Vanes feel the winds of change

Long ago, weather vanes were utilitarian objects, used by farmers to forecast weather conditions. Now they are sought after for their decorative appeal and as prized collector's items. Last fall, a 62-inch antique Indian chief weather vane sold at Sotheby's for $5.84 million.

"They have a nostalgic beauty," said David Lane, president of Country Weathervanes in Florida. "They've been around for hundreds of years and have never really lost their popularity."

The term weather vane comes from the Old English word "fane," meaning flag or banner. Weather vanes have one straightforward purpose: to point into the wind. When the wind blows from the north, for example, the figure spins to face north.

Happily, for those of us who cannot afford to spend millions on an antique, there are plenty of charming reproductions for sale. Most are still made of copper and come in either a polished or verdigris finish. The polished version will wear over time to develop the natural green patina called verdigris. Others are artificially colored for an instant-antique look.

Traditional figures for weather vanes include roosters, blue herons, horses and eagles. But shoppers today will find that dogs, pigs, sailboats and tractors also can spin with the wind, as well as sports motifs, college logos and custom-made versions modeled from photographs to replicate houses, people and pets.

One made-to-order manufacturer, West Coast Weather Vanes in California, practices the Victorian tradition of placing a penny inside the weather vane to bring good luck.

Usually a custom weather vane is a one-time purchase, says company co-owner LizAnne Jensen. "So if you move, remember to take your weather vane with you."

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