Does anyone remember Sid Bell?

Christine

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Sid was nicknamed the "Alaskan Silversmith", and has long been deceased. (residing in upstate NY in his later years) He was a miniturist with most of his work in silver. I studied under him many years ago. His technique of making many animals was to layer the silver and solder and build it up, not cut it away. His castings were sold under Sid Bell Originals, but I'm priviliged to have a set of shirt buttons (hand done by him) made from silver , each button with a different animal on it. I was just wondering if any of the member here ever came in contact with him?Thank you for your time, and I love this forum.
 

Roger Bleile

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I remember Sid very well. My brother and I have both met him back in the 70's. At that time there were many engravers who would solder Sid's figures onto guns as an expedient to doing an inlay or one of a kind overlay.

Roger
 

fegarex

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I remember Sid Bell well. I shared a room with him once or twice for the FEGA show in the early 80s. He was really interesting. He was full of great stories. I too used many of his figures back then.
 

Brian Marshall

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Yes, Christine,

I knew Sid. I was lucky enough to be one of the last 3 students he ever had. He gave a class on his techiques at Trinidad in July of 1996, and I was in it. After the class we kept in contact for a few more years - almost up to the very end. I knew he was ailing, and when I could no longer get an answer by phone or letter, I knew he was gone. I think someone told me for sure at a FEGA meeting.

He was a really nice guy, and a very patient teacher. I came into the class as a traditional wax model carver, and left with a completely new skill. Getting out of the normal thought processes of a wax carver was difficult for me, but he kept after me until I finally "got" it. I have never to this day seen that technique used by anyone else.

I still have the original class project - which was a buffalo head - modeled in 7 layers of 16 gauge sterling silver sheet. As I'm writing this I am looking back over the notebook. It looks like there are 75 pages of notes that he printed and gave us, as well as another 30 pages I wrote myself. That and the collection of Sid Bell Original catalogs, flyers, photos, and other memorabilia - fill the entire notebook to overflowing!

I have probably taken at least 3 dozen more classes and workshops since that time, and know of NO other teacher who gave out that many pages of notes! (Excepting maybe for John Barraclough, because I took both Intermediate and Advanced from him back to back - in the late 80's I think? Anyway the two notebooks from Sids' and Johns' classes weigh about the same!)

I would like to pass on his techniques someday, before they are lost forever - but it seems that everyone these days is more interested in CAD/CAM than the old methods. The strange thing is that the the CAD/CAM products I have seen to date take just as long from start to finish, cost more because of the equipment involved, and do not produce "realistic" looking animals... (in my opinion)

Nice to know that there are still people out there who remember him...

Brian Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School
Stockton, CA USA 95209
209-477-0550
instructor@jewelryartschool.com
 
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ED DELORGE

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I rember Mr. Bell as well. I always thought he had some really good ideas.

Brian, this looks like another great subject for another great tutorial! Are you up to the challenge?

I would love to see it .

Ed
 

Ron Smith

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I remember Sid. Knew of him long before I met him, but he was very approachable and accomodating. I remembr when he was declining in health and then passed away. I never used his techniues, but he was very succesful with them, and had wide spread fame.
 

Christine

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Thank you for the responce. About 20 years ago I studied under him (upstate NY). We would take turns visiting each others shops. When this was not possible I would mail him projects and he would return them with several pages of notes. His wife called to let me know of his passing. ( and I returned his notes to her) Please Brian , honor Sid by doing a tutorial on his techniques, or it may be lost forever! Could you post a pict of the class project? I will polish up the buttons and do the same. Thank you gentlemen. Have a great 4th in the Land of the Free -- because of the Brave!!
 

