A CAST-BRONZE AND ZINC STEAM FIRE ENGINE WEATHERVANE
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF EDGAR M. BRONFMAN
A CAST-BRONZE AND ZINC STEAM FIRE ENGINE WEATHERVANE

AMERICAN, LATE 19TH/ EARLY 20TH CENTURY

Details
A CAST-BRONZE AND ZINC STEAM FIRE ENGINE WEATHERVANE
AMERICAN, LATE 19TH/ EARLY 20TH CENTURY
overall dimensions on stand: 56½ in. high, 89 in. wide

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Lot Essay

With its numerous individual cast bronze parts and impressive size, this steam fire engine vane was likely a custom order for one of the many firehouses and fire insurance companies that were a vital part of the quickly expanding cities in the nineteenth century. Several of the well-known manufacturers of weathervanes, including Cushing & White, Westervelt (fig. 2), and J.W. Fiske (fig. 3), made similar models of comparable length but in copper, rather than costlier and more substantial bronze, as in the present example.

Fire companies were immensely important in the nineteenth century. With gas lighting, high-density wooden structures and hand-held water pumps, fires spread easily and burning buildings collapsed, injuring residents. Volunteer companies were organized in late colonial America before transitioning to paid forces near the end of the Civil War. Fire houses became community fixtures, attracting local 'laddies', and served as social clubs, fostering a sense of community and pride with their distinctive names and insignias. The development of the horse-drawn, steam fire engine in the mid-nineteenth century greatly improved the efficiency of fire-fighting. The race to the fire became a spectator sport for city dwellers and the subject of many popular contemporary prints. The life-saving engine and swift horses were huge sources of pride for the companies and served as ideal models for the weathervanes to top the cupolas of the houses. Such exploits served as inspiration for popular prints of the day, among them the Life of a Fireman series originally published by Currier & Ives, N.Y. in 1866 after original works by John Cameron. The Metropolitan System from the series (fig. 1) depicts New York ablaze with a two-horse drawn steam fire engine in the foreground that likely could have been an inspiration for the present lot.

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