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Saddle & shaft bells: These are small collections of large bells intended to be attached to the wagon or sleigh directly.
The name refers to where they are placed on the vehicle: the saddle bell is placed on the horse’s back pad while the shaft bells are attached to the shaves of the wagon or sleigh.
However, as horse-drawn transport faded with the advent of the automobile, so did the bell makers: only a handful of the old manufacturers are still producing the classic bells and many strings still used today are vintage relics from days gone by. Not quite: within the category of “sleigh bells” there are a number of ways to classify the individual bells: shape, throat style, decoration and construction.
Bell manufacturers began to shape an industry in the eighteenth century, casting their makers’ marks and ornate designs on individual bells.
Bells were cast until the end of the 1800s, when an American manufacturer developed a process to stamp bells out of sheet metal, greatly expediting the production process.
Additionally, bells and ornaments were a great way to show off your wealth and status: bells and other charms have been in use since at least 800 BC.
For more practical purposes, however, bells were a good “early warning” system to pedestrians and other folks on the road that horses or horse-drawn vehicles were heading their way.
A warning: even the most careful driver may sometimes get a line caught up in the bells.