Fire marks recall era when flames were major urban threat

Charleston June 2015 068 a

Beginning in the 1750s, some American insurance companies began issuing metal fire marks to policyholders to signify that their property was insured against fire damage.

The fire marks bore the name and/or symbol of the insurer, and some included the customer’s policy number.

The company or agent would then affix the mark to the policyholder’s home or business. For owners the mark served as proof of insurance and a deterrent against arson. The marks not only served as form of advertising for insurance companies but alerted volunteer firefighters that the property was insured. Often, the first volunteer firefighting company on the scene of an insured structure would receive a reward.

The Charleston Fire Insurance Company was incorporated on Dec. 11, 1811, during a time when catastrophic fires were a real danger in American cities, many of which had been hastily erected with wooden materials.

Charleston was devastated by several fires, including blazes in 1740, 1798, 1838 and 1861.

The company’s charter provided for insurance against fire on buildings, goods, wares, merchandise and other property.

The oval mark is made of iron, and consists of an inner image of intact buildings on the left, and buildings engulfed in flames on the right. A figure of Athena guards the intact buildings from the fire, and has a shield by her feet emblazoned with a Palmetto tree. There is a text above the intact building that reads, “RESTORED.” The outer rim bears the text “CHARLESTON FIRE INSURANCE COMPY.”

The cast iron marks measure approximately 7.7 inches by X 9.1 inches and weigh almost 3 pounds.

Today these fire marks can still be seen throughout Charleston, although most of them are reproductions.

The above mark, which is affixed to a structure at 100 Church St. in downtown Charleston, is likely a reproduction.

The Charleston Fire Insurance Company operated from 1811 until 1896.

100 Church st.

The oval-shaped Charleston Fire Insurance Company fire mark can be seen just to the left of the door at 100 Church St. in downtown Charleston.

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3 thoughts on “Fire marks recall era when flames were major urban threat

  1. We had a fire company plate on our first house in France….three bees.
    Mark you, as the house was miles out in the countryside I just wonder how effective the insurance was…

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