Weathervanes have a rich history

The recent floods in Houston and the hurricane in Florida show how important weather, rain and wind are to everyday life now and in the distant past. Weathervanes told the direction of the wind and aided in forecasting the weather. The earliest known weathervane was used as early as 48 B.C. in Greece. It was in the shape of a god: half man, half fish. The first American weathervane was used in Albany, N.Y in 1656. The best-known early weathervane is the rooster put on a Boston building in 1742. During the mid-1700s, makers created weathervanes in many shapes, including a Native American, banner, rooster and even a dove of peace for President Washington’s home in Mt. Vernon. By the 1800s, weathervanes were featured on many roofs as decorations as well as useful additions. The Goddess Liberty and the American eagle were new designs celebrating the new country. But another favored design was a reminder of a popular sport, the race horse. Today, collectors want the factory-made metal weathervanes of the past or the antique flat folk-art copies made from sheet metal. It took $18,150 to buy this Fiske & Co. “American Girl” horse and sulky molded copper weathervane at a James Julia auction. Like many weathervanes, it has a bullet hole made when someone used it for target practice.

The weathervane honored a famous racehorse who raced from1868 to 1875. She died in the middle of an important race. The racetrack built a statue of the horse, and the country remembered American Girl as a horse who tried her best in every race.

Q: When did Judith Leiber start making her jeweled purses? I have my mother’s purse, which looks like a pile of books. Is it valuable?

A: Judith Leiber purses were first made in 1963. She sold the company and the name in 1993, but she continued designing until 2004. Her jeweled handbags in great condition sell for hundreds of dollars. The pile of books purse has sold for $700.


Q: I’m the 5th generation living on my farm, and I have the original government deed signed on Jan. 19, 1819 by James Monroe. It appears to be made of parchment and is in great condition with a raised stamp. I would like to know the average value of this item or have someone appraise it.

A: The document you have probably is a land grant, not a deed. The federal government issued land grants documenting the transfer of property from the United States to the new owner. A deed records subsequent changes in ownership. The president personally signed all land grants until 1833, when Congress passed a law allowing a special secretary to sign the president’s name to land grants. Land grants signed by President Monroe have sold at auction for $200 to over $300 dollars.