Philadelphia Contributionship Fire Mark

Description (Brief)
Beginning in the 1750s, some American insurance companies issued metal fire marks to policyholders to signify that their property was insured against fire damage. The fire marks bore the name and/or symbol of the insurer, and some included the customer’s policy number. The company or agent would then affix the mark to the policyholder’s home or business. For owners the mark served as proof of insurance and a deterrent against arson. For insurance companies the mark served as a form of advertising, and alerted volunteer firefighters that the property was insured.
The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire issued this fire mark around 1760. The faded number at the bottom of the shield is possibly 1316. Policy 1316 was issued on August 7, 1769 to John Bissell, who owned a house situated on the east side of 3rd Street in Philadelphia. The fire mark consists of the company’s symbol cast in lead showing four hands clasped at the wrist attached to a shield-shaped wooden backing. The Philadelphia Contributionship was established in 1752, becoming the first successful fire insurance company in America. Benjamin Franklin was one of its founding members. The Contributionship began as a mutual insurance company and this concept is represented by its “Hand in Hand” fire mark. The Philadelphia Contributionship is still in operation.
Currently not on view
Object Name
fire mark
date made
ca 1760
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
lead (overall material)
board: 11 3/8 in x 15 in; 28.8925 cm x 38.1 cm
hands: 8 1/4 in x 9 in; 21.0058 cm x 22.86 cm
place made
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Cultures & Communities
Firefighting Collection
Fire Marks
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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