Brian Marshall

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Sorry guys, there are several reasons why I’d have to decline the invitation to do a tutorial – at least at the moment…

First would be finding the time. I’m swamped with work. The next four days will be 12 to 14 hours of work each day to get out a production engraving job. After that I have 3 huge boxes, probably 60 pieces - of Spratling, Salvador, Aguilar, Castillo, and Jensen silver to restore for 3 collectors. Then another engraving job on 12 knives… after that another Basic Engraving workshop. And so it goes. Even with 2 others working at the benches doing the “heavy” work for me, it’s tough to get it all done on time. (And no, we take NO holidays when there is work to done - 4th of July is just another day.)

Second, I teach as another way to put food on the table for my family. I didn’t choose to teach, it came about as a result of accidents and illnesses. I cannot physically put in more than 4 or 5 hours at the bench because of my “disabilities”. (hate that word)
So I started teaching to make up for the loss of income.

Somewhere in between the classes – I manage to supervise my crew, run the office, do the layouts for all of the engraving, buy or make parts we need, keep everything stocked up, maintain a huge array of tools, bill/package/and ship, hustle new work, and clean the toilet after the classes.

Probably 50 other things too, but you get the idea. The few posts you see are about as much free time as I have at the moment! We are very lucky right now, because there was/is a tough market for what we do – and there is NOT always this much work. I’m trying to take advantage of as much of it as I can!

Last, Sid’s technique isn’t an easy one. Like I said in the earlier post there were 75 pages of notes from that class! I don’t know that I could do a proper condensed tutorial and get it all across?

Anyway, teaching his technique IS already on my “list”. (Problem is that at this point the "list" already has about 287,491 possible things to try and get done…)

If there was really enough serious interest, I could write a class for it, and maybe fit it in the schedule for late next year?
All I need is a minimum of 3 people to do it…



Brian Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School
Stockton, CA USA 95209
209-477-0550
instructor@jewelryartschool.com
 
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joseph engraver

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I met Sid Bell for the first time at the Engravers Guild first show;we became good friends over the years. After leaving Winchester and going freelance Sid commissioned me to engrave for him a floorplate and trigger guard which kept me from starving. We communicated off and on over the years. The last time I saw him, he came to my studio in Cody Wy to visit Franca and me for a couple of days, just about 1988.
The last words I recall him saying are, "If I had known I would live so long I would have taken better care of myself".
 

John B.

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Sid was a great friend and a world class character.
Funny enough, for all his skills he had never learned to engrave until he took my classes in the
very early 80's.
Before that he did all the detailing of his silver casting masters by scraping and scratching before the RTV molds and waxes were made from them.
We stayed in touch after the classes right up to the time of his death and in fact I'm in touch with his widow who still lives in the upstate NY woods where he hand built his cabin home.
I have a highly prized collection of his silver minitures and two letter openers that Sid made for me.
Sid was a proud retired Marine from WW2 and had some stories that would even curl Sam's hair. Ha ha.
He is fondly remembered, one of a kind.

Best, John B.
 
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Brian Marshall

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Problems and questions

OK, folks...

This is for those of you who wanted to see Sid Bell's last class put up as a tutorial.

First of all I'd better define what the class consisted of. It wasn't just a class on how to carve metal masters of animals. It was on how to set up an entire business just like his own. Carving the masters, molding and casting - and how to send them out to have some processes done for you - as he did toward the end of his career. How he marketed his line. Even who he marketed to. Everything is in these notes.

I've only had a few minutes to look through that binder full of notes again. They are sitting here next to my computer while I write this. First problem I see is that the 75 pages of notes he gave us are hand written. Only way to get them up on the forum as is would be to scan them in individually. Some of them are copies of copies and barely legible - don't know how well that might work? I'm sure that they could be condensed too. Lots of rambling and repetetive stuff here. Lots of his personal observations too.

Second problem I see is that there is very little here related to hand engraving. Though gravers are used at the very end of the process to refine and detail the animals, they play no part in the major construction or carving. Perhaps this information would be of more use on a different type of forum, like The Carving Path, for example?

