the story of the most amazing chime find ever.
It started in
1995 when Rick Kasprzak was doing demolition in preparation for remodeling
Eastlake style home in the Old Irving Park
During the course of that demolition he found buried treasure—an ancient
door chime inside a wall that had been covered over long ago in some
previous remodeling work. It was obviously a door chime-- it had four long
tubular bells, a very mechanical looking electric mechanism, and the cover.
Remarkably it was all there! Rick touched two likely looking bare wires together and amazingly
it powered up… still worked, though rather sluggishly. He put the thing
aside thinking that it could be addressed at some later date when he would
be getting down to the finer details of the project.
In 2005, Rick
was ready to address the old chime and sought out someone to service it.
That’s when he found me on the net. When he first told me the story, I had
high hopes that it would be some really interesting chime, but realistically
expected something rather mundane… just another NuTone probably.
When Rick sent
me pictures of the mechanism I was shocked to see that this was like no
chime I had ever seen before, and the possibility that it was original to
his 1888 house seemed entirely possible. Instead of the solenoid driven
hammers, this one had levers that were activated by a motor driven cam shaft
of sorts acting on rocker arms. Most of the complex machine was made of cast
metal of some sort and machined rod and bar stock—nothing like the formed
sheet metal structure of all other chimes I knew.
So could this
be—living, dusty proof that electric longbell door chimes were around nearly
50 years before they were popularized by companies like NuTone, Rittenhouse
and a host of others?
As for the
cover, Rick remembered that he had given it to his father back when he first
found the chime, and had asked him to sandblast it in preparation for
refinishing. As he recalls, it had a number of sloppy paint jobs over the
original finish, so was pretty unsightly. Sadly, his father had long ago
done exactly as requested, so the original finish surely had been removed, but more
importantly and more sadly a label which Rick vaguely recalls, was lost.
Determining the the maker of this chime would not be easy.
When Rick sent
it to me and I could inspect it closely, my assumptions about its ancient
age changed some. A few tell-tale items suggested that in fact it dated
from a time much later than 1888. First, it has a few early plastic parts:
the insulating platform that the switch is mounted to and the shut-off cam
at the end of the camshaft. The switch is a mercury switch, and I really
don’t know when those came into common use, but stamped on a part of it is
“Wicks Pat’ed 1-17-22”. Is that a date? Sure looks like one.
the age, the story of how it was preserved and found, and all the details of
it make it a very special chime. My best theory so far is that it could
possibly be one of the very few made by the fellow who brought the idea of
musical chimes to J. Ralph Corbett, providing the seed of what would become
NuTone. Those early pre-NuTone models were described as being outrageously
expensive, and this one surely would have been that. The clockworks gear
drive is quite similar to the same feature in the first generation NuTone
motored chimes, and not found on any other chimes that I’m familiar with.
oddball feature: the motor runs on 110v straight out of the wall. 110v leads
are soldered to the input lugs- entirely exposed, as are the downstream
connections to the motor and shut-off switch. Not exactly an exemplary safe
design. The switching is all done on low voltage, so a transformer is in the
door bell button circuit. At least there are on-board fuses for the high
and low voltage circuits.
So what does
it sound like? The bells on this, like every other aspect, are
unusual. Where most chimes use 1' or 1-1/8" diameter tube, these are
1-1/4". Doesn't seem like much but the visual effect is significant.
The longest bell is over 58" long, which is 7" longer than any others I have
seen. Instead of the tuning that allowed the classic Westminster chimes
sequence which would later become the norm, these are tuned to C, A, F, C.
The quality of tuning, volume and sustain are all impressive. Each cam
of the mechanism has two pegs on it, located asymmetrically, and the
camshaft makes one half rotation for each chime sequence. As a result
the chime plays two different sequences alternating each cycle. Furthermore,
as each cam can individually be rotated and set on the shaft in any
position, the chime can be set up to play a number of different note
sequences and syncopations. I have no way to know what the original set up
Aside from the bell sound, this beast makes a huge
amount of mechanical noise. There is just a whole lot going on… the sound
of the motor, the considerable sound of the gear train, friction in the cam
shaft and rocker arms and the “thwang” and rebound sounds of the hammers.
