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the history of  
  the weathervane<<

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".

Weathervane Trivia

AMERICA'S MOST FAMOUS... 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.

ENGLAND'S MOST FAMOUS...England's 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 design.

SPOOKY...England's 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.

CONTROVERSIAL...An 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!

WORLD'S LARGEST...Two 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.


French (la girouette, le coq)

Spanish (la veleta)

Dutch (windwijzer)

German (Wetterfahne).


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 a weathervane.

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 these books:

A. Needham
English Weathervanes
Their Stories and Legends from Medieval to Modern Times

Charles Klamkin
Weather Vanes
The History, Design and Manufacture of an American Folk Art

Patricia & Philip Mockridge
Weathervanes of Great Britain

Collecting Weathervanes

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 collectorís 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, Sothebyís, 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?
$5.84 Million!

In 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.

However, American 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 £500.



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