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?