Collecting German and Swiss Weather Barometers
The Folk Art Weather House
I grew up with many German relatives. Thank you notes were penned to "Oncle Ludwig" and "Tante Marie." During visits to their homes, I was fascinated by the little folk art German weather houses (or weather haus) that stood on every hall table in a German household I can remember. Such folk art houses have been around for approximately 200 years. You can find cheap ones with plywood sides and fake plastic trees all the way up to antique ones, Hummel and even Disney weather houses.
How the German Weather House Works
Each little weather house is typically shaped like a German or Swiss chalet with two doors. On the left side is a girl or woman dressed in a dirndl skirt; on the right, a boy in lieder hosen. Some weather houses show the boy holding aloft an umbrella to indicate rain. Many have a thermometer attached to the house between the two little doors, as the one that I recently obtained from my Uncle John has on its front.
When the weather changes, the moisture in the air affects a piece of string or cat gut suspended underneath the swinging stick on which the two little figures are attached. As the string expands and contracts due to the change in moisture, it swings the little figure out to greet the day.
How accurate are these little weather houses? Surprisingly, they are very accurate - or at least mine is! The one pictured here is a cheap model with plastic figures. It is probably 50 years old or maybe a little older and it has been standing on the telephone table in my uncle's house for as long as I can remember. It was covered with dirt and cat hair when my sister rescued it and shipped it to me and some of the little plastic trees were broken. I read the directions on the back and set the figure as indicated for today's weather by adjusting the red knob on top of the chimney.
Two days later, I noticed the figures were shifting. By the end of the day, the boy indicating 'rain' was peeking out of the house, chasing the sunny girl figure back inside.
I checked the weather. Rain predicted for the next day. By the time the rain fell, the boy figure was fully out of the house.
Later that day, the skies cleared and sun shone, yet the boy figure was still out of the house. Since the little weather house was so dirty and old when I got it, I thought, "Well, it must be broken." I went about cooking dinner and thought nothing more of it, until the patter of rain on the metal exhaust fan over the stove made me check outside. Sure enough, the clouds had come back and it was raining again. The sunshine and blue skies were only a momentary break in the thick bank of clouds preceding the cold front. Somehow, my weather house "knew!"
More About Collecting Folk Art Weather Houses
- Marshfield meteorologist collects folk-art weather houses - The Boston Globe
A meteorologist discusses his collection of antique and vintage weather houses.
Collecting Vintage German Barometer Weather Houses
You can find current German weather houses in gift shops and online, as well as in German folk art shops. Many shops that sell cuckoo clocks also sell these little barometer weather houses. Vintage ones are fun to collect and relatively inexpensive. German barometer weather houses such as the one I inherited that are made with plastic figures were usually made after World War II. Depending on the size and condition, you can find vintage German barometer houses starting around $9.99; new ones retail for about $20 - $30.
Large, ornate ones and antiques ones with intricate carving, painted wooden figures and larger chalet-style houses cost more and can cost several hundred dollars. There are also spinoffs of the German barometer house; Disney produced some with their characters instead of the typical German or Swiss-folk dress boy and girl, and the Hummel company made one with its trademark Hummel figures.
Display Your Vintage German Barometer Weather Chalet
Most of these little German or Swiss barometer weather chalets or houses have a hook on the back and are meant to hang on a wall. You can hang them in a hallway or kitchen so you can easily see the change in the weather. Because most have a flat bottom, they can also be displayed on a shelf or tabletop. A glass cabinet keeps true antique German weather houses from gathering dust or breakage.