Trade Figures, Signs & Weathervanes
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  • Artist unidentified
  • Southeastern Pennsylvania
  • Mid-19th century
  • Iron with traces of paint
  • 28 3/8 x 42 x 1/4 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum, gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2005.8.61
  • Found in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, this ingenious conception appears to have served more than one purpose. It was, first and foremost, a blacksmith shop sign for J.B. Schlegelmilch, whose name appears at bottom. The dominant motif of a craftsman at his anvil with a raised hammer in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other sends a clear message, which is cleverly reinforced by the small horse with an ampersand on its back and poised on a horseshoe, within which are the letters “er.”; visually it reads “and horseshoer.” The composition is further strengthened and balanced by the cutout horseshoe in the block below the anvil.

    In addition to its primary function, the sign was designed and weighted as a weathervane. The large blacksmith and anvil shift the balance point forward to a vertical axis that extends up through the figure. Two forged metal rings are attached to his back to receive a pole, while the horizontal band at bottom extends back to catch the wind. Weathervanes were often chosen to represent the purpose of the structure upon which they were mounted, and several are known to have been used as signs of one type or another. From the roof of Schlegelmilch’s shop, this finely crafted piece would have been an effective, eye-catching image.

    A closely related example that is probably by the same maker is in the collection of the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Collected by the Landis brothers sometime between the 1890s and about 1940, it is presumed to be from southeastern Pennsylvania. Schlegelmilch is still a local name in the area.
  • Photo courtesy Sotheby’s, New York