20 Reasons To Love Americana, Day 15

Today’s blog in our series showcasing standout examples of Americana that will be offered at the Winter Antiques Show January 19–29 at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory looks at a an antiques with appeal to not just Americana collectors but those who seek out firefighting antiques.

Among the finest examples of paint-decorated leather fire buckets we’ve seen recently is this circa 1820 example offered by Jeffrey Tillou Antiques, Litchfield, Conn., that stands 12¾ inches tall and is decorated with a center panel featuring a sun and retaining much of its paint.

From Charlestown, Mass., the bucket is painted black with red collar and handle and is inscribed: “Marshall Johnson/1820/Ancient Fire Society/Charlestown.” The tanning process for leather in the 1800s was much different than today so leather items truly were waterproof as evidenced by several items from the Titanic that were raised in the last few years from the seabed that survived nearly pristine, having been encased in a leather case/bag.

An old label on the bucket reads “Fire bucket — one of several hung in the store of Hiram Johnson on the corner of Washington & Union Park Streets. /Given to F.P. Phipps by his daughter Mrs. Cora Russell/May 1923. Ex. Coll: Hiram Johnson Store, Boston, MA; acquired by Mrs. Cora Russell; given to her father, F.P. Phipps, 1923.”

In his book, A Century of Town Life: A History of Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1775–1887, James Hunnewell talks about Charlestown’s fire societies as pillars of the community. The Ancient Fire Society was the oldest and was founded in 1743 by homeowners to protect themselves from fire.

Marshall Johnson’s fire bucket No. 1 is probably one of a pair Johnson kept. Members of the Ancient Fire Society were “obliged to keep two leather buckets, two bags, and a bed-key and belt.” Johnson was probably the father of Marshall Johnson Jr., a well-known marine painter who was active in and around Boston.

Fire societies were replaced with government fire companies and artifacts like this leather bucket “like Marshall Johnson’s are wonderful documents of American’s long history of ingenuity and civic mindedness,” Tillou said.

For more information, www.tillouantiques.com or 860-567-9693. Make sure to visit the dealers’ booth at the Winter Antiques Show to see this and other fine Americana. For show information, www.winterantiquesshow.com or 212-987-0446.

-Andrea Valluzzo


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