The frontpiece (also known as shield or badge) of firefighting helmets has been a distinctive part of the American firefighter’s helmet since it was developed by Henry Gratacap in the early 19th century. These frontpieces displayed a variety of information. The fire company's name and number appeared, often alongside the city or town where it was based. The frontpiece could also include the owner's initials and rank. Most fire helmets had leather frontpieces, but frontpieces could also be made of metal, especially on presentation helmets or those worn in parades.
This white leather frontpiece was made during the 19th century. The frontpiece has a black banner at the top and bottom with raised white leather letters that read “WILLIAM PENN / HOSE.” The center of the frontpiece has a red background with scalloped border, and the white leather number “18.” The William Penn Hose Company was located in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1830, it operated as a hose company until 1864, when it acquired a steam fire engine. It served as a hose and steam fire engine company until 1871 when Philadelphia’s paid firefighting department was established. Because the frontpiece does not show that they were also a steam fire engine company, it’s likely to have been issued between 1830 and 1864.
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