Object of the Week: Seton Hall College School Bell

Seton Hall College School Bell
Meneely Bell Foundry
Gift of the Seton Hall University Alumni Association
Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University



This mid-19th century bronze bell was originally located at the Seton Hall College campus in Madison, New Jersey. In the late 1960s, Dr. Louis de Crenascol, Chair of the Department of Art and Music, saw it for sale in an antique shop in nearby Summit.  The bell was purchased through an arrangement between Dr. de Crenascol, Norbert Kubilus – President of the Society for the Preservation of Setonia—and John L. Botti – Executive Secretary of the Alumni Association—and brought to Seton Hall University where it hung in the McLaughlin Library until the building was razed in the 1990s to make way for Jubilee Hall.  The bell then moved to the current Walsh Library and is presently on view in the Reading Room of the Department of Archives and Special Collections.[1]  The bell was manufactured by Meneely’s of Troy, New York, a foundry which was known for making school bells of 100 pounds or more.[2]

Bronze bells such as this one were commonly used in America from the 19th century until the mid-20th century and were rung to mark important times for students and teachers, such as to signal the beginning or end of the school day, classes or lunch breaks. They were intended to carry sound over a wide area in a world largely without clocks, wrist watches or cell phones to keep track of time.  For this reason, bronze, with its resonant qualities, was the metal of choice.[3]  Today, the old bronze school bell has largely been displaced by electric buzzers, public address (P.A.) systems or music.[4]   You can hear what the Seton Hall College bell might sound like by listening to this sound sample of a similar Meneely Bell of the period below.[5]

School house bells were often sold ready for installation, bundled with a frame, wheel and wood sills.  If you look closely at the image of Seton Hall

Diagram of the parts of a bell
Figure 1. https://www.pinterest.com/cpbellfoundry/_created/

College’s bell above, you will see horizontal arms that would have been attached to the frame to support the bell.  Bells would be placed in the upper part of a belfry, or belltower, with a rope hung from the wheel. School bells were typically between 20 and 28 inches across to produce a slightly higher pitch than church bells which, would have been larger to peal with a deeper sound. This detail regarding size and tone was important.  The public had to be able to distinguish between school, civic and church bells to avoid confusion.[6]

Church, clock and tower bells are also used to communicate with the public to commemorate important events such as the swearing in of an official or state leader, or religious rites including marriage and death.  Bells are frequently associated with the concepts of peace and freedom, but they can also mark specific times on a clock or serve as a percussive musical

Image of red and white mid-19th century schoolhouse with belfry
Image of mid-19th century schoolhouse with belfry in Maysville, Colorado. Courtesy of Jeffrey Beal, Colorado, USA. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maysville_School_(6287064191).jpg

instrument.  The earliest archaeological evidence of bells dates from the 3rd millennium B.C.E. in the Yang Shao culture of Neolithic China.[7]  Bells figure prominently in the public imagination, especially literary works.  The Guardian has compiled a list of the 10 Best Bells in Literature. The list includes stories such as Macbeth by William Shakespeare, The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe and Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo.  Check out the full list to see how many you have read.


The Walsh Gallery has a considerable collection of fine art, artifacts and archeological specimens for use by faculty, students and researchers. For access to this or other objects in our collections, contact us at 973-275-2033 or walshgallery@shu.edu to make a research appointment. 


[1] Interview with Alan Delozier by Meghan Brady, 10/08/2020.

[2] https://antiques.lovetoknow.com/collectibles/antique-school-house-bells accessed 1/19/2021

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell#:~:text=The%20earliest%20archaeological%20evidence%20of,bells%20appear%20in%201000%20BC. Accessed 1/19/2021

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_bell, accessed 1/19/2021.

[5] http://www.brosamersbells.com/hear.html, accessed 1/19/2021.

[6] https://antiques.lovetoknow.com/collectibles/antique-school-house-bells, accessed 1/19/2021.

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell#:~:text=The%20earliest%20archaeological%20evidence%20of,bells%20appear%20in%201000%20BC, accessed 1/19/2021.