Antique Lightning Rods

Today we’re going to look at a real antique, Lightning Rods. These pieces of 18th century Americana were known to be both practical, by preventing lightning from damaging a home, and beautiful, with high decorative accessories. Collectors these days seek out these rods and especially the decorative glass balls they usually sported. Let’s take a look at the history of the American Lightning Rod and a few buying tips for them.

Guide Continued Below…

Ben Franklin is credited for, if not inventing outright, popularizing the idea, of having a metallic lightning rod to prevent lightning strikes from damaging buildings such as churches and taller homes. By the 1850’s traveling salesmen who sold these rods went about the countryside looking for customers. If you’ve seen the movie Something Wicked This Way Comes you’ve seen an example of this kind of salesman, albeit laced with a bit of the supernatural.

Some of these lightning rod salesmen used dramatic demonstration devices (collectible antiques themselves) to simulate a lightning strike on a house. Many gave out trinkets like rulers to advertise their brand of rods. As always, there were accessories to be sold at an extra cost and profit.  Among these were weather vanes and the decorative glass balls or finials that adorned the rods. By the time of the Great Depression these products had gone out of fashion.

Fortunately for buyers of antique Lightning Rods there hasn’t been a lot of fakery in the area. This area of antique collectible glassware is still at reasonable price levels and making other kinds of fakes is much more profitable. While replica lightning rods, balls and finials are made today, almost all of this work is high quality, craftsman level glass-making with a price to match. True antiques are usually easily identifiable by signs of age and use while replicas often look “too clean” although I’ve heard that you can by newly made distressed pieces. As always, take the time to examine the item for sale or photos of it along with the reputation of the seller.

In addition to the lightning rod glass balls and finials and weather vanes you’ll also find the points and stands for the rod assembly. These will typically be copper or copper plated. Some people like to collect the whole unit while others just collect a single component. Collecting antique lightning rods and their component parts is sure to remain popular for years to come.


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2008-08-08 00:36:33

Those lightning rod glass balls remind me of the Japanese glass fishing floats that sometime get washed ashore on the west coast.

Comment by Paul U
2008-08-08 10:33:40

I am taken back to my Science class.

Comment by Luxury Paris Hotels
2008-08-09 07:36:35

antique Lightning Rods! You do find some very cool collectables here! I must admit Ive never thought of having either a antique Lightning Rods or a modern lighning rod - but I think lightening is more of problem in the northern hemisphere

2008-08-10 01:06:50

I’d never heard of lightning rod balls before; lightning rods sure, but not the balls. They’re beautiful … I can see why people collect them.

Comment by trade show booths
2008-08-15 10:59:35

hi Frank,
If I was ever thinking of collecting antique lightning rods, I would definately read this article. I’m just wondering… how do you come up with your collectable article ideas? You write about things I would never, ever, think of… do you watch “Antique Road Show? Or do you go to collector trade shows? :)
~ Steve, purveyor of “collectable in the future” trade show booths

Comment by jfc
2008-08-15 14:20:05

Hi Steve,

It’s kind of a family thing. My parents are frequent antique auction participants and have been for years. I sold antiques and vintage stuff, as well as regular merchandise, on eBay for a few years. And, speaking of Antique Road Show, one of their professional appraisers is my brother’s sister-in-law.

Comment by trade show booths
2008-08-15 16:11:03

hey Frank, cool family history and connections. That’s kind of funny that your sister married an antique appraiser. It is a family vocation, if I have the correct word. Your articles are written like you know what you’re talking about. I was wondering it you got your specific ideas from google trends or something like that, or if you just wake up in the morning and decide to write about antique lightning rods. Don’t mean for you to give away any secrets though… ~ Steve (aka Mr “trade show booths”)

Comment by jfc
2008-08-18 07:51:16

Hi Steve,

I maintain a list of different collectibles that I want to write about, roughly about 30 different ones. I pick one off the list and write about it. If I think of one I’ll add it to the list. I usually do some keyword research to see what commonly searched variations there are, how to narrow down or expand the category and so forth.

For other, non-collectible, products, I look at Google Trends, technology news and other sources to determine things to write about. I keep an idea list here too although Google Trends will drive what I write about on a particular day.

Comment by Jeff
2008-08-22 13:37:19

I have a few old lighning rods I would like to get rid of. Some with globes.

Comment by jfc
2008-08-22 14:30:45

Hi Jeff,

Selling them on eBay is always an option. However, if you haven’t sold anything there before it can be a bit of a challenge. Plus you may not make as much as you would at a local antique auction, even considering the hefty commissions you’ll pay at most local auction houses.

If you want any further advice on this I can try to help you out.

Comment by Ray Eidemiller
2008-09-15 18:39:39

I’m going to tear down an old barn that’s over 100 years old.It is covered with lightning rod that run the lenght of the barn and down the sides.I cut a piece off and sanded it,it looks like steel and a magnet sticks to it.Sure doesn’t look like copper.

Comment by jfc
2008-09-16 07:21:35

Hi Ray,

The ground lines were often steel and less expensive metal while the rod or rod tip itself was usually copper or, in some cases, copper plated. Since this was on a barn, it’s likely that whoever installed it went cheaper than they would have on a house.

2008-10-10 14:57:51

Oh geez. So that’s what those things are. When I go antiquing I see these things and always wonder what they are - but so far not enough to ask.

What do you do with them? Just display them?

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