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.