10 Most Valuable Weathervanes: Identifying & Valuing

Beyond their fancy shapes and interesting demeanor, antique weathervanes brilliantly helped forecast weather conditions and wind direction for a largely agrarian society back in the day. Every home in colonial America had them, and they were if nothing short of functional.

A rare 19th century 62″ gilded copper high Indian chief molded by JR Mott Ironworks went up for $5.84 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2006.

With this eye-opening article, let’s take you on a sweet voyage into the world, history, identification, and valuation of weathervanes.

weathervanes
(Source: Mitziscollectible)

History of the Weathervanes

Weathervanes have been in existence for over 2000 years, the first weathervane was a splitting image of the Greek god Triton with the head and torso of man and a fish tail .The large bronze weathervane showed his wand held straight up directly into the wind.

Triton weathervane stood boldly on the Tower of Wind constructed by Andronicus. The tower had a sundial and a water clock known as clepsydra to accurately keep the time even when the sun had set or wasn’t shining.

Over the years- centuries even; people have built and used weathervanes to show wind direction and accurately predict weather activities.

Findings have shown the use of weathervanes in the early 11th century in England, and they later grew in popularity by the mid-17th century and were attached to wind clocks.

Weathervanes had a smooth relationship with wind clocks. Every purchase goes hand in hand, like bread and butter, as merchants used the wind clock to monitor ship arrivals.

Findings have shown the use of weathervanes in the early 11th century in England, and they later grew in popularity by the mid-17th century and were attached to wind clocks.

Check out this video.

The First American Weathervane

According to the New England Historical Society, coppersmith Shem Drowne is the craftsman of the first American Weathervane, a gilded archer constructed on the royal governor’s abode.

Thomas Jefferson built a weathervane at his house in Monticello. It had a pointer extending to a compass and sat directly on the ceiling of his room to help him see the direction of the wind from inside his house.

He also created a rooster weathervane that now sits on the first church in Cambridge. Jefferson made another copper swallowtail banner weathervane used on the Boston Old North Church.

The Society also unravels the mystery behind coppersmith Shen Downe’s Golden Grasshopper weathervane made in 1742, which rests on Faneuil Hall.  They claim that the grasshopper’s belly houses a time capsule added to as years go by.

The belly also contains various mayor messages, coins, newspapers, and other historical items added by engineers each time the weathervane was fixed.

George Washington Weathervane

The George Washington weather vane located at the dome on mount Vernon is a historical instrument built by Joseph Rakestraw, the architect of Mount Vernon.

The construction came under direct instructions from Washington to make a unique weathervane against the traditional rooster style.

George Washington was a great recorder and weather observer whose work has appeared in many publications about weather vane in the past. However, Washington did not record his findings in an orderly manner, making reading them hard.

The tale of the harsh winter in valley forge had now become an integral part of George Washington’s living history, even when proper documentation and instrumentation didn’t exist.

George Washington’s weathervane was made from pure copper to look like a dove of peace with olive branches in its beak. You can still find it at the same location, and it’s covered in gold leaf to avoid weathering.

Development of Decorative Antique Weathervanes

The most common designs of antique weathervanes you’ll find around are in rooster or cock shapes. People often referred to them as weathercocks.

Many people considered them to be Christian motifs that pictorially referenced Jesus’s saying that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed.

Roosters also make useful wind vanes because they have the perfect tail to catch the wind. Roosters are usually the first to see the sunrise and announce the break of dawn- it represents the emergence of light over darkness and resistance to forces of evil.

The grasshopper and fish were favorite symbols of Christians for a long time up until the American Revolutionary War.

After the end of the American Revolutionary War, artisans and coppersmith widened their scopes and invented new designs. The farmers liked weathervanes made up of farm animals, prized nautical from coastal villages, and sea motifs.

Other popular weathervanes motifs include animals, birds, and different patriotic themes like flags and the union jack.

10 Most Valuable Antique Weathervanes Around

This list contains the 10 most valuable weathervanes in the world and has been culled from verified sources.

Any similar list is purely coincidental.

S/N
Name
Release Date
Price
1
Indian Chief Weathervane
1900
$5.84 Million
2
Open Touring Car Weathervane
1910
$941,000
3
Indian Chief Archer Weathervane
1880-1900
$29,000
4
Goddess of Liberty Weathervane
1880
$20,160
5
Leaping Horse Weathervane
1860
$18,900
6
Copper Pig Weathervane
1880
$18,000
7
Full Bodied Eagle Weathervane
1880
$8,820
8
Rooster Weathervane
1800
$6,875
9
French Weathervane
1650
$2,675
10
Copper and Iron Estate Made Weathervane
1790
$2,144.60

10. Copper and Iron Estate Made WeatherVane

Release Date: 1790

Price: $2,144.60

Copper and Iron Estate Made WeatherVane
(Source: 1stdibs)

A large estate-made weathervane placed on a metal base which looks like a later addition, was made in 1790. There are signs of patina on the face of the item.

