by Dr. Lori Verderame
Weathervanes were originally called windvanes which comes from the Anglo Saxon phrase for a flag (or vane) in the wind. These weathervanes are of great interest, particularly to those who are interested in collectible objects associated with weather forecasting like barometers and thermometers, folk art, and primitive sculpture.
Many people collect vintage and antique weathervanes. Among the most beautiful examples of weathervanes are those made of copper with iron or zinc sections and either painted or otherwise colored with patina. Constructed metal weathervanes, like the sculptures of artists like David Smith, Alexander Calder, and Seymour Lipton, are more common in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries than in the period of early weathervanes. With weathervanes, copper was used for its durability and the iron or zinc helped to insure a good spin from a wind gust. Of course, weathervanes had to be made of a material like copper that would withstand the elements and most weathervanes were painted or gilt with gold leaf over a base coat of yellow sizing pigment to protect its surface.
History of Weathervanes
Among the most common weathervanes are those that were originally found atop meeting houses, churches, or barns. Many were in the form of a rooster or cock or running horse. In the Colonial period, weathervanes announced changing weather patterns and wind direction which was important information for the mostly agrarian or agriculturally-based society. As a center point within a farming community, weathervanes could be found on public buildings and private homes. These objects were perched high above civic buildings in the early years of the American colonies such as churches and city centers and provided necessary information for the people about the all important weather trends.
The tradition of weathervanes began with recognizable animal forms perched atop the community church located in the center of town. Due to a 9th Century papal decree, all European churches were required to have a dome, steeple, or figural cock weathervane or weathercock atop its roof. Putting a weathercock on one’s roof was a reminder of the story told in the Gospel according to Luke 22: 34-35 that noted how the cock uncharacteristically remained silent on the morning after the Last Supper. This is why cock weathervanes topped churches and homes of the faithful for centuries.
In the early 1740s, a giant grasshopper weathervane adorned Boston’s Faneuil Hall. It is one of America’s earliest weathervanes and It remains there today. The grasshopper weathervane is a good luck symbol and a symbol of Boston. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had weathervanes on their private homes too.
What to Look For
Well known weathervane makers such as L. W. Cushing, J. W. Fiske, J. Howard, E. G. Washburne, Harris & Company, Cushing and White, A. Jewell, Rochester Iron Works, and J. R. Mott Iron Works are often credited with some of the best early weathervanes. Look for rare forms as these bring the highest values like the $5 million dollar weathervane in the form of an Indian chief with a bow and arrows by the J. R. Mott Iron Works or the 1910 open touring automobile weathervane that sold for nearly $950,000. Other unique weathervanes made of copper in the form of a horse and jockey attributed to the J. W. Fiske firm of New York sold for $24,000. Even the more traditional or typical weathervanes bring big bucks from buyers like the 19th Century cow weathervane that sold for $15,000. Others in common forms–horses, cows, farm animals–in good condition regularly sell for $5,000 to $20,000 each.
The surface condition and decoration are important when assessing the value of a weathervane. The metal patina on a weathervane and the details of the sculptural form are important too. The most recognizable weathervanes are roosters, horses, and cows. In the mid 19th Century, weathervanes were made in patriotic forms demonstrating images of Americana. At my appraisal events, I have appraised weathervanes in the form of eagles, butterflies, pigs, goats, donkeys, horses, lady liberty, arrows, banners, flags, cows, horses, roosters, etc. Early period metal weathervanes showing signs of use are sought after too. The more rare the figural form, the more valuable the weathervane.
Get an online appraisal report of your weathervane from Dr. Lori.