Trish

Capt.Hook said...

Sir, I have a hand-made needle-point bell pull. I live in Texas and need the name of someone whoo can clear it. Any suggestions?
I live between San Antonio and Austin.

GinaBVictorian said...

Hi Richard, You and your blog are such a great resource for me, I thank you for that. You need to write a book about all the stuff you tell about in your blog so I can just go pull the book out instead of getting on the computer. It would make a wonderful coffee table book. But anyway...if I may, could I ask you to educate me on something with these bell pulls? I bought one yesterday and I am sure it has some age to it, how much I do not know. It is needlepoint attached to the metal ends, like most pulls and the metal has stamped in it "Austria" and here is what I need to know...between the sewn together needlepoint and the backing is this large round piece that has a wire like yellow cord that has been cut. I can barely see it through a quarter size tear in the backing, what is it?
Thanks so much,