9. French Weather Vane

Release Date: 1650

Price: $2,675

French Weather Vane
(Source: 1stdibs)

The 17th-century weather vane, which featured a mix of flags and arrows, was tastefully crafted from iron in France, reaching 61.25 inches in height and a depth of 3 inches.

8. Rooster Weathervane

Release Date: 1800

Price: $6,875

Rooster Weathervane
(Source: Sotheby’s)

A fine molded full-bodied rooster weathervane made from copper in the later half of the 19th-century perches peacefully on a copper sphere with a red comb and wattle.

7. Full Bodied Eagle Weathervane

Release Date: 1880

Price: $8,820

Full Bodied Eagle Weathervane
(Source: Sotheby’s)

The leaping horse through hoop weathervane is made with molded copper on a matte black stand..

6. Copper Pig Weathervane

Release Date: 1880

Price: $18,000

Copper Pig Weathervane
(Source: 1stdibs)

This full-bodied pig weathervane was made in 1880 and is of the folk art period. From the animal depicted, we can conclude that it belonged to a farmer or was created in a farming community.

5. Leaping Horse Weathervane

Release Date: 1860

Price: $18,900

Leaping Horse Weathervane
(Source: Sotheby’s)

This rare leaping horse weathervane is particularly rare and was gotten from the personal collection of Carolyn and Roger Horchow in Texas. However, A company in Boston originally produced the weathervane in Boston.

4. Goddess of Liberty Weathervane

Release Date: 1880

Price: $20,160

Goddess of Liberty Weathervane
(Source: Sotheby’s)

Staying true to pushing the American history and legacy, this goddess of liberty weathervane was produced in 1880 by J.L. Mott Iron Works. It featured the goddess of liberty holding the beautiful American Flag.

3. Indian Chief Archer Weathervane

Release Date: 1880-1900

Price: $29,000

Indian Chief Archer Weathervane
(Source: thomastonauction)

The Indian chief archer weathervane features a full molded copper figure standing on the top of a big copper arrow with a weathered gilt surface and worn areas of verdigris. It was produced by J.L. Mott Catalog around 1880-1900.

2. Open Touring Car

Release Date: 1910

Price: $941,000

Open Touring Car
(Source: Skinnerinc)

The open touring car weathervane was made in 1910 and is a rare, complete automobile weathervane with a flawless surface. According to sources, the owner had it taken down and kept indoors in 1960, preserving the character from oxidation.

It was sold in 2010 at a Skinner’s auction for $941,000, making it one of the most expensive weathervanes in history.

1. Indian Chief Weathervane

Release Date: 1900

Price: $5.84 million

Indian Chief Weathervane
(Source: Antiquesandthearts)

The Indian chief weathervane is popular for its impressive size, artistry, and history. It is currently one of the world’s five most precious pieces of American folk art.

It represents Native American life in the nineteenth century with the perfect expression and patina.

The molded and gilded copper piece went up for $5.84 million in 2006 at a Sotheby’s auction.

How to Identify Antique Weathervanes

Identifying antique weathervanes requires extreme caution and meticulousness. Due to the long years of unwritten history about these pieces, the onus is on us to provide you with enough tips on identifying your antique weathervane properly.

The process is easy, from consulting appraisers to confirming their age to studying physical attributes.

Here’s a video of different weathervanes.

By Their Shapes

By Their Shapes
(Source: Pinterest)
Large Whale Weathervane
(Source: Weathervanes)
Fish Weathervane
(Source: 1stDibs)
SHIP WEATHER
(Source: Mecox)

Against the popular notion that antique weathervanes were only made to look like a rooster, they exist in other interesting forms like ships, fish, mermaids, and whales for residents in coastal towns.

Farmers designed their weathervanes to look like pigs, bulls, sheep, roosters, and racing horses.

You can even find a grasshopper-shaped weathervane at the Faneuil Hall in Boston.

By Their Aging Process (Patina)

You can identify your antique weathervanes through their aging cycle, which, in turn, can help you identify the materials they’re made from. The aging round for the original antique weathervane is directly related to the material.

The aging process, also known as weathering, is usually more pronounced on one side of the object due to its large exposure to weather elements.

Fun Fact: Deacon Shem Drowne made the earliest American weathervane.

Do Your Research

After studying the physical attributes of your weathervane, gather your results and use them as a reference point for online searches.

Online research will help you get more information about your item, which will help you further in your journey.

Compare Pieces

Comparing weathervanes with the ones you see online or that belong to others will help you get an idea of when the artist made it, the maker, and additional information between the lines.

Examine the Physical Details

You can take a picture of the weathervane from different angles for a better view and pen down your observations about important details like if your weathervane has gold leaf details, it may help you discover the period when the artist made it.

Antique iron weathervanes usually develop crusty red rust due to their exposure to air for years (50 years or longer).

