Published: May 9, 2023
Review & Onsite Photos By Tania Kirkman
ALLENTOWN, PENN. — One of the largest fire antique and memorabilia shows in the United States took place April 22-23, bringing passionate collectors and fire antiques enthusiasts together for one special weekend at the Allentown Spring Melt in Allentown.
The show was sponsored by the Union Historical Fire Society, Delaware Valley Chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus in America (SPAAMFAA) of Havertown, Penn., a national organization focused on firefighting history with a shared passion for memorabilia and traditions of the fire service. The annual Spring Melt boasts 250 vendor spaces chock full of antique fire collectibles, fine antiques, articles of historic importance, as well as new equipment and merchandise, all with one goal in mind: preserving historical reverence for the service and its members.
The weekend event kicked off with the Spring Melt Firematic Auction on April 22, presented by the Eastmere Fireman, Harrisburg, Penn. The sale was attended by bidders from all over the country, as well as internationally. Auctioneer Brian D. Enterline commented, “The 2023 Spring Melt Firematic Auction was another huge success that pleased consignors and made many happy bidders. Bidding was brisk throughout the auction with the help of absentee bidding that was executed from the HiBid online platform.” With 466 items crossing the auction block, the average price achieved was $390 per lot.
Headlining the auction was a black felt stovepipe parade hat, dated 1803, from the Laurel Fire Company of York, Penn. It hammered to a Maryland collector for $10,100, exclusive of the buyer’s premium. Enterline commented, “The parade hat, along with another lot were consigned by a nonprofit institution and sold with no seller fees to the institution which will be using the proceeds for artifact restoration.”
The marketplace opened at 7 am on April 23 for early buying and saw droves of excited participants filling the halls of the Agri-Plex building at the Allentown Fairgrounds. Special highlights at the show included indoor and outdoor displays. An open-air exhibit outside the entrance featured several open fire trucks, including the Goodwill Fire Company of Trexlertown, Penn., and indoors, the Lake Harmony (Penn.) Tanker 17. The New Jersey Fire Museum & Memorial, Allentown, N.J., had trucks and equipment on display.
Elizabeth Tickner, battalion chief with the Wilmington Fire Department, Wilmington, Del., offered items for sale from her personal collection to benefit the Union Historical Fire Society. Property included Nineteenth Century ceremonial and parade ribbons, as well as fire extinguisher canisters, cast iron toys, lanterns, fire buckets, shields, and 1960s Smokey the Bear collectibles.
Dan MacAuley, a Boston firefighter and collector from the greater Boston area attended with a fine selection of antique painted leather fire buckets and leather helmets, as well as trumpets, badges and other uniform objects. Having started out the day with 32 buckets, 10 had already been sold before lunchtime. Many items hailed from Northeastern states, such as a Schuylkill, N.Y., helmet; a Maine fire bucket dated 1810; and many Boston and Salem, Mass., fire collectibles.
MacAuley also had a selection of fireman’s trumpets and bugles, which were utilized in several different ways by firefighters. Functional horns were used to amplify the sound of voice over noise and commotion while working the scene of an active fire or rescue situation, as well as being used during parades and ceremonies. Presentation trumpets were those awarded in honor of a firefighter’s service, and were engraved with the name, date and title of the recipient. Many date to the Nineteenth and early part of the Twentieth Century and are made of brass or silver.
Fire Antiques by Ryan and Elyse TreDenick, Philadelphia, were pleased to be back at the show, and brought an impressive display of fire antiques. The centerpiece of the booth featured a “W.F.D.” painted canvas steamer flap. In terms of today’s use, it would have been used as a “mud flap” that was placed behind the horses in the lead of a fire wagon to protect the steamer and firemen from debris. Atop sat an encased handmade 4-foot-long Skinner working scale model ladder truck that had been made by C. Kleinsteuber in the 1870s. Kleinsteuber was a master machinist, jeweler and model maker in Milwaukee, Wis., whose shop is known as the birthplace of the typewriter.
