World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Bell metal

Article Id: WHEBN0001208270
Reproduction Date:

Title: Bell metal  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Bronze, History of metallurgy in South Asia, Copper alloys, Bellfounding, Campanology
Collection: Artillery of India, Bronze, Copper Alloys, Tin Alloys
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Bell metal

Cannon made of bell metal at Malik-e-Maidan, Bijapur.

Bell metal is a hard alloy used for making bells and related instruments, such as cymbals. It is a form of bronze, usually in approximately a 4:1 ratio of copper to tin (e.g., 78% copper, 22% tin by mass). Bell metal ore is a sulfide of tin, copper, and iron called stannite.


  • Usage 1
    • Utensils 1.1
    • Bells 1.2
    • Cannon 1.3
  • Notes 2
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4



In India, in the state of Assam, it is called kanh while in West Bengal and Odisha, kansa, and is used for cooking and eating utensils. Sarthebari in Barpeta district of Assam holds a unique place in the production of kanh utensils. In Assam, utensils of kanh have many religious uses and the most unique utensils, bata and banbati, are used to give offerings and puja or to show respect to honored guests and dignitaries. Belaguntha in Ganjam district, Kantilo in Nayagarh, and Balakati near Bhubaneswar are well-known for this craft in Odisha.


Most commonly, and as per its colloquial name, bell metal was used for the casting of bells (see Bellfounding). Functional bells, with the intention of producing sound, are usually made by casting bell metal, a high-copper alloy of bronze, with approximately a 4:1 ratio of copper to tin (78% copper, 22% tin). Both tin and copper are relatively soft metals that will deform on striking (though tin to a lesser extent than copper), but alloying the two elements creates a metal which is harder and less ductile and also one with more elasticity than the use of just one of the metals alone.[1] This metal combination produces a tough, long-wearing material that is resistant to oxidation and subject only to an initial surface weathering. Verdigris forms a protective patina on the surface of the bell which coats it against further oxidation.[2] Bell metal of these ratios has been used for more than 3,000 years, and is known for its resonance and "attractive sound."[1] This allows for a better bell resonance and causes the bell to "vibrate like a spring when struck", a necessary quality as the clapper may strike the bell at speeds of up to 600 miles per hour. The forces holding the tin and copper together cause vibrations rather than cracks when the bell is struck which creates a resonant tone.[1]

In Russia, church bells are commonly cast with a unique mixture of copper and tin, often with silver added, to produce their unique sonority and resonance, mastered early in Russian Christian history.[3]

In esoteric Buddhism (e.g., Vajrayana), bells (both hand bells and singing bells) may be cast with a special 5-Metal alloy. Each of the metals represents one of the 5 Buddhas / Wisdoms:

Metal Buddha Wisdom
Copper Amitabha Discriminating
Tin Amoghasiddhi All-Accomplishing
Zinc Akshobhya Mirror-Like
Iron Ratnasambhava Equality
Lead Vairocana Dharmadhatu

There is no standard proportion to the metals used in this alloy (although it is often around 75% copper and 20% tin with low proportions of the other metals). A 7-Metal alloy containing trace amounts of silver and gold (representing Absolute and Relative Truth) is also sometimes used.


Bell metal was used to cast many early Spanish, Portuguese and Malay[nb 1] cannon, most notably the Javanese cannon known erroneously as lantaka.[nb 2] In Java, bell metal mixtures including tin were used not only for the manufacture of figurines, objet d'art, sculptures and household goods for the wealthy, they were employed for the gongs, saron, demung and numerous other struck glockenspiel-like instruments of the Javanese gamelan ensemble. This material was also adopted by the Javanese influenced cultures of Thailand, Khmer and Myanmar. Bell metal is particularly prized for its excellent sonorous qualities, also found in bell metal cannons which produce a distinct, loud ring when fired.[4]

The Javanese lantaka was first cast in bell metal under an Empu of the early Majapahit Empire and spread into the surrounding islands of the Nusantara, Javanese skill in gunsmithing and cannon-founding affording military dominance over the surrounding area. Later, disaffected smiths and noble entourages emigrating from Java brought these cannon-founding skill to Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Myanmar.[5][6] When Ternate was captured by the Spanish, they were astounded to find over 3000 very finely cast bell metal cannon in the walled compound, although humorously to the Spaniards these were tied upright to veranda poles, used as phallic-lingam household decorations rather than weapons.[4] The Spanish and Portuguese were equally astounded to find their European bronze cannon offerings to the Javanese rejected as inferior in quality, as they rightly were.[5]

After the Dutch victories, Javanese smithed cannons of Makassar, Ternate, and the surrounding islands were taken as reparations, considered by the Dutch as made of bronze superior to their own, and subsequently melted down and recast in Dutch standard calibres and bores.[6][7]

Culturally, Javanese bronze cannons and their regional derivatives were traditionally part of a dowry, and offering a poor quality cast bronze cannon was a supreme insult. Brunei and Malaysia retain the tradition of a token cannon as dowry for weddings, and many celebrations are opened with a celebratory shot.


  1. ^ a dated misleading term which refers geographically to the region spanning from the Thailand Peninsular through to the Philippines
  2. ^ a colloquial term, the correct term is meriam or durbus


  1. ^ a b c Johnston, Ron (1986). Bell-ringing: The English Art of Change-Ringing. Great Britain: Viking. pp. 40–41.  
  2. ^ John Burnett. "Blagovest Bells- How Bells Are Made". Blagovest Bells. Retrieved April 24, 2010. 
  3. ^ Slobodskoy,  
  4. ^ a b Michael W. Charney, Southeast Asian warfare, 1300-1900 Brill, 2004 ISBN 90-04-14240-1: 319 pages
  5. ^ a b Jean Gelman Taylor, Indonesia: Peoples and Histories: Yale University Press: 2004: ISBN 0-300-10518-5: 420 pages
  6. ^ a b Willem G. J. Remmelink, The Chinese war and the collapse of the Javanese state, 1725-1743: KITLV Press: 1994: ISBN 90-6718-067-X: 297 pages
  7. ^ John Pemberton, On the subject of "Java"', Cornell University Press: 1994, ISBN 0-8014-9963-1: 333 pages

Further reading

  • Shen, Sinyan (1987), "Acoustics of Ancient Chinese Bells", Scientific American, Vol. 256, p. 94.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.