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Keeping sleigh bells jingling

By Staff | Dec 4, 2012

Michael Morris with his display of bells affixed to leather harness belts he restores.

DUBOISTOWN – There’s a lot of jingle within the home and workshop of Duboistown resident Michael Morris. He is perhaps the only person in the country restoring a large amount of sleigh bells with a cliental as local as the Muncy-Hughesville area as well as throughout many states.

According to Morris, “Bells were a status symbol of the times. A wealthy person would have a greater amount, and larger sizes of bells on their horses and carriages.” Before lights or horns came upon the horizon, the jingling of bells alerted eminent arrivals.

Five years ago, Morris retired from being a brick layer; he described himself as being fussy about his work. The patience he acquired serves him well in his chosen task of repairing bells and leather harness straps. He prides himself in his ability to restore items without the damaged area being detected.

“I have collected bells for 20 years and in addition to accumulating used harness leather and bells at auctions, I now advertise on the internet both as a buyer and seller,” Morris said.

His world wide outreach brings items from many areas including decorative harness medallions. Medallion dcor can include initials, denote the US Calvary, or depict a business such as a brewery in Kansas City. “Many of my purchases come from the west, such as California, Iowa and Texas. As these items were only prevalent to about the 1930’s, they’re becoming more difficult to find,” Morris said.

Necessary items contained in his workshop include dental instruments used to remove accumulated dirt from hard to reach areas; mink oil which returns suppleness to leather; and a special motorized buffer to bring back the patina of the bells. “Most bells are made of brass, however some were nickel plated,” Morris said.

At any given time, the workshop holds as a minimum of 500 individual bells just waiting to replace those missing from horse harnesses or animal neck collar. Other areas hold items to be done and an inventory of completed projects,

“Nowadays, bells are used mostly for decorative purposes,” Morris said. To accommodate the decorative market, Morris uses his creativity to fashion items for door and wall surfaces. He puts together harness blinders forming pockets to which greens and berries can be added. Another example is short “hip drops” which were attached to harnesses to give added jingle.

Buffing the bells allows one to see more details of intricate patterns such as the “petal” design used in the casting process. Morris also has a strand named ‘acorn’ which are actual shapes of acorns. Most commonly used on harnesses are the “slit throated” bells, though here are also “open mouth” bells. The latter are attached to harnesses in an upright position and have a hanging clapper. Leather straps can vary in length and sometimes hold more than one row of the jingling instruments.

“I have an area customer who has bell collars for her dogs and goats. I only know those customers and the use of their items who deal with me personally by coming to my residence or talking to me at local events. Of those, only one client purchased bells intended for use on horses,” Morris said.

The artisan has booths off site including one at the Lewisburg Roller Mills. On December 13 and 14, he’ll be at the 24th annual Christkindl Market at Mifflinburg.