Fuelled by Coffee: The evolution of fire insurance (1696 – 1760)

Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

Fuelled by Coffee, is the new Insurance Museum online gallery that will continue the story of the early fire insurance companies. The first gallery looks at the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, and how Nicholas Barbon set up the first fire insurance company, creating a successful model that was copied by the numerous new fire insurance companies. Fuelled by Coffee will focus on the newly formed insurance companies that proliferated in the early 18th century. In particular, it will take a look at the many English coffee houses, and how important they were to the development of new businesses.

Coffee Houses were places of work, to network, gain intelligence and data, conduct business, debate and buy goods at the auctions by candle. The most famous was Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House, which catered for marine insurers, supplying up to date information and boxes to conduct business. You can find out more about the different coffee houses in the City of London, what they specialised in and the insurance companies that were set up and run from. You can even find a recipe for 17th century coffee, so can have a go at making some authentic coffee, although contemporary reports describe it as tasting of “mud”, like “old crusts and leather” as “syrup of soot” and having an “essence of boiled shoes”. These descriptions were obviously not from coffee lovers.

Did you now that one of the earliest companies, the Hand in Hand, was first called Contributors for Insuring Houses, Chambers or Rooms from Loss by Fire, by Amicable Contribution? There are Hand in Hand objects from the AVIVA archives, and items that tell us of lives of the firemen. They needed many protections for their work, not just equipment, but compensation in case of injury and certificates exempting them from the dreaded naval press gangs.

It is not just London fire insurance companies that the gallery covers, but also companies based in Bristol Edinburgh and Glasgow. There is even a quick look at the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire, which was set up by in 1752 by Benjamin Franklin and fellow firefighters. He modelled the company on the Hand in Hand; The Philadelphia was a mutual and had a very similar fire mark of hands holding each other. Is it possible that Franklin was inspired by the early fire insurance companies when he was in London and drank in those coffee houses?

Fuelled by Coffee will feature video interviews with industry experts, interesting facts and focus on fascinating objects from archives and museums, to illustrate how fire insurance developed over the years.

The gallery is now live and you can visit it here.

Fuelled by Coffee: The evolution of fire insurance (1696 – 1760)

January 10th 2023

Registered Charity address:
C/o Chartered Insurance Institute
3rd Floor, 20 Fenchurch Street,
London EC3M 3BY
Charity No. 1188138

Sign up to Newsletter

© Copyright Insurance Museum 2022