Vintage door chimes

Vintage door chimes DEFAULT

The electric doorbell isn’t as modern an invention as we might think—the first doorbell was invented back in 1831. In the Victorian era, the doorbell rang a simple electric bell. In the 1930s, door chime invention and refinement eliminated the harsh bzzzzt of electric doorbells or clang of the more gong-like bells, and the signature ding-dong of longbell chimes rang clear.

Longbell chimes filled U.S. homes—from bungalows to Tudors to ranches—until about the late 1960s, when the commonplace two-, three-, or four-note devices fell out of favor. Today, most doorbells ring a purely electronic device from a big-box store. But if a plaster niche shaped like a simple rectangle or ornate cathedral window graces your house’s entry, that’s a clue that it once hosted one of biggest home booms of the 20th century.

Chime Types

Restoring a set of vintage longbell chimes is anything but simple, says Tim Wetzel, owner of Knock Doorbells, whose restored chimes have gone on the sets of films and into homes throughout the U.S. “Most chimes were guaranteed by the manufacturer for one year,” he says. “A half century later, it should be surprising that many still work. In the interest of functionality and safety, even the ones that more or less work are ready for some TLC.”

If your home’s chimes aren’t sounding, the problem could stem from a malfunctioning transformer, incorrect voltage, nonfunctioning doorbell buttons, or faulty chime connections, among other problems. If you have the electrical or mechanical skills, you may be able to resolve the issue yourself; if not, call in a pro experienced in chime restoration to troubleshoot electrical or chime problems. Here’s a quick guide to getting those bells ringing once more.

Fix #1: Cleaning the Plunger and Cylinder

A chime’s plunger can easily become sticky from corrosion, dust, and oil. The result? A lack of any sound, or only half of the intended ring (a “ding” but not a “dong”). Here’s how to remedy the problem:

1. Take note of your chime’s inner workings (they all can be slightly different). Drawing a simple diagram is a good idea.

2. Slide the plunger out of the cylinder, carefully placing aside the spring. Use extreme care, says Wetzel, as the wires that power solenoids are fragile like butterfly wings.

3. Use a metal polish like Semichrome, Wenol, or Autosol, which offer a protective wax finish; apply inside the solenoid coil tube with a Q-tip. Polishing the cylinder may require elbow grease and a rag. (Note: Chimes should never be oiled, as oil’s viscosity causes the plunger to gel up, collect dust, and eventually prevent movement.)

4. Reassemble the cylinder, plunger, and spring exactly as they looked in your diagram.

Fix #2: Replacing Bell Hanger Loops

A bell’s fabric loops can break or degrade, and cause the bell to fall or offer a poor sound. Here’s how to replace your loops:

1. Remove the old, frayed, damaged loop. You can cut off any exposed old loop cord on the existing chime, and push the remaining cord down into the tube.

2.Tie a bowline knot out of nylon cord, making a loop about 1″ in diameter. Make sure the knot is positioned correctly so that the plunger’s strike face will hit the longbell beneath the knot (above). Once the knot is in the right spot, use a match to lightly fuse the knot and prevent fraying (you also can use a drop of super glue). The knot will secure the longbell into position.

3. Insert thin crafting wire through the chime’s end plug, and push the wire until it comes out the bottom.

4. Twist the new loop onto the wire, then pull the wire up through the tube. Use needle-nose pliers to gently pull the wire loop and knot through the top of the bell.

5. The bell is now ready to hang (and ring) again.

Fix #3: Replacing a Bell

If one or more of the bells is broken, missing, or damaged, you may want to replace those metal tubes—but doing so isn’t easy. You can’t substitute a new bell for a nonworking bell unless it’s from the exact same model of chime. “Bell tuning is a result of alloy, diameter, length, and wall thickness, and there is no standard for vintage bells,” Wetzel explains. Different chime sets feature various brass alloys with differing coloration, volume, and resonance, so it’s unlikely to find a bell that can be easily swapped in for the missing or damaged bell. Your choices, according to Wetzel:

1. Hang a piece of brass pipe just to fill the gap, for aesthetic reasons only. Cost: About $20.

2. Find a stray vintage bell to hang; search reuse stores or eBay. The chime may not sound the same (or even work), but the bell’s look may more closely resemble an authentic style. Cost: Price dependent upon seller, but generally $20+.

3. Buy an inexpensive new set of bells from NuTone, modify hangers, and replace all bells. Cost: $130+.

4. Scavenge a set of bells from a nonworking chime set. Replace all bells. Cost: Around $20 for a badly damaged or abused chime set, but can easily run into the hundreds.

Online bonus: See Tim Wetzel’s list of the worst vintage chimes ever.


Hand Turn Door Bells & Doorbell Buttons

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The Doorbell Museum

On these pages you will find interesting information about doorbells and door chimes. Check back as I put up new exhibits and content.

DollhouseChimes640Doorbells in Miniature: Operating and Decorative Dollhouse Doorbells

DeValera Long Bell DetailUnique engraved bells on this stylish  vintage DeValera Long Bell doorbell.

A mechanical doorbell operated by dogsA doorbell for your dog? Or a buzzer that thinks it’s a chime?

How about a pneumatic door chime? Check out the doorbell curiosities.

Vintage Mell-O-Chime Bakelite Doorbell shaped and paintedThis Bakelite doorbell case had fallen on hard times. Literally. See how the doorbell museum restored this handsome late 1940s door chime to it’s original glory.

Door Bell Definition Do you have a doorbell, a door bell or a door chime? Learn about the terminology used to describe signaling devices to let you know somebody is calling.

Sears Door Chime and Door Bell HistoryThe pages of the Sears Roebuck catalogs of the late 19th and 20th Century provide a vertical history of doorbells and door chimes.  Learn the fascinating history of America’s largest 20th century purveyor of doorbells.

Nutone Brochure 1937 Door Bell is Noise Enemy No 1Door Bell Noise is Public Enemy No. 1? Learn about door bell nerves and other peculiar maladies that helped to popularize door chimes in the 1930s.


Longbells - the most grand of all doorbells. Long tubes serve as the actual bells which are struck by solenoids to create the chiming sound. These are grand not just in appearance, but also have an acoustic resonance and sustain that is unmatched by other types of doorbells. Among this style are models with two, three or four bells. The two and three bell models strike the familiar two note ding-dong sound. Four-bell models strike a complex series of notes, most often the Westminster Chimes sequence.

Resonators- have exposed stubby tubes, often confused with actually being bells. In fact they are acoustic chambers that enhance the sound of simple flat “reeds” - bells that are more like xylophone keys which are placed along side or inside the resonator tubes. While less grand than longbells, they often have a very rich sound to them.

Compacts- these were typically the most modest door bells, where space or budget did not allow for the more deluxe chimes. They may or may not have small inboard resonator chambers to enhance the sound quality. While modest, they can be quite stylish and just right for a modest space.
Other Chimes- things that don’t quite fit in the other categories. Included in this section are recessed chimes with clocks, and chiming devices not necessarily intended for use as doorbells but potentially just the right thing for people who seek the unusual.

<Custom Designs
- speaking of the unusual, these are absolutely unique!



Chimes vintage door

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How to Service a NuTone 8 Note Long Tube Door Chime Base

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