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Antique Brass Identification

How to estimate the age of an old singing bowl from the Himalayas

Determining the age of antique brass objects is a mixture of art, science, and experience. Any antique brass object will have its own set of unique characteristics that will offer clues to its age. In some areas, such as statues, the art of dating old brass objects is well-developed. Singing bowls have not enjoyed this kind of academic attention. which leaves a lot of room for different antiquity estimates. Continue reading to learn how to identify antique brass.
antique brass clock

Antique brass singing bowls are most easily identified by both their unique sounds and a combination of detailed physical characteristics. It is unrealistic to try to come up with an exact date as even century level estimates are subject to uncertainty. Some individuals have studied singing bowls’ characteristics, consulted with experts and built a gestalt for dating. The factors that influence these judgments of age are style, construction, markings, patina and wear.

Are Singing Bowls Brass or Bronze?

Back in the last century when I started with singing bowls they were always referred to as brass. For the most part, the bowls are still called brass while technically they are bronze – sort of. Bronze is a mixture of copper and tin which is generally what singing bowls are made out of. However, there is a mixture of metal known in the West as “bell brass” which is used to make instruments such as cymbals that are also copper and tin. I suspect calling singing bowls brass comes from the fact that they are percussion and mostly copper. They also have a lot of tin in them – like bell brass. Brass in English refers to copper mixes including ones that are technically bronze. Just like tin cans have no tin in them and tin foil is made of aluminum, common and technical language often diverge when it comes to metal. Instruments in the brass section of the orchestra may be made of metallic combinations including silver and gold, Non-reed “brass” instruments such as flutes can be made with

Brass Singing Bowls – Through the Centuries

Triple circle designThe oldest singing bowls were likely plain, thick, and made of metal that was not of uniform consistency. In cultural evolution, the basic form and function come first, and then artistic ingenuity is applied, such as markings found on vintage brass bowls. Vintage metal singing bowls from the 16th century onwards can have decorative markings; though in many bowls of this age, these have been worn off. Bowls from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century can have quite elaborate markings and on these newer bowls, they can look quite fresh. Occasionally bowls will have inscriptions on them. These are almost always new workings on an old bowl and usually contain a name, place, or occasion.

One theory is that a worn singing bowl, say a large Jambati that is silky smooth inside, is an old bowl because it takes many washings to wear away the hammer marks, same with thinner smaller Thadobati singing bowls with faint or absent markings. These singing bowls were all originally quite thick and it takes hundreds of years to wear them down. While wear may be a good marker of age, singing bowls, like old coins, can go out of circulation for a long period of time and find their way to the present in close-to-mint condition.

Sometimes singing bowls are lost, abandoned, or even buried, preserving their condition for a long time. Some singing bowls are used in ways where they rarely need cleaning whether as display or for grain storage. Therefore, my opinion is that some wonderfully preserved Thadobati and Jambati singing bowls can be quite ancient.

Metallic Flow as an Indication of Antiquity

Another aspect used to date old metal objects is the extent to which the bottom of those objects have flattened out. A heavy object with a relatively uneven or rounded bottom is deemed to newer than one with a flat bottom. The idea is that the metal flows over time and singing bowls are mostly stored on hard flat surfaces where the combination of pliability, resistance and gravity result in evenness. Very hard seeming objects do flow with gravity, an excellent example is 19th century windows. My experience is the singing bowl styles that are older do tend to have flatter and more even bottoms. I can’t say this will tell me the century a singing bowl was made, but it can sure point out an obviously new bowl.

Antique Brass Instrument

Sound – One of the Best Ways

One of the best ways to date a singing bowl, or at least verify that it is very likely over 100 years old is through the sound. There are no new singing bowls on the market with the richness of good quality old singing bowls. The superior sound of antique brass singing bowls may have to do with metal composition, manufacturing methods, or some changes that take place in singing bowls over the course of time.

It, of course, may also have to do with the fact that these singing bowls were made by masters with the intent of being instruments of sound. With Himalayan singing bowls it would make sense that ones that were produced and used with spiritual intent would have special discernible sound characteristics. I have been told that antique brass Western musical instruments also have richer sounds than modern ones.

Testing the Metal

The mixture of metals in vintage brass singing bowls is primarily copper and tin which are combined with a wide range of trace metals. There was no exact formula or even a general list of metals. Each maker had his own source of raw materials and his preferred methods. In the past many of the bowls were made by individuals in their homes. Often they did not have the means to properly smelt metals by virtue of being unable to provide sufficient heat for a long enough period of time. The result is still a strong metal but one with concentrations of some elements such as copper. Singing bowls described as having bloom or intrusions evidence this characteristic.

What You’ll find on This Website

It is the judgment of other experts that the types of singing bowls you see on this website are between 80 and 800 years old with the vast majority dating from the 16th to 19th centuries. Believe me, I’d love to assign a date to each of the singing bowls but I have not been able to find an objective source with sufficient specificity to do so with confidence.

