11-12 October 2012

Previous Next

Lot 174

1894 Silsby Fourth Size Horse-Drawn Steam Pumper

  • American Fire Engine Co. No. 2272

Sold for $396,000

Vertical, fire-tube Fox boiler, Silsby rotating-cam steam engine, and 500 gpm rotary pump. Wheelbase: 74 in.

• Three owners from new

• Continuous history from Philadephia’s Engine Company 42

• Meticulous 15-year restoration

By the latter part of the 19th century, there were more than 80 manufacturers of steam fire engines in the United States. Most prominent among them, with more than 1,000 engines delivered during the era, was the Silsby Manufacturing Company, of Seneca Falls, New York. Originally a maker of agricultural implements, Silsby expanded to fire engines and associated equipment, building its first such unit in 1856. In contrast to other manufacturers, which held to reciprocating engines and pumps, Silsby embraced rotary principles for both purposes, using the designs of Birdsall Holly, pioneer in water power and inventor of the frost-proof fire hydrant.

This pumper is of Silsby’s final design, the so-called ninth model, introduced in 1875. Its “crane” configuration, with an arched frame, essentially replaced earlier “straight” frames, although a few straight-frame models continued to be produced. In December 1891, Silsby merged with the Ahrens Manufacturing Company, the Clapp & Jones Manufacturing Company, and the Button Fire Engine Company to form the American Fire Engine Company. In 1903, the American Fire Engine Company joined with the LaFrance Fire Engine Company, of Elmira, New York, to form American LaFrance. Demand for the rotary Silsby engines, however, was so strong that they remained in production until 1905. This Silsby pumper is one of two delivered in 1894 to the Philadephia Fire Department.

Philadelphia’s Engine Company 42 was organized on December 7, 1894. Its first piece of apparatus was this Fourth Size Silsby steamer, American Fire Engine Company number 2272. “Fourth Size” refers to its pumping capacity of 500 gallons per minute, First Size being the greatest, at about 900 gpm. In 1909, the Silsby pumper was returned to the manufacturer’s successor company, American LaFrance, where it was rebuilt with a new Fox water-tube boiler.

Pumper 2272 was decommissioned in 1922, when Engine Company 42 was motorized. It was purchased by a private owner and remained in his collection for 57 years, operated occasionally and as late as the 1960s. When acquired in 1979 by the current owner, it was unrestored and in the configuration of the 1909 American LaFrance rebuild, complete but for the Dietz brass lanterns. A 15-year painstaking restoration followed. The engine and pump were disassembled, renewed, and rebuilt. Mechanically, the unit is in excellent condition.

Paint and detailing was done by Anderson Restoration, of Kanawha, Iowa, whose work has been recognized with an abundance of AACA Grand National, Senior, and Junior awards. Since restoration, this pumper has been meticulously maintained as a display piece, never fired up nor operated. The boiler has not been tested or certified. There is, however, no impediment to a new owner having it recommissioned for pumper service by a qualified steam technician. To aid in potential future use, the owners have located a diagram of the boiler and created a booklet containing further information about the boiler, as well as general information and history that will enhance the knowledge of its new owners.

The Philadelphia Fire Department purchased 136 steamers over the course of 59 years, its last in 1914, which remained in service until 1927. In the period from 1886 to 1897, the city was one of Silsby’s best customers, purchasing 41 pieces of the steam-operated apparatus. This unit, with complete history from new, is the only known Silsby pumper remaining of the Philadelphia units, and it is certainly among the best of all survivors.


Please note this vehicle will be sold on a Bill of Sale only.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver


+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat


+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht


+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig


+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose


+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould


+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff


+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach


+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry


+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut


+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire


+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn


+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin


+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill


+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher


+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers


+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden


+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more