Buried Treasure

This is the story of the most amazing chime find ever.  

 It started in 1995 when Rick Kasprzak was doing demolition in preparation for remodeling his 1888 Eastlake style home in the Old Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago.   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. 

Regardless of 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.

An especially 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 was.

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. 

 Renovating this chime was a labor of love.  My thanks to Rick for letting me be part of it. 

The 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 of 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 more special.

And then 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.


 A   The Chicago home where the chime was found and resides to this day.

 B   The mechanism as it was found—dusty and crusty but still marginally operational.

C   The mechanism after restoration- basically just thoroughly cleaned and adjusted.

D   "PAT. APLD. FOR” stamped into one of the parts.

E   “Wicks Pat’d 1-17-22” stamped into the back of the switch assembly.

F  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 to.

G   The motor, such as it is.  110VAC 1/4 mouse-power  with negligible torque driven through…

H …the gear train.  This is the part that looks so much like the gear train on the earliest NuTone motored chimes.

I  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.

J  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.

K  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. 

L  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.

M  Check out the hand-tied wire wraps.  Safe to say this was not a high production item.  

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.

O  The bells hang in a way similar to NuTone second generation chimes.

P  The chimes back at home reinstalled at Rick’s Chicago house.

Q  Rick, the chime-keeper himself.

calling Rick... come in Rick... please contact me!


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I am a lot more skilled at fixing old door chimes than I am dealing with search engine optimization, so here a a few terms and phrases that might help surfers find me.  

vintage door bell   vintage doorbell   vintage doorbells  vintage door bells  antique door bell  antique door bells  antique doorbell  antique doorbells  Rittenhouse   Edwards   NuTone




other pictures coming soon