Treasure: Clear skies ahead for barometer’s value

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

This time of year, few of us need reminders of the frigid temperatures outside our doors. While some attempt to escape the weather, others embrace it by collecting vintage barometers, says independent appraiser Brian Thomczek, who recently took a look at an example at a Trash or Treasure session held at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy. He shared some thoughts on the “hot” collectible with Grace Birney of Beverly Hills, who brought in an ornate, gold-framed French barometer she inherited from her father, Albert Wagner.

“He owned Wagner Oldsmobile on Woodward in Detroit and was always buying stuff,” she explained. “People would come in with paintings and things and he was a soft touch. He may have bought this then but we don’t really know. … he was interested in lots of things, and liked scientific items.”

Grace, however, has long had mixed feelings about the piece, which she hung on the wall in the couple’s dining room. “I never really liked it, but it reminds me of my dad because we knew he liked it. He always said the crack in it would get bigger and smaller and measured the humidity. Looking back, I wish we had asked him more about some of the things he bought.”

Thomczek couldn’t confirm that crack served any useful purpose, but did say that the piece definitely had age, possibly dating as early as the 19th century. He identified as it European because of the writing and other clues — including painted words on the face such as “Flouet,” “Quai de la Rapee, Paris,” and “Selon Toricelli,” along with words for various weather conditions, such as “Pluie.” Google searches turned up a variety of references on European auction sites to “Flouet” as a possible French manufacturer and “Toriceli” could be a type of thermometer developed by Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647), who according to inventors.about.com, was a mathematician and physicist who worked with Galileo and first used mercury and a tube about 1644 to measure air pressure changes. More information on the history and collectibility of antique barometers was found at collectorsweekly.com, on the site maintained by U.K. antique dealers Derek and Tina Rayment (antique-barometers.com) and at carters.com.au/, part of the Australian-based Carter’s Price Guide to Antiques.

Thomczek said that he hasn’t seen many of these in his time appraising antiques. He also said that it had a few condition issues — including the questionable crack — but that the gold and wood frame is especially attractive and would have value even without its interior barometric workings.

He valued the barometer at $400-$500 at auction. Given that, Grace said she’d consider selling it if her children and 20 grandchildren weren’t interested in keeping it.

“We are hoping to move,” she explained. “You have to have a special place for something like this. Our place has always been more casual.” While it does remind her of her dad, she thinks he’d understand if they eventually sold it. “I don’t feel like he’d haunt me if I got rid of it. It is pretty, but we’re going to go smaller and that’s kind of a large piece.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to trashortreas@aol.com. If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.

About this object

Item : Vintage French barometer

Owner : Grace Birney, Beverly Hills

Appraised by : Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser

Estimated value : $400-$500 at auction