Whirligigs – Antiques Snippets

Commonly asked questions and misunderstandings about antiques…and the odd or end fascinating bit!

Nantucket Antiques | WhirlygigsVisitors to New England have long been fascinated by the whimsical and colorful spinning ornaments and weathervanes often seen busy on porch railings or fences. In tourist areas one will often find whole yards populated by these mad little dervishes, hand-made and offered for sale. Nantucket itself was famous for eponymous Sailor Boy whirligigs fashioned in the late 19th & early 20th centuries by Chase, Pierce, Sandsbury, Lincoln Ceeley and others.

While the word itself dates back to the 15th century, referring to a child’s spinning top, the history of the yard ornaments is more elusive. Artwork from the Middle Ages show children carrying such pinwheel like devices. Wonderful folk art whirligigs from centuries past are known from the Ukraine and Russia where they were used as scarecrows. They were present in America since the 18th Century at least: George Washington brought some home that he picked up somewhere during the Revolutionary War, and Washington Irving referred in 1819 (in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow) to “a little wooden warrior who, armed with a sword in each hand, was most valiantly fighting the wind on the pinnacle of the barn.” By the 19th century, whirligigs were known to be commonly crafted by both farmers and sailors. They remain a delight for both the young and old.

Antiques Snippets are provided by Jack Fritsch, proprietor of the Antiques Depot at 2 S. Beach Street (across from Nantucket Yacht Club) .