PRIMITIVE FIRE INSURANCE.
Centuries before the wise citizens of Loydon recognized the value of fire insurance there existed a most interesting form of it, and that not in any of the great commercial nations of the Middle Ages, but in a remote island of the Atlantic—in Iceland. The modern Icelander, however, has not yet realized the value of insurance, as is shown by the fact that one of the foremost yeomen in the country had his farm burned down three times in succession without its being insured. It was otherwise in the old days. In the time of the old republic, the “ golden age of Iceland ” (says a writer in Chambers’s Journal), every yeoman-farmer was by law compelled to be a member of a mutual insurance society. The method by which compensation for loss by fire was made is thus explained, and is a striking proof of the thoroughly practical views of the Icelanders :
There are three houses in every man’s dwelling for which compensation may be obtained in event of their being burned down. (In Icelandic dwellings each room was a separate building. and so is called a “ house.” One is the women’s sittingroom ; another the common sitting-room ; and third, the pantry where the women prepare the food. If a tnan has both a sitting-‘Oom and a hall, then at the spring assembly he shall choose whether he will rather have the sitting-room or the hall insured. If there is a church or chapel on any man’s farm, then that is the fourth house liable for compensation, where it exists. If any of these houses aforementioned is burned down, the owner shall summon five of his neighbors, and get them to estimate the damage that has been done. They shall estimate the damage done to the house itself and also that done to clothes and other valuables burned with it; but only such clothes and valuables as the owner requires for daily use shall be reckoned for compensation. If a church is burned, there shall be reckoned along with it for compensation all the hangings, the choir, and the best bell that has been destroyed, if there were more than one, and all the furniture required for daily use; the same thing shall be done in the case of chapels.
When the damage had been valued by the neighbors, as above provided, one-half of the loss had to be borne by the yeoman himself, and the other half was made good by all the other yeomen in the district. From each of these a certain amount was levied in proportion to the value of his property, and, if this were not paid within a specified time, it could be seized by law. At the same time it was provided that no one could be called upon to pay as h’s share more than one per cent, of his whole property, and it was not compulsory to compensate the same person for loss by fire more than three times.
From an insurance man’s point of view the physical hazard of risks at Norfolk. Va., is said by the S. E. T. A, to be very bad. “Poor bricks, weak wails, cheap interior construction, and ill-kept upper floors are (it is reported, the rule, rather than the exception; and congested districts of this class open up a vista of the possibilities of great loss through a conflagration.’