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It’s a What? A Whirligig?

by daryles-antiques-finearts (09/24/08).
Whirligig. Photo from Marquisantiques.com

If I told you a whirligig could bring in some big money, would you know what a whirligig is and how to spot one?

I always teach members of my antique business club that the money in this business is made in the rare. The rare and desirable will keep your money turning, and a whirligig falls into this category.

So what is a whirligig? Think motion. Think action. Then, consider our past as a farming culture. When we were mainly farmers, birds in the fields, pecking away at crops was a real problem. Farmers needed something to scare off the birds without having to constantly have someone on the lookout who could to run out into the fields and wildly flap their arms to get rid them. Enter the whirligig. It’s a type of interesting and creative folk contraption made by a farmer on his time off from the fields, to solve the bird problem. Many will call it a toy, because it brought much delight to children, as well as to adults, but this contraption was designed with a purpose.

Most of these interesting contraptions are made of wood, but they can be made of almost any material. They have moving pieces, and when the wind blows on them, it creates an action. They might remind you of windmills — folksy windmills.

I have seen figural whirligigs whose arms spin and the head moves. These are rather simple, but there are others depicting a person sawing a log or a woman churning butter. With these, you are beginning to touch upon the higher dollar whirligigs. They weren’t actually meant to scare off the birds, but rather to enjoy. These are the ones whose dollar value has escalated so much. The number of these pieces that have survived till now is limited. To the avid collector of these artistic creations, the hunt for them is a labor of love.

Unlike items like duck decoys, whose value escalates when it is signed by a particular artist, whirligigs don’t have to be signed for them to be valuable; the value is in the design.

Here is an example of some whirligig values: Two men turning a fan, articulated limbs, 13X18 inches, valued at $690. 20th Century 12” man wearing black jacket and blue trousers,$1380. Policeman, one arm and band leader the other arm, 20 inches, wooden, $3300. And, a man wearing a pealed hat, blue jacket, and red vest, 21 inches, $6325.

While there are reproductions, a close look will tell you the differences. Look for signs of new paint, modern screws, no patina, poor workmanship and materials not of the time.

There are so many items that have the potential to bring big money, but first we have to know what to look for. If you come across one of these during your hunt, I hope this blog will come to mind. And, if you’re successful in buying it, you might just keep a whirligig for a while before selling it just to amuse yourself.

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