As told by Ralph Raynard
I had worked for Max Webber, Inc. from 1946 to 1952 part time, while going to school. After graduation, I was drafted into the U.S. Air Force. After 2 years of military service during the Korean War, I was honorably discharged in July of 1954. That summer, I visited Mr. & Mrs. Webber and weathervanes came into the conversation. Max said that the old vanes were getting harder to find, and the prices were really going up. I said that I thought that I could buy all the old vanes he needed from the old barns in New England. Max said: “Go ahead, I’ll take all you can find”. After one month, I had not been able to buy one vane! Family heirloom, weather forecaster, good luck charm -- a long, long list of why no one wanted to sell.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the shortage was Mr. Simon Malatsky, the junk dealer from Chelsea, MA. On Nov. 9, 1939, Mr. Malatsky had purchased the weathervane molds of L. W. Cushing & Sons of Waltham, MA. Mr. Malatsky was making vanes from the Cushing molds, using old, antiqued, copper scrap and selling the vanes mostly to antique dealers. In 1953, through Boris Mirsky, a Boston antique dealer, Mr. Malatsky sold the Cushing molds to Edith Halpert of Downtown Gallery, New York City. In 1954, she reproduced a limited number of vanes for public sale, and said that she was going to retire the Cushing molds, and donate them to a museum.
Max wondered if a mold could be made from an old vane, and then reproduced. I said: “Let’s find out”. Max and I picked out an old horse vane, the 31” Smuggler (W-296), from his inventory. I took Smuggler
to a former teacher in the Metallurgy Department of MIT. He said it looked feasible and might be a good project for the MIT foundry. He gave us a tentative price, we said go ahead, it worked out. We soon had 4 more old vanes in the works from Max’s inventory: the 21” Rooster (W292), 28” Cow (W40), 27” Eagle (W79), and Sulky (W290).
In the fall of 1954, we were organizing as a business. We decided to form a partnership, both putting about 3000 dollars into the enterprise. We signed a lease with my parents for an empty chicken coop behind their house, last used during WWII, for 60 dollars a year. I enrolled in a metalworking class at the Haverhill Trade School in order to learn how to use various sheet metal equipment, how to solder, and how to finish metal. We also decided to reproduce old lanterns from actual lanterns, from illustrations in old catalogs, and from our own ideas. This all came together when a partnership agreement was signed on January 3,1955 between Max and me, dba New England Weathervane & Lantern Co. I was to be the operating partner, my salary was 220 dollars a month, and we would split any profits.
We hired and trained local residents to do the forming, soldering, and finishing: Bud Tinkham, Chick Masse, Milt Pollock, Charlie Clinch, Den Luscomb, Carl Ohlson, and Ed Raynard among others. We paid a flat price for forming each piece, with a 25 cent deduction for any break in the copper. I was on the road selling from Maine to Pennsylvania, or training workers, or purchasing, or doing whatever paperwork necessary. While on the road selling, I would look in the local Yellow Pages under Weathervanes to find potential customers.
In New York City, there was a large listing for E.G. Washburne & Co. - Since 1853 at 207 Fulton Street. I went there. It was a 3 story building, with a delicatessen on the 1st floor; I walked up a long flight of steps to the 2nd floor, knocked on the door, and met Charlie Kessler. Charlie had worked for E.G. Washburne, the son of the founder Isaiah Washburne. Weathervanes, lightning rods, flagpole eagles, and flagpole balls were their products going back to 1853. In 1955, the Washburne company was a partnership of 2 women: Marie Kessler - Charlie’s wife, and Mildred Doty - E.G. Washburn’s daughter. Charlie, in his early 70’s was the chief cook and bottle washer, now making vanes and flagpole finials for their customers all over the USA. Every time I was in New York City, I saw Charlie and learned a great deal.
In late 1955, I told Charlie, on one visit, that I would be making a sales trip in the coming Winter all around the USA during Feb, Mar & Apr of 1956 – going south to Louisiana then west to California, then north to Oregon, then east to Chicago, and finally home. Charlie asked if I would call on some of his customers, and he would pay a commission on any Washburne items they bought. We shook hands on it, and I left Middleton on Feb. 3, 1956 with a station wagon full of vanes – heading south. The trip was a great success, we gained many new customers, sold many vanes, and I was able to assess the customers of E.G. Washburne & Co. In California, I stayed with Marcia and Harris Goldberg, I returned to Middleton in early May 1956.
After I returned, I visited Charlie in New York City to settle up. After a long chat about the trip, Charlie said: “Do you want to buy me out”? I said: “Let me think about it.” I immediately got together with Max to discuss what Charlie wanted. We agreed that it was a good deal, but Max did not want to take on a $50,000 dollar obligation. He said: “You can do it yourself, let’s dissolve the partnership, split the assets, then I wont be in your way. On Aug. 1, 1956, Max and I signed A Dissolution of Partnership. On Aug. 2, 1956, I signed a purchase and sale agreement for all the assets of E.G. Washburne & Co. with the 2 partners: Marie Kessler and Mildred Doty. This purchase of Washburne expanded the weathervane sales from a local to a national business, now with manufacturer representatives covering the major USA markets. I dropped the New England Weathervane & Lantern Co. trade name and did business as E.G. Washburne & Co. – Since 1853. I operated at both the New York City and Middleton locations for a few months. But when New York City notified the taking of the Fulton Street building by eminent domain to tear it down to make space to erect the Twin Towers, I moved the Fulton Street operation to Middleton – Fall of 1956. The Fulton Street location was part of the 9/11 attack.
Teresa and I were married on Feb. 3, 1957. She soon became active in the business. She had a real talent for gold leafing and supervised that part of the work. She used over 2000 leaves to gold leaf the New Hampshire State House Eagle - 6’ 6” high by 4’ 10” wide – that we made in copper to replace the decaying carved wood Eagle erected in 1818. The new gilded copper Eagle was erected on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1957. The old wooden Eagle was consigned to the New Hampshire Historical Society for display. The State of New Hampshire wanted a 25 year warranty, to which we agreed, that expired in 1982. We did many other custom jobs; the Peacock vane for the MFA Catalog, the Patchen vane for the Rockefeller Catalog, the Seagull vane for the Seabrook Town Hall, and the six foot Fish vane for the Middleton Congregational Church among others.
We were up to 4 full time and 8 part time employees. The chicken coop was getting crowded! We were renting the garage of one neighbor and the barn of another neighbor to store our raw materials, shipping cartons, and finished goods. The molds were stored in the space outside, underneath the chicken coop floor. In Sept. 1957, Teresa and I bought the land on Route 114 in Danvers. We hired an architect – Gordon Sherman, began construction in 1958, and moved into the new Danvers building in Feb 1959. We expanded into retail sales, especially stoves, fireplace equipment, lawn furniture, BBQ grills, flagpoles and flags for income during our slow season. When E.G. Washburne & Co. was sold on July 2, 1984, we had 15 full time employees. We retained ownership of the weathervane molds, patterns, and tools and let the new owners use them for 1 dollar a year. I continued to work for the new owners until Jan. 1, 1985. They discontinued making vanes in 1991 when one of the two partners died. We then took possession of the molds, patterns, and tools on Sept 25, 1991 and never used them again. Teresa & I did volunteer work and traveled around the world until she died in 2003.
Then, on Oct. 13, 2011, Jonathan Webber, grandson of my former partner Max Webber, purchased all the weathervane molds, patterns, and tools from me and moved them to Seabrook, NH. He gave the business to his wife Lee and New England Weathervane Shop was born.
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