For the past 6 years I have worked with the Handbell Musicians of America to secure equipment for the National Seminar. This means working with local representatives to find as many as 35 sets of bells and 25 sets of chimes that people are willing to loan for the event. One of the important things when borrowing equipment is making sure we know to whom it should be returned. Therefore, we require that everything we borrow be uniquely identified. I have seen all kinds of markings over the last 6 years and some work better than others. Even if you don't loan your equipment, it's a good idea to be sure it is marked with something recognizable. Most of the marking methods I'll discuss are not ideal for marking your equipment in the case of theft as the markings can be removed. But they are sufficient to help you identify your equipment quickly from one set to another. I will also mention a few ways you can make more permanent markings in your bells.
One of the best ways to mark your bells is with handle inscriptions from Malmark. These gold-leaf engraved labels are permanently placed inside the handles and cannot be removed without permanent damage to the handles. These are best purchased at the time you buy your bells, although they can be purchased later with new handles.
For the bell itself, a relatively easy way to permanently mark your bell is to take the bell apart, and using a permanent pen write your initials or some other recognizable mark on the very top of the casting where it meets the handguard (See Image at Left). When you put the bell back together the marking will be completely invisible, yet if your bells are stolen and you must positively identify them, this allows you to do so. However, be aware that over time the lock washer may obliterate the markings, as will taking the bells apart to polish them. But if you're taking them apart, it's also very easy to reapply. I have heard of people using an etching pencil to make the mark. Some have also placed the mark (either written or etched) on the polished part of the bell just outside the flat area in the photo. While this won't affect the sound of the bell, and may be a bit more visible, I cringe at the thought of using an etching pencil because one small slip could leave a very permanent mark on a casting.
For Choirchimes, you can use a permanent marker to write your initials or organization on the chime. Most often I see this inside the bottom of the chime, but I have seen it on the top of the chime near the base as well: it's facing the ringer when being played and the audience would never see it. Having the mark obvious might also be a deterrent to anyone who considers taking them.
The best markings for your equipment are consistent but unique and clearly visible but not obvious. This can also be stated as what to use and where to place it. Let's start with what to use. The best markings are consistent across all your equipment and is different from what anyone else might use. After all, the point is to be sure that you can quickly tell your equipment from someone else's. A common marking is a small dot sticker. These come in a variety of sizes from 3/8" to 2" and larger. They generally stick well, and you can find a place to stick them on just about everything. So, in this sense they are consistent. However, because they are relatively common, a single red dot may not be unique. Using a permanent marker, put your organizations initials (or other marking – star, heart, etc.) on the stickers. It may take a while to write them all, but it makes an ubiquitous sticker unique. If you're computer literate, you could do it with a printer.
You can also use other types of stickers but keep in mind that the stickers should be as identical as possible. Don't mix color stars or dots within sets of bells. Colored tape is another option.
Another adhesive item that works well is return address labels. These can be printed with your logo or contact information to make them a bit more interesting. (Hint: you can also place a number on the label to indicate in which case the bell or chime is stored.)
Nail polish can also be a great way to identify your equipment. Choose a color that will show up on all the equipment, e.g. on a white handle or a black one. You can also use paint pens or permanent markers.
Temporary (Less permanent) Markings
Some people prefer to mark their equipment with something less permanent than a sticker or paint. There are several other options: yarn, ribbon, pipe cleaners, dental floss – just about anything you can tie around part of the equipment. Again, choose a color that is less likely to be used by other organizations. If you want to add some character to your equipment, you could use a ribbon with fun designs. Although I call these "temporary" I have seen sets of bells that have had the same thing tied to them for years. So, it doesn't have to be temporary, but is generally easier to remove, if necessary.
Where to Put the Marking
Once you've decided what to use, the next step is to decide where to place the mark. Just as you want the marking to be consistent, it's best if the location is consistent, at least within the same type of equipment. In addition, if you're looking for something to leave on the equipment over a longer period, mark it in a place that is visible, but not obvious. In general, except for permanent markings meant to identify the bells if stolen, you want people to see the marking, so they can quickly identify your equipment from someone else's. You also want to put the mark someplace where it is not likely to be rubbed off with normal use. Yet you probably don't want the audience to be able to see the marking.
