Back in the 1870s, you would throw a glass bulb full of liquid to douse a fire. These days, fire extinguishers look pretty similar and industrial. However, the fire extinguishers of old were arguably works of art in their own right. These bulbs were made between 1870 – 1910 and were known as fire grenades.
Nov 11, 2017 @ 10:23
During their heyday, Victorian-era homeowners adorned their homes with these fire grenades. They were meant to be thrown into flames (like a grenade) hard enough to shatter and let the substance inside quench the fire. The first patent for a fire grenade was given to Alanson Crane around the 1870s. The ones created before the 20th century usually had a salt water solution. Many fire grenades made after 1900 were filled with carbon tetrachloride – a substance that is highly toxic to the lungs, liver, kidneys, and brain. This substance is banned today. Since today’s fire extinguishers are filled with about 1kg of foam, it’s clear extinguishing technology has come a long way over the past century.
Antique GuardX Canadian Fire Grenade
Hayward’s Hand Fire Grenade
Designs & Manufactures
Fire grenades were relatively small devices, measuring about 6-8 inches tall with a round body and slim neck. They featured patterns in the glass and usually also had the name of their manufacturer. Some of the more famous manufactures include Harden Hand Fire Extinguisher Company of Chicago, Hayward’s Hand Fire Grenade of New York City, Babcock Hand Grenade, and the Dri-Gas Fire Extinguisher Company of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Collecting Fire Grenades
Fire grenades are hot collector’s items today. Many of the devices are absolutely stunning to look at since colors like cobalt, green, amber, and crystal were common in the manufacturing process. Harden produced a fire grenade in 1889 that featured three separate glass sections of cobalt blue, amber, and clear glass. This is one of the most sought-out fire grenades. Since over 200 companies made fire grenades, there’s a lot of surviving examples out there that are often found hanging in vintage kitchens.
H.S. Nuttins Glass Fire Extinguisher
1887 Harden Star Fire Grenade advertisement from Illustrated London News
Be careful handing!!
Glass fire grenades that still hold the original Carbon Tetrachloride should be handled very carefully. A HazMat team was forced to deploy to a New Hampshire antique store after a grenade with the dangerous substance broke in the shop. Everyone had to be evacuated and the resulting clean up took several hours.
Where can i find them?
They’re also spotted at estate sales, auctions, antique houses, and glass shows. Collectors have also found many fire grenades in the basements of old churches as well.
Vintage Shur Stop Fire Water Grenade with hanger
Babcock fire grenade
What can i expect to spend?
The average price of a fire grenade varies based on its condition and rarity. Some of the more common ones usually fetch about US$ 75, while a rarer one might get up to several hundred dollars. Ones that are still filled and sealed usually command much higher prices, sometimes well into the four figures.
Hunting for antique fire grenades can be an interesting experience. Their beauty and historical provenance can make them a welcome addition to a home’s decoration, or an interesting addition to a collection of fire-related memorabilia.
Red Comet fire grenade.
Detail of Red Comet fire grenade.
Owner and publisher of Texas Vintage Shopper, a comprehensive vintage/antiques shop and events directory for the state of Texas.