Why Antique Glass Fire Grenades Are a Hot Collectible

If you're burning for something pretty to collect, antique fire grenades may be exactly what you're looking for.

Published April 17, 2023
Sinclair hand fire grenades c 1880

Back in the day, you didn't have to break the glass case to get to the fire extinguisher - the glass case was your fire extinguisher. In true Victorian fashion, putting out fires needed to be a stylish affair, and fire grenades were born. They're much prettier than they are efficient, but their pocket-sized nature makes them a perfect collectible to take home.

Antique Fire Grenades and Their Victorian Past

Before fire fighting was a procedure and practice driven profession, it was a free-for-all. From community queues with buckets of water to private fire brigades brought in by insurance companies, fire fighting history is full of danger. And unfortunately for our ancestors, it got worse before it got better.

Fire grenades were created in the 19th century as a method to fight fires, both professionally and domestically. You could pick up a few of these water-filled glass bottles and keep them around your house or employment in case a blaze broke out.

How Do Fire Grenades Work?

Antique blue fire grenade bottle

The idea behind the fire grenade is that it's filled with a liquid that extinguishes fires and that, in the event of one, a person could throw the glass bottle at the center of the fire and snuff it out. Salt water was the main ingredient used in the beginning until carbon tetrachloride broke onto the scene. But for all of their good intentions, carbon tetrachloride (although a great fire fighting chemical) is toxic to humans. So if you do collect them, check the label and make sure you're purchasing one with water, which is much safer if the grenade accidentally breaks.

What Do Fire Grenades Look Like?

Fire grenades look exactly like how they're described. They're usually palm-sized round glass bottles with short necks that extend from the top. These necks were what the bulbs were hung on and thrown from.

They came in a beautiful array of colors, such as red, blue, purple, green, and clear. However, in later years, they evolved into larger wall-hanging systems that resembled linear light bulbs in their shape.

Fire Grenade Manufacturers

Two Harden fire grenades, 1883

Thanks to Victorian advertising, you'd have thought there was a one-day-only flash sale on fire grenades. Because of how easy they were to manufacture and sell, there were multiple brands that brought these extinguishing tools to the masses. These are just a few of the brands you'll find printed or blown into these glass bulbs.

  • Harden Star
  • Imperial Fire Extinguisher Company
  • International Fire Equipment Corp.
  • Firex
  • Shur-Stop
  • Red Comet

How Much Are Antique Fire Grenades Worth?

Swift fire grenade, 1870-1910

Antique fire grenades are pretty valuable for how small of a collectible they are. Quality seems to be the biggest factor in determining how much they're worth. Some of the things to look for in high-quality fire grenades are:

  • Intact labels
  • Designs blown into the glass blubs
  • Bulbs without any scratches, dents, or cracks
  • Bulbs with the extinguishing liquid still inside

High quality antique fire grenades easily sell around $100-$150. In comparison, high-quality vintage fire grenades sell for slightly less at around $50-$100. For example, this beautiful antique fire grenade with the box intact recently sold for $79 on eBay, while this Red Comet fire grenade kit full of at least three fire grenades sold for $180 on Liveauctioneers.

Putting Out Fires Can be Stylish

The bright red fire extinguishers we've got tucked underneath our kitchen sinks may be way more effective than antique fire grenades ever were, but they certainly lack that stylish appeal. While we don't suggest stocking up on these antiques to prep for fire season, we encourage anyone with a burning passion for quirky (defunct) Victorian inventions to take a crack at collecting some of them.

Why Antique Glass Fire Grenades Are a Hot Collectible