Friday, September 10, 2010

Raffle Fire Bucket

Starting today and running until November 1st, 2010, there is a non-profit raffle being held at Heathsouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. The prize for this raffle is the fire bucket (shown above) that I created especially for this fund raising event.

All of the proceeds will be going to support Rehab Vision, the hospital's charitable wing. All of the proceeds will be used to help those patients in great financial need.

Tickets are $10.00 (ten dollars) each. The drawing will be held at the hospital on November 6th, 2010. Deadline for ticket entry is Nov. 1st. Tickets can be purchased by mailing a check to;

Theresa O'Keefe c/o
Rehab Vision
Healthsouth Hospital
175 Lancaster Blvd.
Mechanicsburg, PA 17055
(717) 691-3700 ex.5029

Please include a self-addressed stamped envelope so that you can receive your ticket. You may purchase as many tickets as you like but please remember to return each half of every ticket stub with your name and contact information back to the hospital so that if you do win you can be notified...entry deadline November 1st!

You may use your cancelled checks as a tax deduction as this is a non-profit organization charitable event.

The bucket shape is based upon the design of George Washington's fire buckets, the buckets he purchased in Philadelphia in 1790 for the first Presidential offices. The hand-painted folk-art eagle design is inspired from an original American fire bucket from the early 19th century. It is one of the finest fire buckets I have ever created. The motto upon the ribbon, "Pro Bono Publico" translates from Latin as, "For the Public Good". It is a very traditional verse found on early fire buckets and it holds as true today as then. The bucket is 13" tall to the rim and is an authentic recreation in every detail.

You are welcome to post questions in the comment section of this post.

My best,
Steven Lalioff

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A.Chase Fire Bucket Restoration Study II

The second most common problem that plagues old fire buckets is that of broken lugs and missing rings. If a ring or both rings are missing or are detached from the rim, the leather attachment lugs are most certainly broken. The images above are the top-down and side view of the area of the broken lug on the A. Chase bucket. The lug is snapped off clean at the rim, the other is still attached but is cracked completely through.

Lugs are the two loops of thick leather that attach the iron rings to a fire bucket on either side of the rim, in turn, these rings serve as the attachment for the leather handle. The rings allow the leather handle to swing back and forth making it easier to for a fire fighter to pitch the bucket full of water at a fire.

There's a reason why these lugs tend to break, the cause is often thought to be dry rot or mishandling-that's true but not the root of the cause. The cause actually started 200 years ago during the hardening process used in making the bucket.
In future posts I will go into step-by-step details outlining the construction techniques used in creating a fire bucket but for now, I will jump ahead and identify the root cause of lug deterioration.

Historically, once the maker had all of the components of the bucket assembled, i.e. the bottom, rim, lugs and rings, the entire bucket was then soaked in water. Once saturated, the bucket was removed from the water and taken to a controlled fire or hot bed of coals. Over this heat, the craftsman held the wet bucket, constantly rolling it in his hands until it began to steam. It took an hour or more to completely steam off all of the water held in the fibers of the leather. When dry, the leather was now hardened and had acquired a permanent shape memory. The French have a term for this process, cuir bouilli. The literal translation means to "boil the leather". I will elaborate more on this hardening process later but for now understand that while this process was an advantage for retaining the shape of the bucket-a bonus to it's utility-it also inadvertently hardened the ring lugs. This steam hardening reduced the natural flexibility of the leather and in time, due to their constant torquing by the handle and by the long term chemical reaction of the iron rings wrapped within the acidic leather, the lugs inevitably became very brittle.

Ideally, the craftsman making the bucket should have protected the lug leather from the heat process but this problem of breaking lugs didn't show up until many years later and so the early makers were most likely oblivious to the problem. It was not planned obsolescence, it was just an oversight. A word of caution: If you ever examine an antique leather fire bucket, DO NOT PICK IT UP OR HOLD IT BY THE HANDLE!!! It might snap off and the bucket may hit the floor.

Done well, restoring the lugs and rings is a tedious and time consuming job. I take the approach of do no harm when I restore objects but in the case of lugs it is necessary for me to remove the remaining amount of internal lug leather. I use 1/8 inch wide chisels, dental tools and micro drills to extract the "root" of the lug-taking great care not to damage the delicate leather surrounding the cavity of the lug hole, (I'm as careful a dentist...if not more so). It can take several hours to extract one lug, removing very small amounts of leather fiber at a time until a sufficient depth is reached to allow the replacement lug enough area to be firmly reattached with a pH neutral glue. The replacement leather lug is made to the exact size of the original and is artificially aged to match color and patina. If the original rings are missing, I substitute reproductions that are hand-forged and aged in the same manor as the originals. When the job is complete, the restoration is invisible, even the original exterior stitching remains intact.

