Friday, September 10, 2010
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
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.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
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 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.