When Was -
The Weathervane Invented?

By Mike McLeod

Knowing the direction of the wind to foretell the weather and warn of approaching storms has been important to mankind from the earliest days. Strips of cloth and flags were first used as wind indicators, and the word vane actually comes from an old English word meaning flag.

The first recorded metal weathervane was a life-size representation of the Greek god Triton that was placed atop the Tower of the Winds1 in Athens somewhere between 48 B.C. and 250 A.D. (Archae-ologically dating structures is an inexact science at best.) This vane of Triton represented him traditionally with a human head and upper body and the tail of a fish. He also held a wand in his hand pointing the direction from which the wind blew.

In addition to the Greeks, weathervanes were used by the Romans, the Vikings on their ships, the Scandinavians, and the British. The weathervane is also known as the "weather cock" because in the 9th century, the Pope issued an edict decreeing that the rooster or cockerel symbol was to be erected on top of all churches, as a reminder of Peter's betrayal of Christ ("before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice." Mark 14:30). This reminder to the faithful to be obedient soon found itself onto weathervanes throughout Europe. Today, a cockerel weathervane dating from 1370 and possibly in fulfillment of the edict can be seen on top of a church in Devon, England.

Weathervane figures have since gone forth and multiplied, with just about all creatures great and small and people, too being represented on them.

In America, the first recorded weathervane maker, Shem Drowne of Boston, began hammering out silhouettes in the early 1700s. Soon, weathervanes were popping up all over the Colonies. Some famous people from history who jumped on the weathervane bandwagon were: Paul Revere, whose wooden codfish weathervane is on display at his home in Boston; and George Washington, who had a dove of peace created for Mt. Vernon as a commemoration for the end of the Revolutionary War.

Thomas Jefferson, ever the imaginative inventor, had his weathervane connected to a pole that ran through the roof and ceiling of his home at Monticello and ended in a pointer. Thus, he could see which way the wind blew without leaving the comfort of his home.

Weathervanes have now become very hot collectibles. On Oct. 6th, Sotheby's sold a molded copper Indian Chief weathervane from circa 1900 and attributed to J. L. Mott for $5.84 million, the highest ever paid for a vane.

Now weathervanes seem to point out which way the winds of collecting are blowing.


1 The "Tower of the Winds" is a nickname for this structure because of the eight carvings on the outside personifying the eight winds. Its true title is "Horologion of Andronikos Kyrrhos." Kyrrhos was a great astronomer, and he constructed his "Horologion," or time piece, with a water clock inside and a sundial on the outside. 

The $5.84 million
weathervane sold by Sotheby's.

The "Tower of the Winds."

 

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