Excellent craftsmanship in vintage weather predictors

Barometers are still a popular collectible if you can afford them. Part of the appeal is not only their history but the craftsmanship of the cases, but who the maker was.

Many factors determine the price of barometers. Age, maker, condition and the design of the case among them. However, a rare early example, with minimal damage, can still be expensive. While dealer prices can be as low as a couple of hundred dollars for a vintage, repro barometer, antique examples can fetch several thousand dollars. Currently, an English, mahogany, banjo, circa 1810 is dealer priced on the internet for $6,800. On the back is a paper label reading

“J. Somalico & Co., London, c. 1810.

Scientifically, barometers measure the weight of the atmosphere. As the barometric pressure fluctuates, any changes in the weather can be predicted.

The first barometer was invented in 1644 by Evangelista Torricelli, a physicist and mathematician, in stick form, using mercury. In 1688,   John Smith, a London clock maker, wrote a pamphlet that created world interest in barometers. It resulted in London being the main production center, followed by France, Germany and the Netherlands.

By the late 17th century barometers with beautiful cases became status symbols with a serious purpose.

The wheel barometer made home used commonplace by the 19th century. After 1830 barometers were mass produced in the Sheraton style. Sometimes their only decoration was the name of the shop engraved on a name plate.

By the late 19th century many styles were mass produced in America. They followed such popular forms as the current wall clocks, often decorated with leaf and scroll carving of walnut. Store barometers were made of golden oak, matching the popular furniture of the time.

Barometers changed with the invention of the Aneroid barometer in London in the 1840s. It changed mercury with a vacuum metal disc with mechanical arms and a pointer to measure air pressure. They became trendy when offered in pocket sized travelers cases as well as large domestic pieces. Today, the only mercury barometers still being made are those for professional weather stations.

CLUES: Reproductions can be a problem for beginning collectors. Usually they are sold as such by reputable auction houses and dealers. Look for early makers names, quality workmanship on the cases, as well as fine woods, inlays and signs of age. When the dials are ivory or silvered, 18th and early 19th century examples can fetch over $10,000, when attributed to a known maker of the period. Examples can still turn up made of unusual materials or miniatures.

Do you have an antique item and need more information?

For a personnel reply send a photo, along with history, size and any signatures with a self-addressed, stamped envelope and $25 to Anne Gilbert, 1811 Renaissance Cmns. Blvd, #2319, Boynton Beach, Florida 33426.