Third problem is that a lot of the information in his notes is "dated". More than a couple of the companies in the notes are no longer in business. Other suppliers and service companies would have to be found and substituted. Some of the techniques could now be done better faster and cheaper with newer tools and techniques. (An quick example would be high speed rotary tools - versus the old flexshaft.)

So... how badly do you want to see THIS tutorial happen - here on this forum? Enough to dig in and do some work yourselves? Clean up his notes and rewrite them in a way that would make them readable online?

Who is going to volunteer, and how long will it take to put that part together?

I've found the paper patterns and metal templates for constructing the buffalo head, but so far haven't seen the original head that I did in class. (Only looked in one place) It's here someplace, and if I put my subconcious mind to work every night before going to bed, I'm sure it will tell me exactly where to find it. Sooner or later, anyway...

And then I am going to have to translate my OWN handwritten notes from the class into readable and understable English as well. Sid's you can read. My handwriting could probably confuse the alphabet soup government agencies...

So, is it going to be worth it - to enough people - on THIS forum - to do what has to be done?

What say ye all? I mean "you" all... and which parts are you willing to help with?


Brian Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School
Stockton, CA USA 95209
209-477-0550
instructor@jewelryartschool.com

One more thing, about rewriting these notes and helping out with the project (if it actually comes to be a project) - it almost has to be done by people who understand the processes, terminology, and what the end result should look like. Any master modelmakers, wax carvers/casters on this forum wanna vounteer?
 
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Andrew Biggs

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What exactley are these things?..............as I understand it, it's a process of making small animal heads by moulding/casting them from silver and then adding final touches and cleaning up with a graver etc.

Is the end result something similar to what Weldon Lister showed us a while ago with the silver precious metal clay pressed into a mould.

Brian....or someone else.............would it be possible please to see a photo perhaps of exactley what we are talking about. The problem is I think I know .............but could be well off the mark!!!

Cheers
Andrew
 

ED DELORGE

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Hello Brian, Let me ease your mind a little, what I remember of Sid's gold and silver castings that could be soldered to gun steel, would not be that complicated in today's jewlery making world. In fact I have considered persuing that same type of business. You know as well as I, that carving a wax image, making a ceramic mold and casting it in your choice of precious metal is every day jewelery making. All of that information is easily available to any one who wants to learn, after all there are jewelery makers in every town in america. So please don't feel presured into working up a tutorial that can be learned by anyone who wants to learn from there local jeweler. The biggest question in my mine concerning Sid's technique was the soldering part. I have never tryed to solder such a small object to the side of a shotgun, and do it cleanly with very little clean-up and not damage the overlay in the process or damage the gun steel. That has always been my primary concern.

Thanks Ed
 

ED DELORGE

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One other thought, I think about a year ago Ray Cover had a project brought to him, a double rifle that some one had made some false side plates and soldered an elephant to that had fallen off. I remember thinking back then, that is the biggest problem with soldering, even when you think you have a good joint they still pop loose. And of course in the world of firearms engraving soldering on overlays is usually frowned upon.

Ray Cover, What ever did you do with that side plate problem?

Ed Delorge
 

Roger Bleile

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Ed,

You are right about soldered figures coming loose. This is a particular problem if the gun is blued after the figure is soldered. The caustic salts eat at the solder and after a while the figure will fall off.
 

Brian Marshall

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Ed,

Sid's method of making the models was different in that the models were laid up in multiple layers of sheet metal - stacked and then soldered together. The resulting stack was then carved into final form.

It was his solution to actually carving the figure out a solid block of silver. It cut the time down by probably half - for making a model by the method of carving directly into metal.

AFTER the model was made and the detail engraved, then yes, the molds and casting methods are standard. There is nothing special there.