Normally, I would never recommend hanging an original leather fire bucket from a hook or peg as was done in the period. When I see an original bucket hanging, I think to myself, "I should give them my card, they will eventually need my services". Although I don't recommend hanging an original antique bucket, if both lugs and handle have been replaced by my method, I can perceive no harm by hanging the bucket in the same manor as it was hung in the period.

Cost for restoration per lug is $150.00. Rings are $7.00 each.

Next, I will address paint restoration...stay tuned.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A. Chase 1814, A Case Study in Restoration

A. Chase 1814 Fire Bucket--- A case study;

The photo above is a perfect example of an original fire bucket suffering from the most typical types of condition problems. This bucket was sent to me this past week for restoration, the owner has graciously allowed me to use this bucket as a case study in order to help others understand the hows and whys of restoration. I welcome all questions sent to me by private email or posted in the comment section of this blog. I will do my best to respond in detail.

The restoration process begins with a phone call or email, the client having been referred to me or having found my web site or periodical advertisement. Having been 30 years in the business of fire buckets, I've become fairly well known.

The first question by the client is often, "will restoration be value added?" In this case study, every condition issue is typical and ideal for restoration, the owner can expect the end result of restoration to be nothing short of a high presentation quality.

The condition issues that currently affect the "A. Chase" fire bucket are as follows;
• Missing leather covered rope handle.
• Missing iron rings.
• Broken & missing leather ring attachments (known as "the lugs")
• Fracturing of painted design.

Question: Is the value of my bucket diminished because it has a missing handle?
A missing handle, is not a significant issue. Certainly it's a plus to the value of a early fire bucket for it to retain it's original handle, but the true value…99% of the value of any fire bucket is based first and foremost upon the aesthetic of the painted design. Simultaneously, the overall condition of the body of the bucket is an equal consideration. One could own the most beautiful of painted fire buckets, but if the bucket body is in absolute shambles, beyond the aid of restoration, then even the most avid collector will most likely shy away from acquiring it.

Unlike the handle on a piece of pottery, the handle of a fire bucket is not an integral component. The handles can be considered replaceable, and were occasionally replaced in the period as they were the weak link in their functional utility. What is important is that the replacement handle be reproduced using the same pattern, materials and construction techniques as comprised the original historic handle. In the case of the A. Chase bucket, no handle exists for me to copy but I have examined hundreds of originals and even a few that I believe were made by the very same maker as the A. Chase bucket, so I am confident that I can craft a very authentic facsimile. I will consult my photo library of original buckets and handles to see if this maker made handles in a unique fashion and I will base the replacement upon those archives.

Having worked with leather these many years, I have discovered methods of artificially aging leather in order to give it the appearance of antique originals. By aging the replacement handle, it is not meant to fool but to harmonize with the overall aesthetic patina of the bucket. Much of the appeal of antiquities is found in the warm tones and weathered appearance…patina may be the very thing that inspired us to collect in the first place.

The typical cost of replacing a fire bucket handle is $250.00. Occasionally, the original handle was painted to accent the color of the bucket, generally, a painted handle will cost an additional $50.00.

If the bucket still retains it's original handle but it is damaged, preserving and restoring the original handle is always preferable. Costs for handle restoration are estimated case by case. Sometimes, restoration to the original handle can cost more than replacement, depending on the stability of the leather and the type of break.

In my next post I will address the restoration of the rings and lugs….stay tuned.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Dear Viewers,
In the following weeks I will be posting details as to how this BucketBlog might best function as a meeting place for dealers and collectors of original antique leather fire buckets and various objects of historic leather-work. Topics on this blog will also include discussion of restoration, conservation and perservation of period works of leather.

I welcome your input, questions and ideas as how to make this the ideal marketplace.

My best,
Steven Lalioff

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fenno Hallmark

This image illustrates the back of a circa 1800-1830's fire bucket with the makers hallmark, "I Fenno". The letter "I" in this hallmark is in the Roman tradition and stands for the letter "J".

John Fenno was one of the best and most prolific fire bucket makers in early 19th century America. He is listed in the 1803 Boston Directory as a "leather bucket & hosemaker", Orange St., Boston. At that time, mechanical fire equipment relied upon hand-stitched leather hose for drafting and spraying water.

Hallmarked fire buckets are indeed rare. I would estimate that fewer than 5% or existing fire buckets bare a makers hallmark. Of the hallmarked buckets I have seen, the majority were made by Fenno. It is curious to me why Fenno customarily double marked his buckets. In every case I have seen the marks are on both sides of the back seam.

Miniature Fire Buckets

I have made fewer than a dozen of these over the years, they are almost as much effort as a full size bucket. There are historic examples of miniature fire buckets, but I am not certain as to their original use. In 2 original examples I have examined they were made with the same care and technique as were full scale fire buckets. Perhaps they were made as toys or as premiums from makers or insurance companies...or, maybe they were made just because they have a charming appeal, then as now.
Like the originals, mine are made from leather, hand-stitched, formed over a wooden mold and painted....and I use a very tiny brush!

