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.