To be clear – Best Singing Bowls are antique singing bowls, as old as any available in the West. However, between the inconsistencies in the stories I’ve been told and the generalities used in dating gestalts I’ve seen, no precise dates can be assigned. My own sense of integrity says it is better to use generalities that are supportable than comforting but questionable specificity.

How many antique singing bowls were there – and what has become of them.

Some historical context for the use of Himalayan singing bowls

The interesting parallel history of old US coins in the 60’s and old singing bowls today

What antique singing bowls might be worth in the future

What Our Customers Say

Jae Hwan KIMJae Hwan KIM
06:08 12 Jun 24
I just received the products. It feels new to hear the sound of singing bowls right in front of me that I only heard on the Internet.Thanks to you, I have a precious experience!!!Also, with your recommendation, my singing bowls set has become perfect and rich. Your patience and service could not be better!!Thank you very, very much!!!
Bob MetivierBob Metivier
17:26 09 May 24
Ryan, your L6 medium mallet is amazing! Your attention to particular needs in detail is the reason I decided to make my purchases with you.
Aria ThomeAria Thome
17:28 22 Apr 24
Ryan is absolutely amazing at his craft. He cares so deeply that you get matched with the right bowl(s) and will go out of his way to make this happen for you. His knowledge is unsurpassable and purchasing from him allows you to tap into his bottomless education and knowledge!!
Zara D'SouzaZara D'Souza
15:43 03 Apr 24
My entire experience was so seamless. The website is so flexible and easy to navigate. For anyone looking to build a bowl collection, this is the right place to go. I highly recommend reaching out to Ryan. He was so helpful and supportive in guiding me and making sure I make the right decisions. His suggestions were spot on and Im glad I trusted him!! The shipping and tracking was really great as well. The bowls were well packaged when shipped to me. I got an email with the tracking info and Ryan was a great communicator during this phase as well. In the end, I am very happy with the set I acquired.
Zachary NewtonZachary Newton
16:32 14 Mar 24
You are in excellent hands here with Ryan if you are just embarking on your singing bowl journey.I came knowing I wanted a deep resonant bowl or two when I initially reached out. This began a months' long dialogue with Ryan, who was nothing but patient and generous with his time, sending me recordings of additional bowls not on the website and answering my many questions. Over this period, I spent hours listening to dozens of bowls, beginning to figure out what resonated most with me and expanding my search from there. I ended up putting together a small set. When I found a few bowls I was pretty sure I wanted to be the core of this set, Ryan offered to put them on hold for me while I spent some more time listening to additional bowls. So whether you know exactly what you want, or you just have a vague inclination and see yourself at the beginning of a journey--like I was--you have come to a good place.When I finally made up my mind and ordered my bowls, they arrived impeccably packed and already sounding familiar after having spent months listening to their recordings. I have been very happy with them. In the months since, I have spent many hours playing them, and have even added a couple more. I am still on that Journey I began a year ago, and I continue to value the care and patience that Ryan puts into his work as a guide along my path.
Philip MartinPhilip Martin
23:15 08 Mar 24
I heard about singing bowls many years ago but stored their existence in memory. I recently heard what they sounded like on a recording, which piqued my interest. I began looking into where I could obtain some of these bowls and found many options on the internet. I decided on Best Singing Bowls. The website has many different bowls that allow searching for specific notes, octaves, types of bowls, and much more. The website has an image of the bowl and two soundtracks that let you hear what the bowl sounds like. I found this very helpful and received help from Best Singing Bowls on how to play the bowls, the types of ringers and mallets, and the bowl's history. I asked many questions because I knew little about singing bowls. Delivery of the orders came exceptionally fast. I will look to Best Singing Bowls for future additions and ask for the promptly answered guidance I found immeasurably helpful. I found the entire experience very straightforward and seamless. The website has a vast amount of information on the many tabs related to singing bowls.
SvetaSveta
03:56 12 Feb 24
This was the best shopping experience I have ever had online. Ryan has provided an exceptional customer service. He replied to all my questions timely and his suggestions helped me to find the perfect addition to my set. I am very satisfied with the quality and the sound of my newly acquired ancient singing bowls. I received them within a few days of the purchase. Thank you, Ryan!
Jim ManganiJim Mangani
13:32 14 Dec 23
Ryan provides outstanding customer service, quality bowls, and every accessory you might need at highly competitive prices. I've purchased his precision mallet set which is a must for anybody serious about getting the most out of their instruments, in addition to a number of other accessories. I recently purchased a large jambati and Ryan answered all my questions quickly and courteously. He has always shipped items quickly and is a man of his word. You can feel confident doing business with him. On top of this, he has one of the best websites in the business for sorting through his expansive inventory. If you're considering buying anything from him, you should not hesitate!
