The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Fire helmet
  • Fire helmet
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Japan
  • 19th century
  • Paper, copper, silk, and lacquer, formerly silvered
  • OA1635
  • Oriental Armoury
Commentary
  • Fire helmet, closely similar to OA1708, having a skull constructed of paper, differing from OA1708 in that the surface of the skull, peak and brim are coated with textured brown lacquer (sabi nuri), intended to mimik the appearance of russet iron. The skull is fitted with applied ribs and standing rivets of formerly silvered copper. The front of the skull carries a forecrest (maedate) in the form of a butterfly, now bare copper but formally silvered. This helmet would originally have been worn with a fire-resistant textile mantle or cape (hikeshi jikoro) designed to protect the neck and face.

    During the Edo period fires were a constant danger in cities built largely of wood. In 1643 the daimyo, the territorial lords who had to maintain mansions in Edo, were obliged to supervise fire fighting both in their local area and at designated important sites such as temples, shrines granaries and so on. This obligation was called ‘Daimyo hikeshi’. This system was extended to other ranks of bushi in 1657. It was whilst supervising fire-fighting that headgear of this type were worn. The helmets are made of multiple layers of paper, modelled externally with silvered copper embellishments to resemble a conventional helmet and provided with a long, protective cape, generally of woollen cloth imported by the Dutch, that could be fastened across the face leaving only the eyes visible.