Lug Restoration

Here is an image of before & after restoration of a fire bucket sent to my studio in need of handle lug replacement . "Lugs" are the straps of leather that are folded over the metal rings (usually iron rings but occasionally brass) and are stitched into the rim of the bucket. The handle is then attached by stitching it onto the rings allowing the handle to freely swing back and forth.
As you can see in the photo on the right, the restored lug has the appearance of age and the hemp cordage is now restored as well. When I replace a lug or handle, I use new leather of the same original type and tannage that I apply an artificial patina to resemble age. By artificially aging new leather to look old, I am able to incorporate strength into the restoration.

One of the most common conservation problems with leather fire buckets is that the lugs tend to break, causing the handle to detach from the bucket. If you are fortunate to have an original bucket with it's handle and lugs intact, treat it gingerly as they are brittle with age. Do NOT display your bucket by suspending it by the handle and do not make a habit of holding it by the handle and allowing the weight of the bucket to stress the lugs and handle...or else you'll be sending it to me for repair! Do not let a broken handle or lug detour you from acquiring a fire bucket. The value of a bucket is not dependant upon the condition of the handle, it is based upon the quality and folk-art charm of the painted design and the overall condition of the bucket. A broken handle or lug when restored properly does not negatively effect the value of an original fire bucket. However, it is important to attend to any restoration issue as quickly as possible to avoid possible further damage and perhaps more costly repairs..."a stitch in time" as they say! I would add that repairs performed poorly are a detraction and if not done properly can be a costly booger to reverse.

Keep in mind;
  • Do not attempt to re-attach a handle or ring with any kind of adhesive or tape. This can easily damage the surrounding area of the paint or leather.
  • Do not use wire to affix the handle.
  • You may use a string to loosely secure the handle to keep it from flopping and resulting in further damage...use your logic...but if in doubt, do nothing.
  • Do not take your bucket to the local "leather-guy" for repair...I've seen some very bad irreversible results done by folks that think they know what to do.

I'll post more preservation do's-and-don'ts in future posting.

1736 Original & Reproduction

The bucket on the left is an excellent example of one of the earliest forms of fire bucket. The shape and construction of the bucket is of an early English style of shape and construction. The heraldic crest of 3 lozenges upon a light blue ground is unknown to me but is most likely of English origin and may a device belonging to an institution or town as opposed to being a family crest. The numerals of the date 1736 are to be found divided in the 4 quadrants surrounding the crest.
The interior of the original as well as my reproduction are coated with a pea green paint. This was done in the period to give them a certain amount of waterproofing. Fire buckets were not intended to hold water all of the time, the interior coating were only there to avoid the leather from becoming waterlogged during the fire fighting event. Even buckets lined with pitch, (a thickened form of pine tar) were subject to leaking.

Flying Mercury "before & after"

This is an advert that I ran in the year-end supplement of the 2008 Maine Antiques Digest showing an excellent example of how a hard-worn fire bucket can be brought back with expert attention. All of the restoration work I preform is reversible, following guidelines as prescribed by modern museum standards.
I did not in-paint every area of paint loss because much of the charm of antiquities is found in the time-worn patina..."Less-is-More" in this case. The handle on this bucket is original, but required re-attachment. A missing or detached handle is a very common condition with original buckets but I have developed a method that can invisibly restore the handles back to a visually perfect and functional condition.

This Flying Mercury fire bucket is dated 1846 and was most likely made in the Boston area. Mercury is the ancient pagan patron of Merchants and Tradesmen dating back to Roman times. Most likely "J. B. Curwen", the buckets original owner, was a Bostonian businessman that belonged to an organized fire fighting club. Pictorial fire buckets such as this are often referred to as, "Parade Buckets". During the 19th century, fire club members were known to participate in the frequent parades, carrying emblems of social fraternities such as flags, banners and fire buckets. Fire Clubs, before the formal institution of professional fire departments were important social clubs in the period as are Rotary and Fraternal clubs today.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Inaugural Eagle 2009

© Steven M. Lalioff 2010

I created this in honor of the American Presidential election of 2008. The bucket shape is based upon an 18th century fire bucket and the painting is inspired by one of the earliest known forms of American eagles, circa 1790's.

I very much enjoy the challenge of making an exact reproduction, but I enjoy even more creating new designs "appropriations" that are of my own. My goal is to make all of the elements logical to the period, as if it was the fire bucket that "could have been".

Every fire bucket that leaves my studio is carved or stamped indelibly on the bottom identifying it as a contemporary product of my studio. My best quality buckets are marked, "S. Lalioff" under my name is a round stamp with my initials "SL" followed by the year of creation in roman numerals. My more simple creations have just my initials followed by the round stamp and the current date in Arabic numerals.