Prior to the 17th Century there wasn’t much in the way of organized fire control in Europe. Neighborhood night watches were organized by the residents of an area and they would essentially stay awake and keep an eye out for leaping flames. In the late 17th century this was to change, after The Great Fire of London in 1666 wiped out tens of thousands of homes, the first fire engines (hand pumps) appeared, and by the beginning of the 18th Century fire brigades, in the modern sense, were being created…

Another after effect of mega-fires like London’s was Fire Insurance, and it was these Insurance companies that actually formed the first private fire brigades to protect their client’s properties. The naming of streets in London at this point was haphazard at best, and private homes were not numbered,  so as a means for the Insurance Brigades to distinguish their properties, each company adopted a distinctive emblem, and began attaching it, in the form of brightly colored metal plates, to the sides of their policy holder’s buildings. These were called “Fire Marks” and their use was widespread for about two hundred and fifty years all across Europe, in Russia, and eventually the U.S.

Practical and utilitarian as they were, they also happened to be pretty damned gorgeous. See below for a sampling and links to some sites where you can see more.

Most of the marks pictured above originated at Roy Addis’ and Dmitry Nikulin’s Old Russian Fire marks pages. Both of which are chock full of beautiful pieces. If you have any interest in Fire marks I’d recommend these sites as your first stops. Believe me when I say what I’ve shown here is only the tip of the iceberg. All but the last of the extra-large images are taken from Clarence P. Hornung’s Treasury of American Design (incredible book!) published in 1950.

A couple of other destinations to see more are: Vicasa,, HammerdownErie Insurance, and Iicfiremark.

To read more in depth info on their history I recommend The Fire Mark Circle’s history pages. Also American Fire Marks, A Good Story.

Hope you enjoyed.



12.03. filed under: !. design. history. 4