This handsome neck strap features 22 small petal bells and 3 small open (liberty) bells. The strap has buckles and billets (tongues) at both ends, so the strap can be fastened around the hames of a draft style harness.
All bells date to the late 1800s or early 1900s. The sleigh bells are #0 (1" diameter) and #1 (1 1/8" diameter) size bells. The open bells are about 1 1/2" diameter, as measured across the open mouth. The open bells are small enough that their sound does not dominate; instead they add a clear silvery high overtone to the overall music of the bells.
The owner asked us to make a new strap as close to the original as possible, so we first carefully documented the original strap design and bell layout. After removing the bells from the old strap, we replaced the missing clappers in the open bells and cleaned and polished all 25 bells. The owner asked us to not lacquer the bells, so they will gradually tarnish and darken over time.
The new strap was constructed from dark brown bridle leather similar to the original strap. We were able to reuse the original buckles. The strap is 7/8 inch wide and 52 inches long from buckle to buckle. The billets (tongues) add another 7 inches at each end of the strap.
We added "keepers" between each pair of bells to hold the bell and lining straps together. Keepers are essentially short, narrow straps with their short ends butted and fastened together. Some old makers fastened their sleigh-bell keepers by hand stitching them with "tack stitching". Click "Enlarge" to see a close up of the stitched keepers on this strap. Other old makers fastened keepers with a variety of small steel clips and rivets.
One fastening method is about as strong and long lived as the other, based on the old straps we have seen. Neither is as good as the classic lapped and stitched keepers found on high-end English bridles. Unfortunately, lapped-and-stitched keepers are far too costly to make in the quantities needed for a single sleigh bell strap.
If the client requests butted-and-stitched keepers, as was the case with this strap, we re-create the keepers using a stitch pattern similar to the original if possible. If cost is a consideration or if the original keepers were fastened with clips or rivets, we fasten the keepers with sturdy solid brass (no rust) clips.
This particular item is a custom, one-of-a-kind project made for a past client. Items in this Custom Projects section are for information only; they are not available for regular sale.