“Best Singing Bowls is absolutely the right name for Ryan’s collection! It’s been many occasions for many years now that I have not only found bowls with beautiful sounds and energy in Ryan’s collection - but also the kind of bowls that you know the instant you ring them that they are special - unique - with a sound and a power beyond normal understanding. That’s the beauty and the magic of singing bowls. And on top of that Ryan is the best to guide you - always withimmediate precise response and he provides a fast and secure shipment. I can highly recommend Ryan and Best Singing Bowls.” - Shanti inga
Mojca StudenMojca Studen
07:03 22 Nov 23
The very experience of choosing the singing bowls was a pleasure; not only are the audio recordings of the bowls extremely high quality, the collector Ryan himself kindly offered to help me a lot in choosing the right bowls.The shipment arrived quickly, even across the Atlantic.I am absolutely delighted with the singing bowls I bought! The richness of sound and resonances is extraordinary. And all this for a fairly affordable price.Ryan thank you!
Laurie LowenLaurie Lowen
12:29 03 Nov 23
Ryan will answer every question that you have honestly and knowledgeably.He has gathered the best and largest collection of antique Tibetan Singing Bowls in the world.He has a huge inventory that is all cataloged with musical chakra note(s), vibration in hertz, condition, decoration, inscription and includes actual sound for you to listen to the bowl being used with a beater and with a wand. He has tons of wands and beaters to choose from, including those handmade by Frank Perry the world’s leading authority on Himalayan bowls in England.I started with one bowl and was so happy with it and what it did for my life, that over the past two years, I now have six bowls that I have gotten from Ryan. I love every single bowl and play them all every day just for me.These Tibetan bowls are way more powerful than the crystal bowls that are in vogue. Crystal bowls are machine made and have no history. The bowls that Ryan collects and sells are full of old wisdom and energy and years of use. If you listen while you play one, you will receive information and understanding and they will actually tell you how to play them and talk to you. I am a shamanic drum practitioner for the last 30 years and these are one of the best tools in addition to drums for healing that I have ever used. If you are ready to open yourself and receive healing and peace….get one of these bowls. I can guarantee you this as that has happened to me. You will find there is one there that is calling you. Blessings to whoever reads this🙏
Lisa BushmanLisa Bushman
21:26 17 Jan 23
Ryan has helped me develop a set of singing bowls for my sound studio in OH. He has a large selection of bowls and they have great sound quality. Love working with him!
at01musicat01music
19:22 28 Nov 22
I have been collecting antique singing bowls for over 10 years and just recently discovered Best Singing Bowls’ online store. In a short time, it has become my go-to for finding new bowls that add interest to my singing bowl arrangements. BSB’s inventory is quite large and includes types of antique bronze bowls with different geometries and thicknesses I haven’t seen or listened to before.At first, I was drawn just to familiar jambati and thadobati bowls, but after exploring other possibilities I have become a fan of the otherly-appearing trapezoid bowl. The first one I selected sounds cold as steel and reminds me of the clang of a temple bell I heard every day I was in Varanasi 24 years ago. Another small trapezoid I found has a tone similar to its thadobati companions and contributes a well-tuned 5th octave G#, the new crowning high note of my bowl set.My singing bowl experience has also been enlivened by the Best Singing Bowls Precision Mallet sets. The weights and hardness’s of the mallet heads are designed to produce varying tone colors for small, medium and large bowls. The length and balance of the stick handles make it easier for me to reach bowls and strike them accurately in a timely way with less effort than before. They are fun to use and have mostly replaced my use of other strikers. I love to play the bowls and listen to their tones and harmonics interacting to create kaleidoscopic, resonant patterns that gradually fade away into silence when playing stops. For me, it is an exquisite and deeply comforting sound (and no sound) experience.As others mention, the sound recordings and detailed physical descriptions on the website make it easy to compare bowls and select one that best suits your needs. I’ve also found BSB’s customer support to be very responsive and helpful. Pricing is quite reasonable and return policies are buyer-friendly. Highly recommended!
Dylan TweneyDylan Tweney
18:12 23 Jun 22
Ryan has an amazing collection of singing bowls (which I mostly use as bells) and he's really helpful at providing personalized advice and guidance on which ones to select. I have bought two bowls from him so far and they are magnificent: they produce a variety of resonant sounds with long sustain and great complexity. I also really appreciate his efforts to provide accurate descriptions and high-quality sound files for each bowl.
Mel JonesMel Jones
15:57 13 Apr 22
Just wanted to say thank you for the speedy delivery. The bowls are both wonderful and a great addition to my small but happy collection. Appreciate the service.
Sara JennenSara Jennen
13:12 05 Apr 22
I was looking for a singing bowl. Started by looking at new bowls that were priced ridiculously and were obviously factory produced. I stumbled upon this site and filled out the contact form. Ryan got back to me within a few hours. He travels the world to collect antique bowls. He is obviously knowledgeable and passionate about the work he does. After a conversation where he learned a little about me and my intended use of the bowls, I ended up letting him select 3 for me from his extensive collection. I received manipuri bowls that sound magnificent. I have already begun incorporating them into my yoga and meditation practice. I intend to add to my collection over time. I hope that someday I can visit California to select my bowls in person....or maybe even Nepal;) Sat Nam.
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