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Antique Weathervanes, Part I: Horses, Roosters, and Cars… Oh My!

Antique Weathervane

Copper Butterfly Weathervane, attributed to J.W. Fiske, New York, late 19th century, to be auctioned on August 12, 2012 in Marlborough, MA,
Estimate $8,000-12,000

Collectors of American antiques love weathervanes. In fact, people love them so much that during the 60s and 70s antique weathervanes started disappearing from roofs across America. Thieves were stealing the valuable vanes in the middle of the night. I heard stories of weathervanes being stolen away by helicopter – they swooped down and lifted weathervanes off of barn roofs.

Now, people display antique weathervanes indoors—either mounted on a wall as folk art, or as a sculptural element in a room. Weathervanes come in a multitude of forms. As you can see from the photo, we have quite a menagerie at Skinner, waiting to be sold at upcoming our American Furniture & Decorative Arts auction on August 11th and 12th. Horses and roosters are among the most common weathervanes we see, but even within these categories the variety is endless. In this sale, we’re offering a wonderful example of a Black Hawk horse vane in molded copper, and we also have a rare butterfly weathervane, both from the private collection of Cheryl and Paul Scott.

When these weathervanes were first produced, most were gilded with gold. I’m sure they looked very impressive when they were brand new and sitting on top of a barn or town building. But weathervanes, of course, are subjected to weather, and after years of rain and wind and snow, the gilding wears off. The base coat of paint, called yellow sizing, starts to show through. Beneath that is bare copper, which can turn a rich, beautiful verdigris color.

Collectors are most attracted to antique weathervanes that still have their original surface, and these are the most valuable weathervanes. It’s a mistake to re-gild or re-paint an antique weathervane. In the book The Art of the Weathervane, Steve Miller says, “The form and beauty often are greatly enhanced by the ravages of nature upon its surface.”

We’ve sold weathervanes with fabulous surfaces that have had big bullet holes through them; they still brought a lot of money. Weathervanes were sometimes used for target practice, and as long as there aren’t too many bullet holes, it’s not necessarily going to matter too much—as long as the weathervane has great original surface.

1910 Open Touring Car Weathervane

Gilded Molded Copper Touring Car with Driver Weather Vane, Auctioned for $941,000

Antique Weathervanes

These weathervanes sold in a 2011 American Furniture & Decorative Arts auction

Skinner’s record for a weathervane at auction is $941,000, for a 1910 Open Touring Car, which sold in 2010. It was a rare, full-bodied automobile weathervane with incredible surface. The owners had taken it down and moved it indoors in 1960, so that saved the surface 50 years of wear and tear. As a result, it was in very good condition.

You have to be careful when buying weathervanes because there are some very fine reproductions. People have become very adroit at applying surfaces that look old, but aren’t. My advice is to always ask—a good antiques dealer or auctioneer will tell you everything he knows about the originality of the surface. We’d love to answer your questions at the American Furniture & Decorative Arts auction preview in Marlborough, MA, August 9th through 12th.

Read more about antique weathervanes in Part II: Folk Art or Not?

Originally published July 19, 2011. Revised and updated July 24, 2012.


15 thoughts on “Antique Weathervanes, Part I: Horses, Roosters, and Cars… Oh My!

  1. hello,I have a weathervane-its a horse and driver,how do i tell how old it is?I live outside of boston.is there someone i could contact to look at it?i bought it at an auction about 25yrs ago only because i like horses.i do have a pic of it i could send,,i really dont think its an antique but now im curious about it..thanks

    • Weather vanes are still being reproduced. It helps to look at reference books with pictures of the early weather vanes to see the details of their form to compare. There are several things to look for when looking at a molded copper weather vane to determine if it is late 19th to early 20th century.

      I look to see how detailed the molding is, because the old ones were formed by beating the copper sheets into a hollow cast iron molds cast from hand-carved wood examples. There should be no obvious folds from press-molded machinery like the later ones have. I also look for obvious wear which usually occurs on the back of the bottom of the vertical support rod from years of twirling around in the elements, but sometimes these have been replaced. I look at the surface to see if it makes sense. A very desirable surface shows naturally occurring verdigris, and dark brown patina with some evidence of earlier gilding remaining in the recesses and underside of the vane.

      Also, for the old ones, if you give the weather vane a shake usually some yucky debris, like parts of old wasp nests, insect remains, and bits of rusty metal fall out of the support rod! We would be happy to view some photos of your weather vane at least to get an idea of the form, by e-mailing to americana@skinnerinc.com.

  2. Pingback: Antique Weathervanes | Folk Art Running Horse and Ship Weathervanes

  3. I have recently aquired an old horse weathervane it is copper bodied and what appears to be a brass head! It is trotting or galloping (unsure). I have seen some online that say “Ethan Allen” or “A J Jewell” so I am confused! I am wondering if you can help me out with the age and who exactly made it!

  4. I have a Cod fish weathervane that looks exactly “like the one pictured in your photo in the right corner of picture of weathervanes.It does,nt have the gliding on it. It does have the scaling like a real fish and it is molded. Can you give a window price as to it’s value? Kevin

    • Hello Kevin,
      The Cod fish weathervane you’re referring to in the photo was listed in the catalogue as Lot 640: Gilt Molded Copper Fish Weather Vane, America, 20th century, detailed molded full-body figure with traces of verdigris, ht. 12, lg. 27 in. Estimate $1,500-2,500. We also sold this cod fish weathervane with no gilding in the same sale for $2,607. If you’d like an estimate of your weathervane’s value, please send a description and pictures using our online auction evaluation form: https://www.skinnerinc.com/appraisals/form.asp
      Thank you.

      • Hello this is Bryan once again. I just had seen you replied to my message from two years ago. Usually I never get a reply so I was shocked to see it. I still have my horse and jockey weathervane from frisky. I was gonna have the jockey soldered back on the reins. Do you think this is a good idea ? Like I said before the patina is beautiful!

        • Hi Bryan,

          It is difficult to make a specific recommendation without knowing more about how the piece has become detached/examining the piece in person. Restoration of any sort runs the risk of adversely impacting surface patination which can negatively impact the weathervane’s value.

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