Change in the Weather
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The additions made them beautiful, but if the lightning rods failed to provide lightning's energy a smooth path from sky to ground (through a copper wire attached to the rod) that beauty would not have been much of a consolation to the farmer who lost his barn or house to a fire.
Until the early part of the last decade, a relative few people considered themselves to be collectors of lightning rods and their decorative parts. It was back then - about eight years ago, by his reckoning - that Ted Storb discovered the hobby. He and his wife were trying to find a unique market niche, which their Rowayton, Conn., antique store could fill, and began buying up lightning rods, the vanes and balls. 'I became interested in restoring them as closely as I could to the original manufacturers arrangement,' Ted says, 'but, while we've discovered over the years that there's a lot of history behind these things, there's very little information to be found about them. There are catalogs and brochures out there in the hands of a few collectors who guard those things with their lives.'
Another problem with restoring the sets to their original state, Ted found, was that, since everything could be ordered separately, there was seldom a single, truly original state for any of the parts. Some of the less faithful of the original rod salesmen, he says, actually worked for more than one company and would mix and match rods, balls and vanes if the customer so chose. In the end, Ted says, collectors must choose whether or not to attempt to create originals or just try to collect whatever stokes their interest.
'There are a whole bunch of people who just collect the glass balls,' he says. 'They may have a rod and stand, but they'll often just use them as a display and have several balls on one rod.'
Though they are one of the more popular and valuable attachments, showing up as decorations everywhere from farmhouses to Manhattan skyline apartments, many of the glass balls are still very accessible in price and easy to find. A quick scan of the more popular online auction sites turns up dozens. But Ted says collectors used to have even easier ways of getting their hands on them. 'You'd just knock on doors and ask people if you could buy the stuff off the roof,' he remembers.
Many people date the change in the collection weather to the 1995 publication of what is still considered the definitive book on the subject of glass lightning rod balls, Rod Krupka's The Complete Book of Lightning Rod Balls. According to Eileen Kelly, editor of Crown Point, a newsletter for collectors of lightning rods and their attachments, Krupka's book introduced people who were already collecting antiques to this new venue of obsession. 'In that book, there was a sketch of every type of ball that we knew had been made,' says the Winfield, Ill., resident.