The machine noise is really quite distracting and detracts from the
experience. The 4-note ringing sequence takes about 12 seconds. Compare that to the 3-5
seconds most other vintage 4-note chimes take. It is tediously slow, but I
guess the entertainment value of watching it run makes up for that.
My efforts on
this were limited mostly to just a thorough cleaning, adjustment and
replacement of petrified natural rubber parts, so generally the after shot
looks pretty much like what I would guess it looked like when new.
this chime was a labor of love. My thanks to Rick for letting me be part of
source of this chime was a quite a mystery, which eventually unraveled
in my obsessive quest for history of the chime industry. While
researching any and all chime patents I could find, I noticed a strong
similarity with a cam driven hammer chime design by Gisbert Ludolf Bossard
General Kontrolar, maker of the Telechime brand. The clincher was
information that I got from the Bossard grandson that G.L. had invented and
held the rights for the mercury switch, which he invented in the course of
his prior business making railway crossing signals. Given that this one uses
a mercury switch, entirely unique in the chime world as far as I know,
I am reasonably well convinced that this is one of Bossard's rare Telechimes.
Evidence is not entirely rock solid, but in my judgment, a smoking gun with
fingerprints. I suspect that someday I will find the patent for this
machine and the Bossard name will be on it.. Given the role that Bossard
played in the formation of NuTone, the history just makes this chime all the
there is an interesting coincidence to speculate about. Rick tells me
that many of the homes built during the original development of Irving Park
belonged to the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad executives. While he
doesn't know if his house was ever owned by a railroad person, the idea that
it may have ended up in his house by some connection to Bossard's history in
the railway industry is just too juicy not to contemplate. Could it be that
the chime was a gift to an old associate... or perhaps sent as a sample to
entice a former contact to invest in General Kontrolar? From the category,
Things We Will Never Know.
Chicago home where the chime was found and
resides to this day.
The mechanism as it was found—dusty and crusty but still marginally
mechanism after restoration- basically just thoroughly cleaned and adjusted.
APLD. FOR” stamped into one of the parts.
1-17-22” stamped into
the back of
the switch assembly.
Power switch from the front side. When the doorbell button is pressed, low
voltage charges the electromagnetic coil, which pulls up the L shaped
bracket, tilting the mercury switch to the on position. Power is
simultaneously routed to the motor and the reed switch that follows the
shut-off cam. Note the plastic insulator that the switch assembly is mounted
The motor, such as it is. 110VAC 1/4 mouse-power with negligible torque
…the gear train. This is the part that looks so much like the gear train on
the earliest NuTone motored chimes.
The gears drive the shaft with the cam-like things—actually disks with pegs
on them. The assembly method is familiar to anyone who has ever
played with an Erector Set.
As the disks turn the pegs catch the tabs on the coil spring-loaded rocker
arms. The rocker arm is pulled back as the cam rotates, and then releases
as the cam peg rotates off the rocker arm. New cork bumpers replace
the ancient natural rubber bumpers, long since decomposed.
The hammers themselves are mounted on leaf springs which allows them
to fly forward on inertia, smack the bells,
then rebound to their home position until the next sequence. Hammer
assembly seen here from the back side. Note hard leather strikes, typical of
many early chimes.
The type of wire used on this might be a good clue to the age. Anybody know
for sure when this sort of wire was used? The heavy wires are the 110v
leads, the thinner wires carried low voltage from the transformer to the
doorbell button and chime switch.
Check out the hand-tied wire wraps. Safe to say this was not a high
The cover in its sandblasted state. It is
formed from steel sheet metal, with a very generous plating of copper.
Remnants of the original finish remain on the inside. It seems to be a brown
patinated copper. overall, an especially unspecial design. One
of Rick’s first requests was to come up with a more interesting cover, but
ultimately decided to show off the unusual chime in its grand nakedness.
The cover will go to the attic for some future generation to re-discover.
hang in a way similar to NuTone second generation chimes.
The chimes back at home reinstalled at Rick’s
calling Rick... come in Rick... please contact me!
"door chimes" above to see other related topics.
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antique doorbell antique doorbells Rittenhouse