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Bell theft takes toll on owner

January 25, 2011

BLACKSTONE — There was so much snow that Kevin Mahoney didn't notice the item missing from his driveway — at least not until he started to plow.
It was then that Mahoney realized the bell was gone — not just any bell, but a Hooper, a rare piece of 19th century metalsmithing forged into shape by a protege of Paul Revere.
Weighing around 700 pounds, the bronze bell had been severed from a secured length of heavy-duty, steel chain, perhaps with a pair of bolt cutters, around Dec. 16, says Mahoney, of 239 Elm St.
“It must have taken at least four people to carry it away,” says Mahoney. “I'm telling you, I felt violated.”
Now Mahoney wants his Hooper back. He's offering a reward of $2,000 for the return of the bell, no questions asked. If the bell doesn't turn up in a couple of weeks, he'll up the bounty even higher.
It's probably worth it.
The bell was manufactured in 1855 by Henry Northey Hooper, a manufacturer of bells, chandeliers and other decorative objects who worked as an apprentice of Paul Revere in the famous patriot's Boston foundry.
Hooper later purchased the foundry from Revere and established Henry N. Hooper & Co., a firm that, by 1862, was making artillery for the Union Army in the Civil War.
There are still a few Hooper bells suspended from church steeples and other prominent towers about New England, but not many. For example, the brownstone Grace Church on Westminster Plaza in Providence, has a Hooper bell. So do Christ Church in Cambridge, the Usen Castle on the campus of Brandeis University in Waltham, and the Town Hall Bell Tower in Plymouth, N.H.
“They are kind of valuable,” says Pat Leehy, the research director of the Paul Revere House in Boston. “There aren't that many of them around.”
But Leehy says it's next to impossible to put a price tag on vintage bells, even those with a historical pedigree. So few ever change hands, it's hard to get a bead on the market, which is generally limited to museums, universities and churches. The Revere House paid $25,000 for a Revere bell in 1977.
Ultimately, he says, the worth of a Hooper bell may depend on how badly the buyer wants it.
Mahoney figures somebody must have wanted his Hooper bell pretty badly to do what they did to get it. From the looks of it, he said, the thieves made several attempts to sever the bell chain before they managed to gouge through it. They would have needed a truck to cart the bell away and lots of muscle to hoist it into the truck, at least a few strong men, maybe even a winch.
Mahoney has no idea whether a collector pilfered the bronze beauty or some desperadoes went after it to sell for scrap. That's what happened a few months ago to a church in Cumberland. Several bells were stolen from the church, and the police later found most of them in area recycling centers.
Mahoney, who works in the gutter business, says he bought the Hooper bell about six months ago from his boss, an octogenarian named John Luchetti of Weston, Mass., who had it in his backyard. Luchetti also had another bell that was larger, but not as collectible or handsome as the Hooper, with its greenish, aged patina.
“I loved the bell,” said Mahoney. “He offered me the two of 'em for $3,000 and I bought 'em both.”
Until he realized that one of them had been stolen, Mahoney had both bells on display in his driveway. After the Hooper disappeared, he moved the other bell to a more secure location.
Anyone who has information regarding the whereabouts of the missing bell is encouraged to contact Mahoney at 1-508-243-9555 or the Blackstone Police Department at 1-501-883-1212.

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