The iconic bike was sold for a record price, even after it emerged another motorcycle had claims to be the genuine article.
Background and Description
The American LaFrance Fire Engine Corporation is one of the oldest fire apparatus manufacturers in America, dating back to its foundation in 1873 by Truckson LaFrance as the LaFrance Manufacturing Company. They produced all manner of fire apparatus, including trucks that replaced horse-driven fire services. They also produced hand pumps and rotary steam engines, based on LaFrance’s patents, winning competitions for their designs.
The American LaFrance Fire Engine Company was formed in 1903, based in Elmira, New York, but also with a base in Toronto, Canada, selling its products under the name LaFrance-Foamite until 1971.
As time went on, chemicals were experimented with to stop the spread of fire. LaFrance stayed on top of all the new developments in these technologies. They stayed at the forefront of fire apparatus manufacture throughout the 20th century.
There have been many models of LaFrance fire extinguishers over almost 100 years. Some are known simply as ‘No. 5 fire extinguisher’ or similar. Others had names.
There were several models of the extinguishers known as ‘Fire-guns’, #0, #1, #2, #3 etc. These were made of brass, approximately 10 ½ tall, holding around 1 quart of CTC (Carbon tetrachloride).
There were also ‘Alert’ 2.5 gallon pump-type extinguishers, made of copper, with brass lid and handle. The ‘Hydro’ copper extinguisher had a patent dated 1938, and held 25 gallons. Additional models included the ‘patrol’ fire extinguisher, the ‘rescue’ fire extinguisher, the duel tank system, the ‘babcock’ extinguisher, and the ‘crusader’ model which possesses an attractive coloured plaque.
In addition to these models, there were several different methods experimented with, such as the ‘gas cartridge water type’ fire extinguisher, the ‘soda-acid’ fire extinguisher, the ‘vaporizing liquid’ fire extinguisher, and the ‘dry chemical’ extinguisher.
The 40 Gallon industrial hand-pulled model is on wheels, and is around 61” tall. It was used by the U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft during start-up on radial-engined aircraft.
Collecting antique American LaFrance fire extinguishers
The American LaFrance company were the largest manufacturer of these extinguishers for the majority of the 20th century. Their products were produced in great number, rendering them not particularly rare. However, some particular models are more rare than others, particularly the older ones, and therefore more valuable.
They can be found on auction websites such as eBay, in antique stores, at flea markets and car boot sales.
It is quite hard to date these. They generally don’t have a date included on their plaques. They sometimes include their patent bottle which lists the date. However they may have been produced later than the patent date.
On the plus side, it is relatively simple to identify a genuine American LaFrance extinguisher. They each include a plaque or sticker to their body with the company name and embossed ALFCO logo, beneath which is stated the model information and instructions. Extinguishers manufactured in America will bear the name ‘American LaFrance Fire Engine Company’, and those manufactured in Canada will state ‘LaFrance-Foamite’.
Antique American LaFrance fire extinguishers are often in need of some gentle cleaning and/or restoration. They are used for decorative purposes and not in the home.
A common substance that ALFCO fire extinguishers utilised was Carbon tetrachloride (CTC). This is extremely dangerous and carcinogenic. An extinguisher must be emptied of this substance. It is usually possible for your local fire services to do this. Do not keep an antique extinguisher in your house, particularly near flames, until sure it is empty.
Antique American LaFrance fire extinguishers generally sell on eBay for $55 - $1,500. Value generally depends on age and condition.
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