How’s the weather today?

By Sarah McNeill

The model alpine chalet with a man or woman coming out of the front door, depending on the weather, has been a popular souvenir for many decades.

View our collection of weather houses here.

But in the 18th and 19th centuries, weather houses were serious forecasting instruments, particularly around the Alps, where a significant change in humidity indicated the possibility of avalanches. Dutch Antiques, in Chelsea Village, Nedlands, has acquired a collection of 50 weather houses dating back to the 1860s. Dutch clockmaker Jot Rijks sells and repairs antique clocks, barometers and scientific instruments.

He said the rare collection included some museum-quality pieces. “Weather houses show changes in humidity”, he said. “When the air is moist, a man comes out of the house; when the air is dry, a woman does. The two figures are hung by catgut which is sensitive to humidity. It stretches when moist and shrinks when dry.”

He said that in alpine homes, weather houses were hung under the eaves and warned home-owners when a sudden dry wind was coming. Such a wind was often warm, which could cause melting snow to trigger an avalanche. Some early designs used the window shutters of the houses as indicators. One 1860s design had a single man who turned his back when the air was dry. By the 1950s, the classic, cute Swiss chalet became popular and regions such as the Black Forest specialised in making them for tourists as souvenirs.

Jot said he hoped someone would buy the entire collection, given to him by a Perth Dutch family, but he would consider selling individual homes.