Our Collection: Firemarks
Hall of Flame
The Hall of Flame has a collection of over 400 fire marks from the United States, Great Britain and Europe. About half of these marks are on exhibit in Gallery 1.
Fire marks appeared in 17th century England following the Great Fire of London in 1666. A few entrepreneurs established fire insurance companies for English home and business owners.
The insurance companies created their own fire departments to respond to fires at their clients’ properties. To prove that they were insured, the companies designed marks, usually made of lead, with their company logos as well as the actual insurance policy number stamped into the mark.
As well as being important to the well-being of the insured property, the marks were also decorative.
Soon companies were providing mutual aid responses at the insured properties of other insurance companies.
By the mid 18th century, the insurance company fire departments responded to all homes and properties, whether insured or not, and were able to cover their costs with lawsuits or by utilizing local government units.
Fire marks no longer served their original purposes, but the colorful plates, by now made of tin, cast iron and cast lead, were still provided to customers as advertising.
In America, the first fire insurance companies appeared in the years following the Revolution. Organized like English companies, the American companies also issued fire marks as advertising devices.
German 20th Century Marks
Policy owners nailed them to the exteriors of their homes and businesses as a sign of responsibility for their properties and as a warning to arsonists that their losses would be made good by insurance companies and that the arsonists would be pursued by the insurance companies.
The insurance companies still produced very attractive painted marks of cast iron or tin.
Other nations copied the trend. Virtually every nation in Europe with insurance companies had fire marks.
Fire marks were in common use until well into the twentieth century.
Collectors, usually people in the insurance industry, began collecting marks, and several organizations produce books, catalogues, and articles on the devices. These organizations also conduct auctions and swap meets at their gatherings.
European Marks, 19th and 20th centuries
American Mark: The Green Tree Insurance Company
American Mark: The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire
For specific information on the museum’s major holdings, select a category below.
Fire Alarm Systems
Hand and Horse Drawn
Additional Fire Related Objects in Our Collection
Hall of Flame’s collection of graphic materials includes lithographs, prints, engravings, arm patches, paintings, and photographs.