This late 19th-century weathervane is a full-bodied horse with a cast zinc head and a sulky driver with cast head and boots. It was made by Fiske & Co. The 45-inch-long vane cost more than $18,000. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)

This late 19th-century weathervane is a full-bodied horse with a cast zinc head and a sulky driver with cast head and boots. It was made by Fiske & Co. The 45-inch-long vane cost more than $18,000. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)

The art and science of weathervanes

They told the direction of the wind and aided in forecasting the, well, weather.

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, New York, 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 Mount 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 bullethole made when someone used it for target practice.

The weathervane honored a famous racehorse who raced from 1868 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 fifth generation living on my farm, and I have the original government deed signed 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 more than $300.

Q: About 20 years ago, my wife and I got a decorated set of dishes for eight, which were manufactured in England. We are at least the second generation to use them. The inscription on the gravy boat reads “Staffordshire Old Granite Made in England Johnson Bros. A Genuine Hand Engraving, All Decoration with the Glaze Detergent & Acid Resisting Colour, Gretchen.” Are our dishes a worthwhile collectible?

A: Johnson Brothers was founded by Alfred and Frederick Johnson in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, in 1883. The company became part of the Waterford Wedgwood Group in 1995. Production in England stopped in 2003. Johnson Brothers made Gretchen pattern dinnerware from 1974 to 1978. Gretchen Blue has blue flowers and leaves. Gretchen Green has red and yellow flowers and green leaves.

Sets of dinnwerware are hard to sell, but you might be able to sell some or all of it to a matching or replacement service. The retail price is about $45 for a five-piece place setting. You probably will have trouble selling the set for more than $200.

Q: I have a book titled “ZRS-4 Ring Laying” by Goodyear Zeppelin, Akron, Ohio, U.S.A. Nov. 7, 1929, in good condition. I am interested in its value.

A: Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation was formed in 1923, when Goodyear, an Akron company, and Zeppelin, a German company, began working together. The ZRS-4 was a helium-filled rigid aircraft carrier made for the U.S. Navy and, when built, was the largest airship ever made in the United States. It could carry, launch and retrieve five Sparrowhawk biplanes, which were used for reconnaissance. Construction started on Oct. 31, and the “golden rivet” was driven into the ship’s keel ring on Nov. 7. The ZRS-4 was christened the USS Akron when construction was finished in 1931.

Booklets and medals commemorating the ring-laying ceremony were made. The USS Akron crashed in a weather-related incident in 1933. The commemorative medals have sold for about $100 in recent years. You should contact an antiquarian book dealer to see what your book is worth.

Tip: Never display a stuffed trophy in bright sunlight. Feathers and hair become stiff and brittle, and colors fade.

Current prices

Current prices are recorded from antiques shows, flea markets, sales and auctions throughout the United States. Prices vary in different locations because of local economic conditions.

Abingdon, planter, yellow, sprigs, boat shape, reeded, scroll ends, circa 1945, 4 by 9 inches, $20.

ABC plate, “Mary Had A Little Lamb” nursery rhyme, embossed, tin, circa 1885, 8 inches, $75.

Boot sole, aluminum, cleats, rivet holes on rim, Overland Shoe Co., marked, circa 1916, 10 inches, $165.

Jack-o’-lantern candy container, clear glass pumpkin with orange metal lid, circa 1905, 4 by 4 inches, $205.

Cane, shark spine vertebrae, ivory handle, monogram, wood ferrule, c. 1900, 37 inches, $210.

Captain Marvel ring, compass, rocket raider, lighting bolt, brass, enamel, adjustable, circa 1946, $253.

Bitters bottle, Holtzermann’s Patent Stomach, cabin, red amber, label, 1880-95, 9¾ inches, $520.

Dog head box, glass eyes, collar, Loures Barbazan, Black Forest, circa 1880, 7 inches, $600.

Gambling table, painted wood, folding top with red devil figure as base, street grifter stand, New York, 1920s, 37 by 18 inches, $650.

Teddy bear, gold velvet velour stuffed with wood shavings and jointed plastic eyes, German, Gottfried Kraeber “Gokra,” circa 1945, 18 inches, $795.

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