By The Maker

By The Maker
(Source: rochesterironworks)
The Maker
(Source: Waltergrutchfield)

However this is considered a difficult task, it’s not impossible. The lack of proper and effective documentation has made it a task for the collector to identify the marks. But with the help of an appraiser, you can discover their maker.

Popular weathervanes makers began including marks on their names. Some also contained their names which helped make identification easier.

Popular makers of weathervanes include Cushing and White Company, Harris and Company, EG Washburne & Co, Rochester Iron Works, LW Cushing and Sons, JW Fiske Iron Works, and many more.

Material Type

The type of material used for your antique weathervanes can help you to spot them easily. They include aluminum, zinc, tin, and iron; these are cheaper and more available compared to copper, brass, and steel weathervanes.

J Howard & Co specifically used zinc to make most of their weathervanes, especially the front end of the desk. For copper weathervanes, they should have a patina finish, usually in the shade of green. In contrast, iron weathervanes should exhibit signs of a proper oxidation process and be very rusty- we advise that you look for signs of pitting on the metal.

In identifying wooden weathervanes, you must closely observe them. They should resemble driftwood and show strong signs of aging with a crack with hard edges worn smooth and rounded from the effects of the weather. Wooden weathervanes are usually hand painted.

A few artists have also used wood that is half painted after construction to make weathervanes- they also featured some gold gilding details.

By Their Age

Weathervanes produced pre-1900 had detailed molds because they were handmade and were few in circulation. By 1920, artists began mass producing weathervane; hence they paid little attention to the molds.

By Their Designs

Victorian Era Weathervane
Victorian Era Weathervane         (Source: Weathervane)
Modern Weathervane
Modern Weathervane          (Source: Ragoarts)

The earliest weathervanes featured themed characters like the Goddess of Liberty and federal Eagle designs. The Victorian era saw fancy and more complex structures- the majority of art made during the Victorian period had a sophisticated touch, including flamboyant buildings and metal detail adorning every square inch of the house.

Fast forward to the 1900s, weathervane wore a simpler form for home use. Modern designs saw an emergence of different shapes and designs that fit into modern aesthetics of contemporary scenery and figures of humorous nature. They got their inspiration from banners that stood over medieval towers in Britain and Germany.

How to Know The Value of Antique Weathervanes

Another challenge most likely to be faced by an antique weathervane collector is the issue of proper evaluation; this section addresses that accurately.

Ask Questions

When in doubt, seek the golden knowledge of an appraiser to help you with valuation by researching your antique weathervane’s history, material, and maker, including their styles and the purpose they served.

According to O’Brien, antique weathervanes are one of the most difficult antiques to properly value due to poor documentation of their history and facts.

Therefore, getting all the help from an expert will make all the required difference.

Provenance

Your antique weathervane may belong to a renowned church or belonged to a famous home owner in history. This greatly affects the value because provenance attracts clients and evokes curiosity about your item.

Ensure to do the due diligence about the source of your antique weathervane. You might be holding a couple of thousand dollars worth of antiques in your hands.

Rarity

Rare and uncommon weathervanes like painted wooden and metal variants are widely sought after and acclaimed a quintessential Americana by collectors of folk arts and early American arts. You can find them in prestigious museums like Shelburne in Vermont and Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.

Weathervanes made especially around the 17th and 18th centuries are the holy grail. They’re handmade, raw, and very hard to come by.

Patina

The longer your weathervane stays exposed to weather elements, the more desirable it gets and more beautiful because they become hard to reproduce or replicate. The uniformity of the surface of your weathervane towards the rear end that is least exposed to open air and, therefore, less rust also determines value.

By The Finish

Antique weathervanes that carry their original finish are more highly sought after by collectors and buyers than refinished or retouched pieces. Ensure that your weathervanes maintain their previous characteristics as much as possible.

The artisans used to paint on their weathervane to give it a rubbed finish, while some allowed nature to take its course through a patina finish to give it a more antique outlook.

Compare Prices

Look online for previously sold pieces of antique weathervanes and set your price accordingly or a little bit above or lower depending on other factors mentioned in this section. The purpose of comparing prices is to hasten sales, maximize the seller’s profit, and prevent exploitation if you’re the buyer.

By Their History

This is still addressing the issue of reproduction, but this time, you do the asking and gather enough facts to make up your mind about dropping money if you’re a buyer or explaining details to your potential customers if you’re a seller.

Asking the right questions reduces your chances of collecting a reproduced weathervane that holds little to zero value on the antique market.

Some antique weathervanes have big bullet holes in their bellies because hunters and shooters used them for target practice on fields.

Parting Words

One fact we always establish for our weathervanes enthusiasts is taking the time to learn about the history and quality of the item to help you know its value. Check out more tips below.

  • Should a weathervane display signs of aging like oxidationand green patina, we advise that you don’t attempt to clean it as it may throw off your claim of antique status and affect your value.
  • Antique weathervanes have gilt borders because they’re rarely painted but are usually covered in metal sheets.
  • Genuine antiques have residue of dust and dirt, so when you give them a shake, particles fall off.

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