Antique and vintage fire extinguishers
Antique and vintage fire extinguishers are fire extinguishers produced from the early 19th century up until the middle of the 20th century. Many of these models are now highly popular collector’s items, particularly those dating from the 1800s.
History of the fire extinguisher
The first example of a modern fire extinguisher was invented in 1818 by the British Captain George William Manby, who developed a brass 3 gallon vessel containing potassium carbonate which was expelled from the vessel using compressed air.
By 1866 the soda-acid extinguisher had been developed by the Frenchman Francois Carlier, which used water and sodium bicarbonate with tartaric acid to produce Carbon Dioxide. An American version, using sodium bicarbonate solution and sulfuric acid, was patented in 1881 by Almon M. Granger. In both cases, the Carbon Dioxide gas was used to expel pressurized water onto the flames.
Chemical foam extinguishers appeared in 1904, and in 1910 The Pyrene Manufacturing Company of Delaware developed a vaporizing liquid called carbon tetrachloride. This chemical would form a gas which inhibited the chemical process required for combustion, and the liquid was used in both larger brass containers and small glass containers known as ‘fire grenades’.
In 1924 the Carbon Dioxide extinguisher was developed in the U.S by the Walter Kidde Company, and the dry-chemical sodium bicarbonate extinguisher followed in 1928.
Notable models and manufacturers
Notable antique fire extinguisher manufacturers to look out for include:
- Fyr Fyter
- General (QuickAid, SOS FireGuard)
- American LaFrance
- Snyder & Son
Collecting antique and vintage fire extinguishers
Antique fire extinguishers can be seen as a niche area for collectors, but the aesthetic qualities of restored brass extinguishers means that they are popular decorative items for many antique collectors. Unrestored models can be found online or in second-hand stores for less than $20, but once polished and correctly restored many examples can sell for several hundred dollars.
Also highly popular amongst collectors are the glass extinguishers of the late 19th century. These glass ‘grenades’ contained carbon tetrachloride, which would evaporate once the glass was smashed and form a blanket of gas which would starve the flames of oxygen.
Because of their delicate nature and construction, intact fire grenades are highly sought after. They were also produced in striking glass colours, and are popular with antique glass and bottle collectors along with extinguisher collectors. The most valuable are those still containing their chemicals, but caution is advised as there can be safety issues involved in collecting objects containing potentially harmful substances.