Weathervane Ornaments from the Collections of The Henry Ford
14 artifacts in this set
Before mass production, artisans handcrafted weathervanes on commission. Shem Drowne created a grasshopper weathervane for Boston's Faneuil Hall in 1742, drawing inspiration from an even older grasshopper installed atop London's Royal Exchange in 1565. In the 19th century, commercial firms replicated standard forms using molded copper. This grasshopper, copyrighted by L.W. Cushing & Sons (Waltham, Massachusetts) in 1883, paid homage to Drowne's.
The most popular weathervanes featured horses – sometimes alone, sometimes carrying riders or pulling vehicles. Makers included remarkable detail considering weathervanes' function as outdoor meteorological tools. A detailed harness, dainty spokes in the wheels, and thin metal lines held by a driver posed to communicate speed complete this intricately designed example.
Weathervane ornaments often featured famous racehorses. This one commemorates Lady Suffolk (1833-1855), who earned a reputation as "Queen of the Turf" after trotting a mile in less than 2:30 in 1843. The manufacturer used double-sheeted crimped copper to emphasize her lush mane and tail.
Dexter (1858-1888), "King of the Turf," beat the clock in 1865, trotting a mile in nearly 2:18. Currier & Ives created a popular lithograph of the race, and weathervane manufacturers transformed the view into three dimensions. A.B. & W.T. Westervelt (New York, New York) offered a "Dexter and Jockey" ornament in an 1883 catalog. That illustration closely resembles this weathervane of unknown provenance.
This ornament depicts Black Hawk (1833-1856), a grandson of Justin Morgan, the namesake of the utilitarian Morgan breed. Black Hawk earned his reputation on the trotting track -- and off. He sired more than 1,700 offspring, including most of the fastest colts on the track for generations thereafter. A weathervane identical to this one appeared in L.W. Cushing & Sons' 1883 catalog.
Weathervane ornaments most often featured horses, but catalogs of the late 1800s offered two-dimensional menageries of fauna for customers to peruse. L.W. Cushing & Sons advertised this "fox hound" ornament in an 1883 catalog. The large breed, noted for its hunting instincts, conjured images of English aristocracy and working dogs important to U.S. farm life.
Many weathervane ornaments featured animals in motion, as if running or jumping through the air. An ornament similar to this deer leaping over a bush appeared in a Harris & Co. (Boston, Massachusetts) catalog in 1878. The makers formed the body of the deer by pounding sheet copper into a hollow form. The legs, made separately, were soldered onto the copper body. Gold leaf covered the whole.
This dragon weathervane is the only member of this group still in service. Originally gracing Sir John Bennett's ornate jewelry and clock shop in London, it has been restored in recent decades and gleams today above Greenfield Village.
Makers designed some weathervanes for specialized clients. Cushing & White (Waltham, Massachusetts) made several steam fire engine ornaments for firehouses in New England. They modeled them after fire engines made by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. Many of the original weathervanes remain in use at the companies that first commissioned them.
This of-the-moment automobile represented both the latest in transportation technology and the decline of functional weathervanes. By the 1920s, most Americans could hear weather reports on the radio or read them in daily newspapers. But weathervane ornaments remained popular and survive today as important examples of humans' changing interests and relationships with the environment.