Early 19th century leather fire bucket used to transport, via bucket brigade, water from the source to a hand-pumper fire engine. This is a domestic example, from the home of George Ashmun, and the numeral “2” confirms that Mr. Ashmun had several buckets in his home. The style of the lettering on the bucket suggests a date during the 1820s. The bucket does not carry a maker’s mark, usually a stamp on the bottom. Fire buckets were made by the same leather workers who made militia helmets, fire hoses, fire helmets, saddles etc. The sides of the bucket are made from a single piece of thick leather, rolled and seamed vertically. A disk of thick leather forms the bottom. The top edges are rolled around a stout piece of rope and seamed. They were then painted or lettered by “fancy painters” to suit the taste of the client.
Before the advent of pumpers, hydrants, and hoses, firefighting was largely a “bucket brigade” operation. Each family was encouraged or even required to have these leather buckets on hand in case of fire. Leather fire buckets were hung by an exterior door, readily available for a speedy departure. They customarily were painted with the name of the owner, and assigned a number, so that after the confusion of fighting a fire and the passing from hand to hand, each bucket could be returned to its proper owner.