On handbells, if you're using a sticker, place the sticker on the inside of the handle so you can see it when the bell is on the table with the Malmark colophon facing up. This will keep the mark out of the eye of the audience, but easily visible to someone looking at the bell from the ringer's perspective. Another option for a small sticker is over the Malmark colophon; however, because this is part of the grip, it can be worn off more easily. If you're using nail polish or paint of some sort, it can be put just about anywhere – a dot on the collar, on the handle, or on the handle block.
Marking Choirchimes with stickers or similar is a bit more difficult. Stickers do not adhere well to the finish on the chime; they tend to stick better on the inside of the chime. (See Image 1 at bottom of article) That said, do not stick them on the inside of the top of the chime because this is where the chime vibrates the most and the stickers will not stay put. With small stickers, another spot that works well is on the note label up near the letter and octave designation. This is better than down near the Malmark insignia as people tend to put their fingers and thumbs near the insignia more often. As with bells, with paint or nail polish, you have several more options on Choirchimes. A small dot of nail polish or paint can be placed on the label, inside the bottom of the chime, or even on the clapper shaft, all of which will be easily seen up close, but not from the audience's perspective.
The most obvious place to use yarn, ribbon or other things that tie for bells, is on the handle itself (See Image 2). If this is a temporary marking, it's very easy to take a piece of yarn, make aloop and feed the ends through it, then tighten. This knot, however, is not very secure and is more likely to come off. Two simple overhand knots will create a longer lasting knot. Some choirs don't mind the hanging yarn or ribbon (one choir used several different colors of ribbon because they liked the look of the ribbon flowing off the bells,) but if you want to avoid this, tie the yarn around the top part of the handle tightly and trim the ends (See Image 3). Because the handle widens, the yarn won't slip down the bell. If you want to make it a bit more permanent, cut the ends right up next to the knot and place a dab of clear fingernail polish on the knot. This will keep the ends from fraying and coming lose. With ribbon, you can wrap the ribbon around the same spot of the bell and use a glue gun to attach the ribbon to itself, leaving a tight band that won't be easily removed.
Using yarn or ribbon on Choirchimes is a bit more difficult. There is not a convenient, secure, and safe place to tie the yarn or ribbon. Generally tying something to the Choirchime is more of a short-term option than long term one. The best place to tie is around the plate with the note designation (See Image 4). On the back of the plate is a piece of felt that the clapper bumper bumps against. By tying tightly below the felt, it will help keep it in place. I do not recommend tying to the clapper shaft unless you tie it tightly, cut the ends, and use clear nail polish to finish it off. If you have a piece of ribbon tied to the clapper shaft with ends hanging lose, people are likely to play with it and pull the clapper in directions it was not intended to move.
Mallets, like Choirchimes, don't have as many easy places to tie or stick something. In general, try to avoid putting anything right on the handle as it will easily get worn off. However, the place where the handle meets the stick of the mallet is a great place. In this picture you can see I've used both fingernail polish (although I didn't choose a very good color as it's hard to see) and a label with a logo on it (See Image 5). For good measure, I also wrapped clear tape over the logo. Tying something around this part of the mallet is also relatively simple.
Don't Forget the Cases
You want to be sure that your equipment goes back into the right cases. One of the ways to help ensure this is to mark your cases with the same method you used to mark the equipment. If you've tied something, it's easy to tie the same thing around the handle; however, I recommend doing it through the metal loops to which the handle attaches. If you've used a sticker, the Malmark name plate on the cases is a smooth surface which holds the sticker well (See Image 6).
Another great option, is to use Malmark engraved plates in brass or black and white laminate as a permanent label for your cases and they can be added anytime.
Keep Extra on Hand
Regardless of the method you use to mark your equipment, you're likely to need to replace the mark on one or more pieces over time. When you commit to marking your equipment take a little extra time to make a few more labels or stickers, cut some additional yarn or ribbon, and put it in a plastic bag inside one of your cases. You can also do the same with a pen or nail polish (but, please be sure they are in a plastic bag, just in case). Then, when you need to replace a marking, you don't have to hunt for the necessary materials to maintain consistency.
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