Albert E. Wills
Things to Look For
Metals— Many reproductions have been made since the late 1920's and are of cast iron or aluminum. Some cast brass repros were made. Look for the wrong metals.
- Brass: There are no cast brass fire marks, only impressed sheet brass. Examples: Fire Association, BU# 91 & Eagle # 240 (Bulau shows copper). Old brass is yellow colored. Modern brass is yellow with a red tint.
- Aluminum: Light weight. Not used extensively until after the 1890's. No old marks were made of aluminum. Note that BU# 420, Hicksville, LI., is not a fire mark. It's a fire chiefs car emblem.
- Cast Iron
Mounting Holes: more than the originals; drilled or not properly aligned;in the wrong location. Drilled holes may show gray iron or even threading. Examples: Green Tree, BU# 40 should have two holes; Associated Firemen, # 166 should only have one hole; Union Fire, # 428 holes are on the sides.
Size — smaller or larger.
Shape: sometimes flat instead of convex. Example. Fire Association with water should be flat not convex; Union Fire, #429 should be slightly convex not flat.
Weight usually too thick and heavy.
Edges: look for grinder marks on repros — this is where the molten iron entered the mold on modern castings.
Iron:Old iron is a dark brown. New iron has a brighter orange rust color. if rust comes off on your hands, then it is probably new iron. New iron may even look gray. Glossy paint will mask the nature of the iron. Be especially careful if the back is painted.
Rear of the Mark: Look for casting numbers, symbols or initials on the rear. They may have been ground off, so look for inappropriate rubbings on the rear. Repros of the Virginia Metal Crafters may show the following casting numbers: Fireman's of Baltimore, BU# 117, casting no. 377; United Firemen's, BU# 310, casting no. 22-4. Repros without a casting number have a "V" and "M" with a "Betty Lamp" symbol in the center. Wilton repros have their name spelled out.
Sprue or Gate Mark: At the point in the mold where the molten iron enters and fills the cavity, a sprue or gate mark may be seen in the form of a small indentation or raised spot. Not all marks have an identifiable sprue. Check if the original has an identified sprue.
Texture: Look for simulated rust that is cast in the repro itself; especially if back is painted.
Wood Boards — Look for cracks from nail holes on old wood boards. Wood cracks when bolted on wails due to expansion.
Use a Magnet: Only iron is magnetic. Aluminum, brass, copper, lead and zinc are non-magnetic.