By John Hummer
Bells. They are something that emits a timeless sound. They can signify happy events, sad events, the time of day, a cheer, or even a reminder like “Get home for dinner.” But one thing is for certain. Despite the age of rapid advancement of technology we live in today, the beauty and sound of real bells can never be replaced, and therefore, they will never go away. They are a treasure and sound to behold.
The Brosamer family of Manitou Beach realized that many years ago when Robert Brosamer started the business, appropriately named,
The elder Brosamer, who passed away in August of 2015, worked at Fisher Body in Tecumseh and did antiques on the side, said his son, Marc, who has taken over the bell business. His mother continues to help with the shipping aspect of the business. She still lives at her Rollin Township home where the company’s showroom is located.
The family business started in the 1980s with antique office furniture and was called Old World Office Company, said Marc, 43. They sold roll-top and raised-panel desks, file cabinets, tables, and other antique office furniture.
“It got to be where he did antiques all the time,” he said of his father. Eventually, his father took a buyout from Fisher Body and tried his luck in the ice cream business, purchasing the Swiss Swirl in Brooklyn, while still tinkering with antiques. That didn’t pan out like he wanted to, so he decided to focus just on antiques, but had a budding interest in antique bells.
The elder Brosamer housed his antique office furniture in what is now called “Affordable Storage” in Brooklyn, then moved it to the old railroad station in town. He would do most of his antique dealing at antique shows around the area.
“It’s a job now with Dad gone,” Marc says. “It’s not as fun. We used to talk a lot about stuff.” Now Marc has three daughters. “They keep me going and help me a lot, too. I had them welding at eight years old. They won their school science projects,” he said proudly.
Now the Brosamer workshop is in a Quonset hut pole barn on Irwin Street in Brooklyn and the company showroom is at the family homestead in the Devils and Round Lake area.
“We bought one bell and it progressed,” he said. “It just took off. We got out of the antique office furniture and got more into bells. As we got more of a collection going, we started selling them.” Marc estimated the bell business really took off in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
After he graduated from high school in 1993, Marc went to work for a company called Hardcastle.
“Building churches, believe it or not,” he said. “I got out of that job because I was too busy doing bells on the side.” By the mid-1990s, Marc found himself refurbishing bells full time.
“This is my thing,” he says. “I’m the only one in the world that really messes with cast iron. And it’s inexpensive, versus bronze. That was always my niche. My dad did bronze. Now I do both. There’s a lot on my shoulders at times, but it pays the bills.”
And the business is booming. The pole barn is filled with bells coming and going.“And they sound good,” Marc says. “It’s truly a craftsmanship.”
The company’s customers include churches, schools, resorts, estates, motion picture studios and theme parks, celebrity homes, golf courses and parks, businesses large and small, sports teams, railroad enthusiasts, ship owners and fire departments.
The New York Giants bought one to display in their Hall of Fame, Marc said.
“You never know who I’ll get a call from,” he said. “Back in December, I sold a bronze bell to a guy that owns a house on the top of a volcano. I never knew it existed. It’s the only one in the world – it’s out in California.
“Garth Brooks bought a bell. WWE owner Vince McMahon bought a railroad bell and had his name engraved on it for his daughter.
Brosamer’s bells have also been in a lot of movies.
“Pirates of the Caribbean, G.I. Jane, The Village, Cinderella Man to name a few,” Marc said. He also made it big on a national television show called “Salvage Dogs” in April 2016 with the biggest cast iron bell ever made – 54 inches.
One bell, however, went right back to a location in the Village of Brooklyn – back atop the old stone church near downtown. The building is slated to open as a business in the not-too-distant future.
Marc says people now call, email, or write to him with bells for sale and he also finds some to buy and resell on Craig’s List, an Internet business portal. Some want their bells appraised, which Marc does as well.
“I get them from a lot of churches,” he says, “And then they go to either camps, schools – for victory bells, private chapels, event places, or somebody who just wants a bell. Nine times out of ten they don’t go back to a church.” And most of the time they go out of state, he says, even to other countries around the world.
Marc jokes that he’s not a “church guy”.
“I always tell everybody I’m closer to God when I go to church than you guys,” he laughed. “I’m usually helping people out at a church by taking that great big weight out that’s sitting up there that could fall anytime.”
He has also found himself traveling around the country to take out old bells to bring home for refurbishing.
“People will want them cleaned up, more functional, and looking better,” he said, although some prefer the bell’s patina – the thin layer of tarnish produced by oxidation – to stay on for a more authentic look.
Marc said that most of the original companies that manufactured bells quit making them in the first half of the 20th century.
“They don’t make them anymore in the U.S.,” he said. “A lot of the foundries quit making bells and made other stuff like castings. The bell just kind of fizzled away. But in the late 1800s, they were all booming. It’s amazing how many bells were being put out throughout the U.S.A lot of houses in the country had bells on them – and when they moved or sold the house they’d take the bell. It gives the new owner an itch to buy a bell. Then they do the old ‘Google’ and I pop up.
Brosamer’s Bells ships worldwide. In December, he shipped bells to Nigeria, South Africa, and to an island north of Australia. They ship by boat, from either U.S. coast, he explained. A bell going to Australia can take up to 50 days. Occasionally he has shipped a bell via air, which is “pretty pricey” he stated.
In his spare time, Marc likes to tinker with watercraft.
“With a bell, there are only a handful of bolts and it just makes a ‘dong’ whereas a motor will run when I put it back together.”
For more information about Brosamer’s Bells CLICK HERE