Collecting from the roof up
Opposite page: A LaCrosse cupola towers over a Butler (right) and an unknown model (left). All three are displayed at the Albany Pioneer Grounds at Albany, Minn.
It was the kind of mission that must have made
Richard Mayers wish he collected watch fobs or ephemera or even
salesman's samples. But Richard, who lives in Albany, Minn.,
collects barn cupolas, and when he heard of a three-cupola deal
just 60 miles away, he jumped on it.
He got the first two loaded in his truck, but the third - a huge
LaCrosse - wouldn't fit. "I didn't want to drive another 120 miles
to get it, so I told the guy I'd take the two for the same money.
He said, 'If you don't take that big one today, you can't take any.
It's all three, or none. Get that big one out of here.' Turns out,
it's one of my best cupolas, though I was going to leave it at
first. Somebody offered $800 for my LaCrosse. But, at 5 feet 2
inches at the base and 13 feet 6 inches high to the point, it's too
big to find another."
Cupola collectors are used to tales like that. Though they're
huge, the barn-toppers often escape attention. However, Richard has
an eye (and a passion) for them. He knows the brands, the
differences and the locations where he's spotted unusual cupolas.
His passion extends to lightning rods and balls, directionals, wind
vanes, arrows and pendants, all once attached to cupola roofs.
Unlike those attachments, cupolas were more about function than
form. The cupola was designed to vent hot air from the barn in
winter, and moisture in the summer. The taller the cupola, the
greater a vacuum it created and the more drawing power.
Richard started collecting cupolas 25 years ago. "I was trying
to come up with the next collectible item," he recalls. "At one
auction, I saw two big cupolas for sale, for $9 and $13. I figured
the buyers paid way too much. On the way home, I thought, 'You want
something nobody else collects. Yet, you just passed up two cupolas
that could have been a hundred years old, but you wouldn't pay $22.
Wrong.' Next time I went to an auction, I started buying cupolas."
Today Richard has between 50 and 60 cupolas.
ONE SPECTACULAR LIGHTNING ROD, THE
DEVIL'S PITCHFORK (NAMED
BECAUSE OF ITS SIX SEPARATE TINES), DATES TO
THE CIVIL WAR AND IS VALUED AT
CZECH SCIENTIST PROKOP
DIVIS INVENTED A LIGHTNING ROD AT THE SAME TIME
bEN FRANKLIN WAS CONDUCTING ELECTRICAL
EXPERIMENTS IN THE 1750s. FRANKLIN ADVOCATED A SHARP
LIGHTNING ROD, WHILE ENGLISH AND
EUROPEAN MODELS FEATURED BLUNT TIPS.
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