In 1744 a bell system was invented that enabled the summoning of servants from distant parts of large mansions. The bell system consisted of copper wires and pulleys. A handle, knob, or fabric pull was connected by the wire and pulley system to a set of bells in the kitchen or servant’s quarters. The front door and each room were connected to a bell. The bells were labeled or numbered. So that the servants could easily determine which room needed service. Large mansions might have complicated systems with different sized bells made of copper or iron. A servant would recognize which room required his attention by the tone. Servants had to learn different sounds and the corresponding rooms. Servants were expected to be available but unseen at all times.
Until the invention of the bell system, servants were stationed within a room or just outside the door of the room. Servants needed to be present to keep the fires going, light candle and oil lamps, announce visitors and serve refreshments, as well as to perform other duties. The constant presence of servants allowed little privacy for the family. With the bell system in place, servants could work below stairs and still be available if needed by the family. This allowed the family more privacy.
During Victorian times the bell system reached new heights. The wires were hidden behind the walls and floors. Sprung pulleys enabled the wires to go around corners, making it possible for the system to be used in all reaches of the house. After 1850, in America, most homes owned by the wealthy had a system of bells and pulls.
Bell Pulls were a means of displaying one’s artistic talents. They were often made of hand-woven tapestries. The ladies of the house also used needlepoint or embroidered fine silks to be made into bell pulls. A lady’s needlework afforded her pleasure as well as satisfaction.
Bell Pulls are very collectible. Antique hand-made bell pulls can be quite expensive. The long, narrow form of the bell pull is a favorite with women who enjoy needlework today. The bell pulls still have a place in interior design. It is often just right for hanging in a small area.