Lot 120

Collection of "Fire Marks" – Palestine – 19th through Mid-20th Centuries – Hebrew-Language "Fire Marks"

Opening: $3,000
Estimate: $5,000 - $7,000
Sold for: $4,750
Including buyer's premium

Large collection comprising 41 "fire marks" – signs made of sheet metal, enamel, and ceramic, used by insurance companies to mark insured houses. [Palestine, 19th through mid-20th centuries].
Signs referred to as "fire marks" began to appear in London in the 17th century. Such signs were used by insurance companies to mark houses insured by those companies against fire damage. They would be emblazoned with the name of the company and its emblem. Naturally, the emblems would often relate to the theme of fire, featuring such symbols as the dragon, the phoenix, and the salamander. Typically, the home's insurance policy number would appear on the sign as evidence that the insurance premium had in fact been paid; if and when the premium was not paid on time, the fire mark would be removed by the company. Since they were boldly displayed on the facades of buildings, the fire marks served as an effective means of self-advertisement for the insurance companies in question.
The present collection features a diverse array of the types of "fire marks" used in Palestine. Some are labeled in Hebrew. Included among the items: a particularly rare sign belonging to the Palestine General Insurance Company Ltd; a sign representing the Menorah insurance company; another sign, designed by the renowned Bezalel School artist Ze'ev Raban, representing HaSneh; a number of signs put up by Migdal insurance; two signs in Hebrew and one in English belonging to the Baloise Fire Insurance Company; a sign in Hebrew for Union Genève; and more. The collection also includes fire marks belonging to various international insurance companies, such as Generali (translated into Hebrew as the "Ahrayut Klalit" company), Guardian Eastern, Liverpool & London & Globe, Allianz und Stuttgarter, and the Phenix Assurances company of Paris. Many of the fire marks in the collection are documented in the catalogue titled "Footprints of Assurance" (see below); some are not.
This collection was assembled over many years in an effort to rescue and preserve, to as great an extent as possible, what little remained of the once common but now exceedingly rare fire marks that once existed in Palestine. Most of the signs in the collection were removed from abandoned buildings in Tel Aviv and other cities by attorney Uzi Zack, a member of the British association of fire mark collectors known as the "Fire Mark Circle, " and his colleague, the insurance agent Claude Hasin. Most of them underwent a restoration process involving thorough cleaning and professional repainting, for the most part adhering to the original color scheme.
Some of the fire marks in this collection were presented in 2009 at the exhibition entitled (in Hebrew) "Fire Mark: The Uzi Zack Collection, " curated by Inbal Wasserman, at the Herzlilienblum Museum of Tel Avivian Banking and Nostalgia.

Fire Marks
The first insurance companies to offer protection against fire damage were established in the wake of the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was a conflagration that caused extensive loss of life and incalculable property damage, and left many thousands of London's residents penniless insofar as they did not receive any form of monetary compensation. Back then there was no such thing as a public fire brigade; to deal with the threat of fire, the newly established insurance companies set up private firefighting teams composed mostly of firefighters enlisted from among the sailors and fishermen who navigated the River Thames. Very quickly, the insurance companies began posting "fire marks" on the facades of London's buildings. These were signs made of lead, copper, brass, and tin sheet (and at a later stage, enamel, porcelain, and other durable materials). They were put up by the insurance companies as a means of identifying the houses they had insured against fire. The fire mark would in effect serve as a building's actual insurance policy. If a fire were to break out, firefighters would be sent to extinguish the flames, but these men would tend only to those buildings protected by the insurance company that employed them.
As was the case with insurance companies in general, the use of "fire marks" quickly spread from London to other parts of England, and from there, to the world at large. Over time, fire marks gradually ceased functioning as a means of identifying buildings for firefighters, and eventually stopped serving as insurance policies altogether. They did, however, persist as a method of advertisement. They were designed to be colorful and attractive, in ways that would clearly distinguish one insurance company from the other. As time went by, they developed into exclusive collector's items.
Fire Marks in Palestine
In the course of the 19th century, European insurance companies began searching for new and novel advertising platforms, such as newspapers and billboards, and as a result, the use of fire marks for this purpose gradually declined. Oddly enough, however, in the overseas colonies and in developing countries – where the concept of mass media had yet to take hold – the opposite happened, and there was actually something of a resurgence in the employment of fire marks. Thus, in Palestine, facades of buildings began displaying fire marks, which, at times, appeared in their original form, imported from their mother countries, and at times assumed tailor-made local incarnations with Hebrew inscriptions. From 1880 to 1948, over 50 different local and international insurance companies operated in the country – an astoundingly large number considering how sparsely populated Palestine was at the time. As a consequence of this proliferation, the diversity of fire marks in Palestine was particularly rich, at least for a while. Here again however, the use of these signs gradually abated, until, by the second half of the 20th century, it ceased entirely. With time, most of these signs disappeared; owing to a lack of awareness of their existence and a lack of appreciation for their uniqueness, many of them were simply thrown out when the buildings they adorned were renovated or demolished. Those that did survive were, more often than not, painted or plastered over, and not properly preserved.

41 signs. Size and condition vary. Many of the signs have been meticulously restored and repainted. Overall good condition.
A list of the fire marks is available upon request.

• Enclosed: A fire mark of the Sun Fire Office, one of the world's oldest documented insurance companies. See: Brian Wright et al., "The British Fire Mark, 1680-1879," 1982, p. 51. The insurance policy number indicated on the sign – 173438 – corresponds to a policy issued to John Stallon of Feltwell, Norfolk, England in 1761. Enclosed in addition is a photocopy of the official document representing this policy.
For further information, see the slide presentation put together by Henya Melichson, (stored on a flash drive, enclosed).
Also enclosed with the collection are a number of reference books and catalogues, and additional printed material, including:
• Alwin. E. Bulau, "Footprints of Assurance, " Macmillan, New York, 1945.
• John L. Kirk, ed., "History of Fire Fighting, " Castle Museum, York, 1960.
• John Vince, "Fire-marks, " Shire Publications, Aylesbury, 1973.
• Brian Wright, Brian Henham, and Brian Sharp, "The British Fire Mark, 1680-1879," Woodhead-Faulkner, Cambridge, 1982.
• "Firemarks and Fire Memorabilia from the E. Nugent Linaker Collection and Other Properties, " Phillips Auction Catalogue, November 17th, 1986.

Eretz Israel
Eretz Israel