Although I suppose you could solder the figures to firearms - he had come up with a system of using expanding pins on the backs of the figures. In the brochures I have in my collection of memorabilia, this is listed as patented. I suppose someone could go do a patent search under his name? You would use an ink pad, rock the figure to ink the pins, and put the piece in position on the gun to transfer the ink. You would drill shallow holes - I forget the diameter and depth, but it's in the notes. Then place the figure, and whack it with a lead hammer. The pins would expand, and lock the overlay in place. I never heard of one coming off?

The disadvantage was that this did not work well on thin areas of a gun, curved areas, extremely hard, or critical areas that might be weakened or compromised by drilling the blind holes.

The advantages were that you didn't use any heat or discolor the original finish - and it was QUICK!

To tell the truth, I have only ever used his carving methods myself about a dozen times in the years since I learned them. I am far more comfortable working with wax models to get the same result. I'll make a rough wax, cast it, and then detail it with gravers. Mold as usual, and cast my copies.

There was a time, when we had the retail jewelry store and the trade shop both going - when I would cast two times a week, or even 3 times a week in December. Things have changed. I no longer have the store, my current products rarely require cast parts, and besides - I've always preferred fabriction to casting.

I have used his mounting method by itself a couple of times over the years, because it was the best way in whatever the situation was. I think I still have a small tin of the pins around here somewhere...

His technique is interesting because of the uniqueness of it - not because there aren't other methods that will work to get the same visual result.

Brian
 
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John B.

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For Andrew and others who may wonder about Sid Bells’ technique and the history of his marvelous little miniatures.
Thousands of them were sold as cuff-links, tie and lapel and hat pins, broaches and ear rings and for many other uses.
They were generally cast in sterling silver but could be special ordered in gold.

A little bit of the development of background of Sid’s model making technique might be of interest to you.
Brian Marshall is talking about doing a full tutorial on the subject so I’ll just offer you a little bit on the original theory and the history of it. Andrew is a big history fan, I know.

Sid had been a geologist employed by the Federal government in Alaska.
As part of his job he was involved with mapping and surveying.
In drawing topographical maps contour lines are plotted to show the different elevation
of the hills and mountains, as you know.
Sometimes Sid even had to make 3-D models of these maps.
The general technique for making these models was to cut the outline shape of each contour elevation line out of poster board, stack and glue them on top of each other to form a 3-D scale model. This was long before computers and laser and CNC cutters.

Sid had always loved the outdoors and all types of wildlife.
As a Marine he had seen plenty of both, and both types of wildlife. Ha ha.
Alaska exposed him to both the outdoors, animal wildlife and also some very bad weather making it impossible for him to do his surveying work.
While snowbound he thought he would like to use his time to create some small silver images of the animals he loved.
Sid always maintained that he was no artist. But he was a very clever and gifted innovator.
When he could get to town he visited the only jewelry shop to buy some silver.
All the jeweler had on hand that he would sell was some 24 gauge, ( .020, .5mm ) silver sheet, not quite what Sid had in mind.
But Sid had plenty of outdoor magazines with animal pictures and remembering
his 3-D map making he put them to use by drawing lines on the pictures to outline and represent about five areas that were different distances from the camera lens or artist’s eye. Very much like looking down at 3-D model map from directly above.
If the animals head was looking right at you chances are its muzzle and nose are the things closest to you and that would represent the top layer of silver.

When he had his different levels of contour lines figured out he traced them and reduced them using the good old scale grid system, cut the paper out and stuck each one to his silver sheets. He then sawed each one out with a jewelers saw, stacked them accurately and soldered the pile together.

Each layer was then scraped, burnished and punched down to blend and flow into the next level to form a pleasing medium height miniature sculpture.
As I said in a previous post Sid did not know how to engrave in the early days.
He used scribes, punches and scrapers to create the texture and hair on his early models.

He farmed the wax modeling and casting made from these originals by the lost wax method but sadly lost control of the silver model originals and the rights to made miniatures from them in a divorce proceeding.
From that time until his passing he was only allowed by court order to make pewter castings for sale.

Best, John B.
 
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