For some reason I seem to be on rich run of good fortune when it comes to finding Crotal Bells. I have found 3 in the past 2 weeks, making my total collection to five whole examples and about the same in fragments.
There is a great history of the crotal bell here: http://www.ukdfd.co.uk/pages/crotal-bells.html, but to summarise I can tell you that they were made from the 13th to the 19th century and used for horse harness decoration and for placing on leather ties around the neck of sheep and cattle in order for the shepherd or herder to locate his or her flock.
My collection – which I think I have in order ranges from the 14th to the late 18th century – running left to right as you look at it. Some crotal bells have their makers mark stamped on the bottom, I haven’t managed to determine that yet on any of mine but at the rate I going it wont be long before I get a good makers mark.
Some of my bells still have their “P” inside so they ring out clear and crisp and it makes you think that a few sheep with these tied around their necks would have made a heck of a din gamboling up and down the fields…
The bells are so wonderful to hold being extremely ergonomic and wonderfully patinated, it really cheers me up when I find one.