The Hemony bell in the museum of Asten  

ASTEN - In August 2002, divers from the Dutch Institute for Ship and Underwater Archaeology (NISA) discovered a bell in a wrecked ship which appears to have sunk in the seventeenth century in the western part of the Waddenzee near the island of Texel. According to the inscription on the waist of the bell, it was cast in 1658 by François Hemony in his foundry in Amsterdam. The weight of the bell is 132 kg, the diameter 59.5 cm and its strike note is f2. Without doubt an exceptionally important discovery: an intact bell, almost 350 years of age and as good as new.

Channels and sandbanks move with the passage of time. Therefore, well preserved old shipwrecks frequently emerge from the sand. Through the centuries, this bronze Hemony bell, safely buried in the sand, hardly corroded and remained remarkably intact due to the absence of sulphur dioxide in seawater. Sulphur dioxide, which turns into sulphuric acid in a moist environment, lessens the thickness of the profile of the bell and influences its pitch and the tuning of the individual partials.

According to several campanologists the sound of this Hemony bell is distinctly different from that of other Hemony bells known so far. Research may reveal the reason for this. Is it because bells in towers have been struck countless times? Did this influence the crystalline structure of the bronze? Or was there something unusual about the casting of this bell?

The interior of the bell shows traces of the tuning process. A sound analysis of the five lowest partials produced the following figures (in mean-tone tuning, based on f - 42 cents, if a1 = 440 Hz):

  Hum-note f1 + 6 cents
  Fundamental f2 9 cents
  Minor Tierce a-flat2 + 14 cents
  Quint c3 20 cents
  Nominal f3 + 0 cents

Since the tuning of the bell is less perfect than Hemonys' usual standards (the tierce, in particular, is noticeably high), it is tempting to assume this was a bell declared unfit for their carillons. This possibility is supported by the blank cartouche on the side of the bell. It seems as if the municipal coat of arms which would originally have adorned the cartouche has been removed by grinding. The mystery of the destination of this bell has unfortunately not yet been solved. However it is clear that the ship was not built in The Netherlands.

The inscription on the bell reads: "FRANCISCVS HEMONY ME FECIT AMSTELODAMI ANNO DOMINI 1658". In that year François Hemony cast two carillons for the city of Amsterdam, one for the Oudekerkstoren and one for the Westertoren. The inscriptions on the f2-bells of these carillons read respectively: "FRANCISCVS HEMONY ME FECIT AMSTERLODAMI Ao DOMINI 1658" and "FRANCISCVS HEMONY ME FECIT AMSTERDAM ANNO DOMINI 1658". Both inscriptions clearly differ from the lettering on the Waddenzee bell.

For several reasons it is a complicated matter to compare the tuning of the Waddenzee bell with the tuning of both Amsterdam carillons. For one thing, the pitch of these instruments has dropped significantly due to corrosion of the bronze, while the pitch of the Waddenzee bell could be regarded original.

The current special exhibition of the Waddenzee bell in the Texel Maritime Museum has been extended until the beginning of summer 2004. After that, the bell will be available for special campanological research which Arent Vos (NISA) in collaboration with Gideon Bodden (Het Molenpad Expertise) is currently preparing.

It is important to realize that, uniquely, this Hemony bell has not suffered from the corrosion process which has damaged all other known Hemony bells. This is why the latest laser and computer technologies will be applied in order to determine all possible characteristics of the profile design of this bell. The research project will also focus on the difference between the tone color of this and other Hemony bells. Hopefully, these research activities will produce new information on the "secret" of the Hemony brothers, as well as on the subject of the ageing of bronze and its influence on the sound characteristics of bells.