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Sotheby's to Sell Historic Weathervane in January 2009 Sale of Important Americana
A Rare and Important Molded Copper Fireman Weathervane Made for the Union Fire Hall, now Charley Rouss Fire Company, Winchester, Virginia, circa 1850, height 73 in. Photo: Courtesy Dustin Bowers.

NEW YORK, NY.- On January 24, 2009 Sotheby’s will offer in its sale of Important Americana the most important, and perhaps the earliest, weathervane to appear on the auction market in recent history, A Rare and Important Molded Copper Fireman “Old Jake” Weathervane Made for the Union Fire Hall, now Charley Rouss Fire Company, Winchester, Virginia, dating to circa 1850, which is estimated at $3/5 million. “Old Jake,” as the weathervane has long been called, is unprecedented in its quality, form, and scale – measuring over six feet high and six feet wide – and has topped the Charley Rouss Fire Company since just after the Civil War. After almost 140 years above the skyline of Winchester, Virginia, the weathervane is being sold to raise funds for new fire equipment and the potential construction of a new firehouse.

Nancy Druckman, Director of Sotheby’s American Folk Art Department, said, “The weathervane ‘Old Jake’ is a magnificent example of American vernacular sculpture and three-dimensional American folk art. A swellbodied form, ‘Old Jake’ has an enormous and commanding presence and conveys a sense of urgent forward movement. Coupled with the remarkable aesthetics of the piece, ‘Old Jake’ has a wonderful and well-known history in the town of Winchester, Virginia, with marvelous archival photographs and newspaper accounts to document its history in the town. The provenance, history, and beauty of the piece combine to make ‘Old Jake’ one of the most important, evocative and appealing examples of
American folk art.”

“Old Jake” depicts a fireman with intricately detailed flowing ribbons at his neck and horn in hand – with the other hand he bravely points to danger. The work was first mentioned in the records of the then-named Union Fire Company of Winchester, Virginia, in 1871. Though “Old Jake’s” exact origin and maker are unknown, the piece is possibly a depiction of an 1858 Louis Maurer print “Rushing to the Conflict,” from his American Firemen series, which was reproduced and distributed by printmakers Currier and Ives and depicts a nearly identical fireman prepared to dash to the rescue. Many local residents believe “Old Jake” was named by a local carriage maker George Barnhart, who is thought to have crafted the weathervane for his son Jacob. In 1895, the town of Winchester gathered to watch as “Old Jake” led a parade through the center of town to the fire company’s new home, which was constructed after fire destroyed the volunteer company’s previous post and would later be christened the Charley Rouss Fire Company in honor of its greatest patron.

Charles Broadway Rouss was a Winchester native and patron who built a successful department store empire first in Virginia and then in New York City on lower Broadway, a name he so loved he chose it to replace his own middle name of Baltzell. His ties to Winchester remained strong however and in 1895 records show he donated funds towards the construction of the new Winchester firehouse, which was subsequently named in his honor after continued support from the colorful entrepreneur.

The weathervane has remained atop the current home of the Charley Rouss Fire Company, a registered 501(c)3 organization, since its 1895 installation and is being sold in January to raise funds for the purchase of new fire equipment as well as the potential construction of a new firehouse. Two exact copper replicas of “Old Jake” are being made thanks to generous support from Rouss’s great granddaughter, one of which will continue to crown the Charley Rouss Fire Company and the other of which will likely be on public display until plans for a new firehouse are finalized.

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