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Fire engine condenser case of Clinton Engine Company No. 41, New York City

Object Name: Fire engine condenser case
Date: 1832-1842
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Medium: Wood, oil paint, primer, gilding
Dimensions: Overall: 32 x 30 1/4 x 15 in. ( 81.3 x 76.8 x 38.1 cm )
Place made: North America, United States, New York
Description: Wooden fire engine condenser case; half-cylindrical form with overhanging top and painted image on front framed by arch over pilasters, with elaborately carved oversize keystone and scrolling leaves in gilding on spandrels; painted image of landscape with female figure in foreground placing wreath on the head of a male portrait bust that stands on a pedestal next to her, with eagle in profile view on ground in front of pedestal.
Credit Line: Purchased from Elie Nadelman
Object Number: 1937.1631
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This object was once part of the folk art collection of Elie Nadelman (1882-1946), the avant-garde sculptor. From 1924 to 1934, Nadelman's collection was displayed in his Museum of Folk Arts, located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The Historical Society purchased Nadelman's entire collection in 1937.

During the nineteenth century, volunteer fire companies commissioned artists to emblazon their company emblems on their fire engines, particularly on the wooden covers concealing the pressure chambers of the hand-pumped vehicles. These decorative cases were typically created for parades and ceremonial occasions, but often became a permanent feature of fire engines.

This condenser case belonged to New York City's Clinton, No. 41 Engine Company. The classicizing allegorical scene on the second condenser case depicts the Genius of Agriculture crowning a bust of Governor DeWitt Clinton, the company’s namesake, with a laurel wreath. The background landscapes feature views of the Erie Canal, Clinton’s major accomplishment, and Albany, seat of the New York State government.

This case is mentioned in an account of a parade during the Croton Aqueduct celebration of October 14, 1842 where No. 41 was the largest company represented, numbering about 80 members. There, a yellow-painted engine with red and gilt stripes featured a painting on its condenser cover with "a pedestal on which is a bust of DeWitt Clinton, with the Genius of Agriculture crowning him with a wreath of flowers. At the base of the pedestal is an American eagle; on the right, a view of the City of Albany; on the left, a distant view of the Erie Canal" (Sheldon, The Story of the Volunteer Fire Department of the City of New York, 1882, p. 505). DeWitt Clinton, engine no. 41's namesake, was considered to be a father of the Croton Aqueduct and the Croton Reservoir of New York City.


The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman, Riverdale, NY


Denker, Ellen Paul. "Collector' legacies." The Magazine Antiques 167 (2005): 176-180.


"Making It Modern: The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman," Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, NM, September 6–November 29, 2015; New-York Historical Society, May 20–August 21, 2016; Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA, September 17–December 31, 2016.