On their ships, the Vikings
replaced their fabric flags with flat metal quadrant weathervanes (9th
century), giving clues to the origin of the word "weathervane".
The word "vane" (formerly spelt "fane") means pennon
or flag. The German equivalent being fahne.
Though simple in technology,
the weathervane has no humble past. In 48 B.C., the first documented
weathervane flew atop "TheTower of the Winds", the base of
which still stands near the Athens Acropolis. This cast bronze image
of the god Triton was between 4 and 8 feet long. Other weathervanes
of the time include a copper horsemen in Syria, a human figure in Constantinople,
and another Triton in Rome. Although not yet under papal edict, in Britian,
by the 8th century, weathercocks were familiar enough to be the subject
of an Anglo-Saxon "riddle".
America's most famous weathervane, reputedly once held for ransom,
is the grasshopper perched on top of Fanueil Hall in Boston.
Although stylistically very different, this grasshopper is likely
based on the 16th century three-dimensional grasshopper weathervane
on the Royal Exchange in the City of London. The London grasshopper
is 11 ft. long, and survived the Great Fire of 1666, and a subsequent
fire in 1838, both of which completely destroyed the building.
Sir Thomas Gresham, who founded and built the Exchange in 1564-1570
, is linked by legend to the grasshopper. However, the grasshopper
is also the traditional symbol for the merchant and an ancient
symbol of good luck.
most unmistakably famous weathervane is the "Father Time"
weathervane above the scoreboards at Lords. This vane was presented
to the Marlyebone Cricket Club by architect Sir Herbert Baker
in 1925. This, like the Hermes vane at Twickenham, is a silhouette
eerie Black Dog Weathervane (Black Shuck) on the Bungay Market
in Suffolk is another famous vane, related to death and superstition,
and derived from the Norse war-dog, the Hound of Odin. This
wild-eyed, teeth bearing, dog in silhouette, rides a lightning
bolt and was designed in 1933 by one of the village children,
in a competition.
18 ft. tall copper weathervane of a nude Roman goddess was erected
onto New York City's orignal Madison Square Garden in 1891.
Designed by American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, this depiction
of Diana the Huntress became the highest point in Manhattan,
her head rising some 347 feet above the street and caused much
controversy for its nudity and realism. A year later the weathervane
was replaced by a smaller version (13 ft. tall) which now resides
at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Subsequently, the larger
version ended up on the Agricultural Hall of the World's Columbian
Exhibition in Chicago. The bottom half was lost to fire, but
bizarrely no one knows what happened to the top!
seperate weathervanes claim to be the World's largest. The first
is a schooner (the overall structure standing 48ft tall, 14
ft long and weighing 4,300 lbs.) in Montague's, MI USA. The
second,in the Yukon Territory, Canada, is an actual Douglas
DC-3 airplane erected at the Whitehorse Airport.
England's largest weathervane is Guilford's Angel. This gilt
design measures 15 ft. tall and weighs nearly a ton.
girouette, le coq)
From a Papal
Edict to Mass-Production
Although, the earliest
recorded British weathercock was erected on the tower of Winchester
Cathedral in the 10th century, it was a papal edict in the 9th
century that was responsible for the proliferation of weathercocks
in Europe. This edict required every Church in Christendom to
be mounted by a cockerel. This symbol was to recall Peter's betrayal
of Christ (LUKE 22:34) "I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall
not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou
knowest me". Although only the symbol of the cockerel was
required by the edict, the motif, it seems, was quickly wedded
with the weathervane. By the 13th century the word for weathercock
("gallum") and weathervane ("ventrologium")
had become interchangeable. Interestingly, early weathercocks
did not include cardinal letters, as Christian churches always
lay east to west. The oldest weathercock still functioning in
England resides in Devon, flying atop the church in Ottery St.
Mary, and dates from about 1340.
Once finding a place in the European
skyline, the weathervane quickly changed from the predictable
weathercock on the church. More adventurous themes were adopted
by English churches as early as the 14th century [e.g. the dolphin,
the fish (one of the oldest Christian symbols), the griffin (symbolic
of strength and vigilance), the fleur-de-lys, and the wyvern,
the cockatrice & the dragon (all three linked to Satan and
used as a warning against sin)]. Banners and pennon-style weathervanes
became popular amongst the nobles in the Middle Ages, carrying
the insignia of their coat of arms. However, a royal license was
required for the use of a weathervane in the 13th century. A common
Tudor style weathervane, produced in the 15th and 16th century,
was a sculpted stone beast, holding a rod with a banner-like vane
mounted upon it. The Manor House at Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire
was recorded to have had twelve such stone beasts, each holding
Weathervanes without pointers were
common in England until the 17th century. The earliest pointer
found on weathervane in England dates from 1577. In the 17th century
date-piercing came into vogue, and by the 18th century copper
weathervanes in England almost entirely gave way to their wrought
iron cousin, particularly the flat silhouette. Because the Victorians
were fond of ornament, by the 19th century, these silhouette weathervanes
began to take on a wider range of subjects, from exotic animals,
mythical creatures, sporting motifs, and even trade signs. Wrought
iron finally gave way to the easily mass-produced cast iron vane.
Unfortunately, this meant not only that the copper weathervane
maker was becoming obsolete, but also that the unique character
of the hand-made weathervane was being discarded for reasons of
cost efficiency and repeatability.
for further information check out
Their Stories and Legends from Medieval to Modern Times
The History, Design and Manufacture of an American Folk Art
Patricia & Philip Mockridge
Weathervanes of Great Britain
An American Folk Art
Because the production of copper
weathervanes truly blossomed in America for much of the 18th
and 19th centuries, they have recently become one of the hottest
collector’s items at auction; brought indoors and displayed
for their beauty and craftsmanship, retired from the onslaught
of the winds. Up until very recently, the record price paid
for an antique copper weathervane was $700,000 (copper horse
and rider, Sotheby’s, New York). In January 2006, this price
was topped by a weathervane of a figure of Liberty going for
$1.08 million (Christie's, New York), and in August, a train
weathervane for $1.2 million (New Hampshire-based Northeast
Auctions). On October 6, 2006, a new record was set. A 5'2"
copper weathervane of an Indian Cheif, formerly mounted on Henry
Ford's granddaughter's Michigan home, was purchased by Jerry
Lauren (executive vice president at Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.)
The price paid?
England the record at Christie's for a gilt Galleon was £14,000
Since the Industrial
Revolution, steel silhouette weathervanes have dominated the
English skyline, and no real tendency to label the weathervane
as an artform or a cultural icon exists. In America, however,
a feircely competitive environment has existed between weathervane
manufacturers for nearly 200 years, raising them to the status
of a folk art. Many copper designs from big companies like
Washburn and Fiske, have been pirated and repeated (e.g. the
mermaid and the trotting horse). This has created what is
today a large, and somewhat eclectic selection of "traditional"
themes, ranging from peaocks to airplanes to quill pens.
mould-made copper weathervanes have only recently become available
in England. These mass-produced copper vanes are hammered
or pressed into moulds, using a cheap labour market in Asia,
and painted with chemical patinas. Most of the themes are
based on the American classics and retail from £80 to