Creating garden totems from glass lightning rod balls
Where to find and how to display unique lightning rod balls as garden totems are interests that brought Constance McAlpin, Wanda Clark and Barb Buckley together for this fun hobby and search! See how they’ve made their displays,…and what are lightning rod balls?
Constance McAlpin says, “I have been collecting the rods and the balls for at least ten years now. My collection is not finished and I’m still searching for more! I see these out from time to time, but usually displaying only a single ball…once in a while they might use two.”
“I decided to stack the balls when I ended up with more balls than rods. I have 48 balls displayed on 14 rods all in my garden in different color combos. As far as I know, I’ve not seen any totem displays like these on Flea market Gardening yet!”
“I belong to the blue bottle trees gardens and collections page and I decided to post some of my totems there. Wanda Clark started commenting on all my pictures and she was so excited and loving what she saw. So we became friends and I answered her questions about how to put them together and display them outside. Her friends also started commenting and I answered their questions also. We all became friends because of my posts on the blue bottle page. They all said they were going to make their own!”
“Red and white set. This is my mini…I just found out that the white one on top is really a lamp part and not a lightning rod ball. But I’m leaving it for now because I still think it’s cute.”
“I call this my Portland totem because all of the balls were found at that show. I was searching for them. Pictured above.”
“I’m still planning to add more as I find them.” Constance tells us. “And I am going to focus on adding some different colors. Last summer I bought a lovely opaque shade of green,..my first,..and a new design in the opaque blue.”
Wanda Clark says, “When Constance showed some lightning rod ball totems back in the winter, I fell in love with them! I had been looking at them in antique shops for about a year, thinking how cool they were, but would just never break down and buy any. After seeing hers I thought I would go for it! Sharing ideas on Flea market Gardening helps keep us motivated..also, we became friends!”
Wanda:” Constance is a lovely lady that lives around hundred miles from us, about a two hour drive. Hubby and I drove up to her home town last month, met her and her family. Her daughter puts on an antique show once a month in Franklin IN. When we met, felt like we’d known each other forever.”
Barb Buckley installed a lightning rod on top of an old vintage stove. She says, “This is my whale weather vane with three old lightning rod balls I’ve collected placed in the middle. It is very addicting because you can’t just stop at one! When it gets warmer, I have two more lightning rods with beautiful, different colored balls to put out in my garden”
What are lightning rod balls?
Constance says, “The balls are only for decoration nowadays. The rods were placed on houses and barns and had a strand of copper wire that ran down into the ground and was connected to a ground rod to protect from lighting strikes. It was very common to see them back in those early days. I would like to add reproduction rods and the sky blue balls to our house when we re-roof it…I think that would be so cool.”
Wanda says, “So, I’ve been told and it makes sense, the lighting rods attracted the lighting, thus preventing fire on the house or barn. A wire was attached to the lighting rods that ran down to act as a ground wire, further preventing fire.
Supposedly, when you looked up and saw the glass ball broken, they knew lighting had struck. I’ve noticed that some of mine are black inside and some a little black on the outside that won’t clean off with anything I’ve found, leading me to believe they were struck, but didn’t break. You will find these lighting rods out in open places, with little to no trees, but here in Kentucky there are so many trees, lightning rods aren’t so common.”
Topping them off
Constance says, “This one needs more balls now…because it blew over a couple weeks ago during a storm so the farmer put a ground rod in place of the actual lightning rod …but the little piece on top is one of many different styles available as a tip decoration.
Components of a Lightning Rod
Source: National Depression Glass Association
The diagram at right illustrates the components of an antique style lightning rod. The parts are described as follows:
- Point or Tip
- The most common is the pointed tip, known as a “shell” point, as in artillery shell, shown in the sketch. The second most common tip is the bayonet tip, which looks like a three-sided military style bayonet.
- Two types are the most common: The most common is known as “tube” rod, as it is a 5/8″ diameter copper tube. Sometimes it has a seam, and sometimes the tube is seamless. The second most common type is “Twisted”, or “star rod”, also known as “section rod”, as it came in 10 foot “sections”.
- There are several dozen different glass lightning rod ball shapes, sizes and colors. Entire books have been written covering the various ball designs, colors, etc. This is intended to be just a brief overview. The most common lightning rod ball is the 4½” diameter smooth round ball. The most common colors are opaque white, and opaque light blue. The next two most common colors are transparent cobalt blue and transparent red, sometimes known as “ruby” red. The holes in the top and bottom of the ball are the same size, and the hole and the area around it are known as “collars”.
- Most balls (but not all) originally had copper, aluminum, or in rare cases, brass “caps” on both ends. The purpose of the caps is to protect the ball and to cover up the rough glass edges created during the ball’s normal manufacturing process.
- Ball Rings
- Ball rings are small rings with a set screw in them that mount on the lightning rod above and below the glass lightning rod ball.
- Stand or Brace
- The most common type is the “washer” brace or stand with three legs. These come in different sizes, with the most common sizes ranging from about 12 to 36 inches in total height. Almost all stands or “braces” were made of plain iron.
- Arrows & Weather Vanes
- Sometimes on one or more of the lightning rods, above the glass ball, there is an arrow or weather vane. Starting with arrows, they came in many sizes, but the 18″ and 24″ones are the most common.
Where to find glass lightning rod balls
Today, entire books have been written covering the various ball designs and colors there are. You can find antique lightning rod balls on eBay, in antique stores and at Collectibles and Antique Shows.