Firemen's muster souvenirs have become highly collectible over the past 20 years and usually command some pretty good prices.
The ribbons and badges from firemen's tournaments of the past were often very ornate and might include a celluloid button with a photo of a hand-pumped fire engine, a steam fire engine, a firefighter or a firehouse. They could include rosettes, gilt tassels, and ornate designs, and came in virtually every color or combination of colors with ribbons stamped showing the date and location of an event.
Prices for these muster collectibles often range from $25.00 to $125.00 or more depending on their ornate or unique design, date of the event and its location. A foreman's ribbon from the New England League's Veteran Firemen's Field Day in Worcester, Mass. on August 17, 1893 was recently priced at $90.00. Another from the New Bedford Veteran Firemen's Field Day in Springfield, Mass on September 1, 1897, featuring a celluloid button with a photo of a fireman in the center of a red, white and blue rosette, is listed for $65.00. And a smaller ribbon with celluloid of a fireman rescuing a child from the Oct. 6, 1911 Brocton, Mass. Muster goes for about $40.00.
Souvenirs from musters held in Virginia City over the years are also prized collectibles. The button from the first Comstock Firemen's Muster, held July 4-5, 1980, recently sold online for $25.00, and with the ribbon from that event would bring an even higher price. That blue and white button features an old -fashioned leather firemen's helmet with a No. 1 in red.
The red, white and blue button from the second Comstock Firemen's Muster, August 1-2, 1981, features the hose carriage from Liberty Engine Co. No. 1 in Gold Hill that is now displayed in the Comstock Firemen's Museum. The button and participants' ribbon from that muster recently sold for $20.00. Buttons from Virginia City musters that have an officials' ribbon can also bring higher prices.
One of the most sought after button-ribbon sets actually come together by coincidence. The occasion was the dedication of the new grave marker and enclosure for William Mullen in the Virginia Exempt Firemen's Association Cemetery following the muster parade on July 7, 1984.
The Comstock Firemen's Museum, which restored the marker, had memorial ribbons made for the event, while San Francisco's St. Francis Hook & Ladder Society, responsible for the new enclosure, had memorial buttons made. Together, they bring about $35.00.
Mullen was a Virginia City bartender who suffered an apparent stroke and died. He was known to have been a "fireman" in San Francisco, so Virginia City's firefighters gathered donations to pay for his funeral and buried him in their cemetery.
In 1984, members of the Comstock Firemen's Museum and St. Francis Hook & Ladder agreed to a cooperative effort to restore the grave and hold a dedication during the Comstock Firemen's Muster. The ceremony included presentations by Gov. Richard Bryan, Nevada State Fire Marshal Tom Huddleston, and dedication by San Francisco Fire Department Chaplain Father Greene. Honor guards from the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District and the San Francisco Fire Department, a mounted color guard from the U.S. Marine Corps and echo taps sounding with Virginia City's historic fire bell ringing marked the occasion.
However, during the ceremony it was disclosed that research had failed to find Mullen's name on any of the rolls of San Francisco's many fire companies or career department, but city directories listed him as a "fireman" in the city's gas works. As a result, the San Francisco Fire Commission took action the week prior to the dedication making Mullen an honorary member of the San Francisco Fire Department, and making the coincidental memorial button-ribbon a highly collectible item.
By: Steve Frady
Fire Chief, 1980-87
Virginia City Volunteer Fire Department
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