Antique weathervanes, and their windy place in history
Carved wooden vanes went out with the figureheads in ships
When a Phoenician sailor stuck a needle through the stem of a feather and held it out in the wind, he invented the first weathervane, or feather vane.
He was nearly equaled by the Indian boy who was taught to moisten his finger in his mouth, and to hold that finger aloft in the air. When that finger grew cold on a certain side, the Indian child knew that the wind came from that particular direction.
The Phoenicians, however, were probably the first of all civilized peoples to put the vane of feather into practical use.
Since those early days, weathervanes have been used in every form and by all races, says the N.Y. Recorder. Modern vanes in their resent shapes were first made in wood, by traveling carvers and later in copper by tinkers and smiths.
They were used on poles, churches, public buildings, ships and were placed on rocky points of land along the seashore.
They are now made in every conceivable design and pattern. Horses, cows, deer, eagles, ships, roosters and even pigs are hammered out in copper and used to register the direction of the wind.
The newer vanes have rain-cups, attached for catching water during a storm. The amount of water that falls is measured by the square inch in a tube under the vane.
Wind gauges also are attached. These indicate the speed of the wind. The gauges are small cups hung sideways to the vane. The wind blows them around in a circle and the revolutions are registered by electricity. Nearly all the large weathervanes in town are connected with dials in the buildings below.
The dial is round like the face of a clock. lettered like a compass and a revolving hand shows the action of the wind on the vane overhead.
Vanes are no longer set in sockets, as it is nearly impossible to keep them properly oiled. They are hung loosely, like a cap on a pivot, and the hollow stem of the vane hangs over the head of the pivot, covering it from rain and rust.
One of the largest vanes ever seen in New York was placed on the post office about fifteen years ago. It was so large that it was considered unsafe and was taken down. A good drawing of it is still in existence.
The arrow, scroll and banneret seem to be favorite shapes in vanes at present. The fence-jumping horse and the plow are yet found on the grounds where country fairs are held. but they are not in great demand.
The tobacco leaf vane is found largely in the South and in Connecticut. The spread eagle and running deer are wind signs in the western states, the deer more particularly in Canada. Malt barrels in copper are placed on breweries throughout the country. – From the Arkansas City Daily Traveler (Arkansas City, Kansas) – January 30, 1892
On one farm in Kansas: “The weathervanes on the roof indicate the particular breed of stock; thus, one vane is a rooster, another is a horse, while a third represents a cow.” – Nemaha County Republican (Sabetha, Kansas) from December 24, 1887
Antique weathervanes and finials from the 1910s & 1920s
Antique 1920s weather vanes from J.W. Fiske Iron Works, New York (1921)
We are generally recognized as the oldest and most extensive manufacturers of weather vanes in the United States.
In our business career of sixty-three years, we have accumulated not only a great variety of stock designs, some of which are illustrated in the following pages, but also experience that enables us to prescribe the Fiske standards as those that should be demanded by all purchasers of weather vanes:
1. The basic metal should be sheet copper or brass (not a combination of zinc and copper) and mounted on brass tubing.
2. Vanes should be gilded with the finest gold leaf so that they will remain bright and not corrode.
3. The letters and balls should be well gilded.
4. The spire (which is included in the price of each Fiske vane) should be of wrought iron with a hardened steel spindle for the vane to turn upon.
5. Eagles should be full-bodied with double-thick wings.
6. Each vane should be a perfect indicator of the wind.
The Fiske line of weather vanes has been unparalleled for a long time and yet new and original designs are being added constantly.