Other highlights included a Washington Hose 1 R.F.D. engine lamp with colored glass panels dated 1857-1900; a Newark, Ohio, Ahrens steam fire engine brass plaque engraved with officer’s names, circa 1879; a sheet metal cutout fireman weathervane; and a historical grouping belonging to Chief Joseph O’Neill of the Elizabeth, N.J., fire department, consisting of his “Chief” presentation helmet and belt, a photograph, exemption certificate and engraved trumpets dating to 1889 and 1892. Artwork featured a Kelloggs & Comstock “Protector Engine No. 2” color lithograph, circa 1850, and a primitive oil painting depicting a tree line ablaze in a landscape.
Bill Schumaker from Rensselaer, N.Y., a collector and firefighter, was a first-time vendor at the show. Offering items for sale from his personal collection, tables were lined with cases of badges, patches and ribbons, as well as helmet fronts and a collection of vintage toy ladder trucks, fire engines and emergency vehicles. Schumaker’s takeaway from the show was just how interested collectors were in certain types of items, and he reported having a great first show.
A grouping of parade uniforms and clothing items were available from Fire Memories Antiques in Kankakee, Ill. Included were several red woolen bib-front parade shirts, a full parade uniform with matching blue wool trousers, a Boston Fire Department black rubber and yellow trimmed “bunker” coat, as well as helmets and other uniform objects.
In preparation for the Spring Melt, Don and Toni Fraser of Portland, Maine, and Knoxville, Tenn., spent weeks sorting through cartons of antique photographs, amassing a quality selection of police and firefighter portraits spanning the late Nineteenth through early Twentieth Centuries. “The photos have been selling well! Many people buy based on looks, and many are looking to fill in a collection, but we love that some can go back to their (fire) houses,” Toni said.
The Frasers have been in the show circuit for 16 years, with a focus on fire, police and Civil War events, as well as attending the outdoor flea markets and antiques shows in Brimfield, Mass. Regarding fire antiques, Toni commented, “Many of the fire shows are more family oriented, you see fathers and sons, and families together; it is an occupational history. It’s a whole different way of collecting, and you get to know people.” Their collection also includes hundreds of badges which they have organized and inventoried to better help buyers and collectors find specific items they might be searching for.
Local to the show, John S. Horton, Brick, N.J., enjoys attending this event and has done so for many years. “There are a lot of good people,” said Horton. Items that sold well were badges, helmets and vintage fire alarm equipment. His display also had vintage signs “Ohio Forest Fire Warden – Burning Permits Issued Here” and “Connecticut Forest Warden – State Parks & Forest Commission,” as well as fire axes, lanterns, a Seth Thomas Umbria clock and a Gamewell wood cased indicator alarm firehouse bell.
Cliff Miller and Patricia Summers, Bohemia, N.Y., had a distinctive selection of foreign fire helmets for sale. Miller, who has collected New York and foreign firefighter’s helmets since 1958, set out to acquire helmets from every country in the world. Even as the climate and cultures change today, Miller’s “Museum of the Bravest” is currently complete and represents firefighters from every nation and ranges in age from the Fourteenth through Twenty-First Centuries.
Items Miller had for sale at the show encompassed a small portion of the excess from his collection and featured helmets from France, Chile, Czechoslovakia, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Finland, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Spain, Belgium, Prussia and Italy, among others. A Kingdom of France helmet dating to 1814-48 and a Prussian helmet, circa 1800, were two of the earliest helmets available at the show, though helmets in Miller’s personal collection date back to circa 1350.
As a retired FDNY auxiliary lieutenant, Miller, and Summers, continue to give back to their community as co-founders of the group, Friends of America’s VetDogs, a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs to veterans and first responders. Since 2015 they have sponsored more than 30 dogs, naming each canine to honor an unsung hero of our military service. A graduate of their program is service dog Sully H.W. Bush, the Bush family presidential service dog, who, after George H.W. Bush’s passing in 2018, has been working with patients through the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Facility Dog Program in Bethesda, Md. For information: www.vetdogs.org/favd.
Save the date for the next Allentown Spring Melt, to take place Sunday, April 21, 2024, with the Eastmere Fireman’s preceding auction taking place on Saturday, April 20. For more information, www.unionhistoricalfiresociety.com or email email@example.com.
The Eastmere Fireman is the only specialized auction house in the United States with a focus on firefighting antiques and memorabilia. Conducting several sales per year, its next auction takes place in July at the Pennsylvania National Fire Museum in Harrisburg, Penn. For additional information, www.eastmerefireman.com.
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