Most people today know about sleigh bells primarily from the Christmas season. Who doesn't know the classic song "Jingle Bells"?
The history of bells used on horses and horse drawn vehicles, however, can be traced back to the early days of Europe. Bells from the days of the Roman occupation in Briton have been found. Bells were commonly thought to bring good luck, both in the procurement of wealth and in warding off disease and evil. Knights often had a single large bell mounted on their war horse, right behind the saddle on the horse's rump.
Bells placed on the harnesses of horses pulling wagons and carts, and on the tack of horses riden by people were actually serving a purpose: alerting pedestrians of the approach of a horse rider or wagon. This could be in the form of a warning to get out of the way, or in the case of vendors, it told potential customers that the huckster wagon was entering the area.
Bells were used to decorate the horses of the rich, too. Bells would be made of brass, copper, and some were even made of silver and gold plating. Bells were a symbol of wealth and presitge.
In the 1800's bells were manufactured in East Hampton Connecticut, by the William Barton Company. East Hampton soon became the "Bell Capital" of the US, with thousands of bells made up until the early 1900's.
Unfortunately for the bell makers, the arrival of the automobile spelled the end of the demand for sleigh bells. However, demand has seen a resurgence in recent years, as many now decorate for the holiday season, and some year round, with sleigh bells in various forms.
Regardless, the lovely sound of sleigh bells, either on a horse drawn sleigh, or used as sound effects during a session of Christmas carrolling in the neighborhood, brings a sense of joy to all who hear their delightful sounds.