After the Great Fire of London in September 1666, which damaged or destroyed huge swaths of the historic city, the need for a more organized response to fires became tragically apparent. This led to the creation of the world’s first property insurance policies, issued by what is considered the world’s first insurance company, called the “Fire Office.” Despite its official-sounding name, the Fire Office was not a municipal department, but a private company. At the beginning, it provided money for the restoration or reconstruction of buildings damaged by fire.
Not long after the Fire Office was established, a number of other insurance outfits began to appear. By 1690 one of every 10 houses in London was insured. As time passed, many insurance companies wised up to the fact that it was cheaper to prevent and fight fires than simply to pay the cost of reconstruction, and that’s where fire plaques come in. Insurance companies such as the Fire Office established their own in-house fire brigades, tasked with protecting the buildings covered under policy—and, in many cases, only those buildings. If another company’s brigade put out a fire in a building insured by a different company, they might be reimbursed for their trouble, but if your building did not carry a crest, or the crest was that of a different insurer, it might be left to burn. To designate which buildings were covered by which company’s brigade, fire plaques were installed on the exteriors of the buildings.
By the mid-19th century, London had established a public firefighting operation, and the use of fire plaques began to decline, but fire plaques maintained some popularity even as their utility waned.
Today, fire plaques survive as historic points of interest or collector’s items.
Like philatelists and numismatists (collectors of stamps and coins, respectively), people who study and collect fire marks have a name: signevierists. (Text courtesy of atlasobscura.com)
The choice of Larson Juhl's Anvil moulding for this piece absolutely makes it.