Bully Bells: handmade tradition

Article by Joe Lee

Photos by Hunter Hart

The BullyBell trademark that adorns Mississippi State (MSU) cowbells will always link Marc Anthony, the driving force behind the company today, and the late Hardy Tingle, the beloved Starkville High (SHS) vocational/technical instructor and the creator of BullyBell.

“I got started working on cowbells in high school assisting Hardy,” said Anthony, who graduated from SHS in 1982 and MSU in 1988. “Upon graduation from MSU I started at The Lodge as the retail store manager. We purchased cowbells from him, and I told Hardy that when he retired I wanted to take up where he left off.”

“When he retired, he gave me the rights to the BullyBell as long as I gave him credit. I have kept my promise to my good friend by doing so ever since.”

The Lodge moved Anthony to University Screenprint in 1989, where he has been ever since. While BullyBell remains a sideline occupation for the lifelong Bulldog fan, Anthony has seen a soaring demand for the handcrafted noisemakers over the years.

“Our cowbells are very unique and made right here in Starkville, Mississippi,” Anthony said. “We put a lot of love and sweat into making a quality product. Most of our competitors are using an imported cowbell that’s basically disposable. Ours are heirlooms. Once you purchase a BullyBell you will have it for life. You might want to get another one, but typically (to have) another size or style. Not because it broke while using it.”

Anthony begins with a raw cowbell from Kentucky and uses a plasma cutter to remove a section from the loop on top. He welds the pipe handle onto the top of the cowbell and does some reinforcing to prevent splitting. Priming and painting is next – he uses Dupont automotive paint for a hard, high-gloss finish.

“After painting, the cowbells have to cure for a day or two,” Anthony said. “Then each one has a grip put on it by hand and a rubber mallet. After gripping, each cowbell is inspected and wrapped and boxed for delivery.”

“I don’t make one cowbell from start to finish at one time. I do it as an assembly line. I mostly do bulk orders (but) take on a few custom projects. I have expanded the product line into multiple sizes and colors, (taking) what Hardy started and adding different products, improving what he was doing and growing the business.”

“We sell a ton of them and have to replenish after each home football game,” said Carolyn Abadie, manager of The Book Mart and Café. “Maroon and white are the most popular. People personalize them, or put Bully stickers on them. We’ve carried them at least a couple of decades. The Campus Book Mart sells plenty. The bells sell all year, many as graduation gifts.”

While Anthony is thankful for his longevity with University Screenprint – he said he’s never had a “real job” because he loves what he does – he’ll always find it rewarding to carry on the legacy of Hardy Tingle through BullyBell. And as the boom in excitement about MSU football continues, there may be cowbell orders on the horizon from far and wide. BullyBell has been featured on ESPN, in the Wall Street Journal and in USA Today.

“We have quite a few retailers around the state,” Anthony said. “We also have about 30 high schools around the southeast (for whom) we paint (cowbells) in their colors. McNeese State University’s campus bookstore purchases BullyBell cowbells in McNeese State blue.”

Visit http://www.bullybell.com and find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.