The Salvation Army Timbrel

Over the years, Betty Lynn and I have collected a few Salvation Army figures featuring the tambourine, or as Salvation Army members call it, the timbrel.


The history of the timbrel in The Salvation Army is an interesting one, though there are differing stories as to the origins, or at least, the identity of the first timbrellist.

The best one, goes something like this. Lizzie was a cashier at a cheap little theatre near first Salvation Corps in London.  She was a rough Cockney girl, and anyone who tried to sneak into the theatre free of charge would get a rough handling by Lizzie.  One thing fascinated her though:  the tambourine-playing troupe of 'gypsies' who performed nightly inside the theatre.

When she converted and became a Soldier, the Captain, who had heard of Lizzie's accomplishments on the tambourine,  asked her if she would join the drummers. Soon Londoners became accustomed to the sight of a dark, vivacious woman marching in Army processions, and playing a tambourine as if her life depended upon it. 'Tambourine Lizzie', as they called her, became an Officer and married a Scottish Captain in the Corps. According to the War Cry, New York, Lizzie played a tambourine solo at her own wedding.

The use of the timbrel, whoever was first to use it, spread very quickly within the ranks of the Salvation Army. The War Cry of 7th October, 1882, noted that 1,600 timbrels had been sold in six weeks. William Goddard designed a timbrel in 1893 that was better suited to Corps band needs. The timbrel that is used today in Salvation Army Bands hasn't changed significantly since the original design by Goddard.


Three of our four figures are created by Byers' Choice Ltd. of Chalfont PA. The two above are Carolers from the 2000 Collection. It is interesting to note that the brunette plays with her right hand, while the blond plays with her left. The base of both invites the public to visit Byers' Choice.


The taller figure is the older one, dating to the 1995 collection.


Here, on the base, the public is not invited to Chalfort, PA, but can write away for a free newsletter about Byers'Choice products.


The boy figure in plaster is not from Byers' Choice. He was manufactured in China, but clearly he was designed to imitate  the more expensive cloth dressed American figures. Still, he plays his timbrel (note his 2 sets of jingles) with innocent delight and we are glad that he is a part of our little cluster.