Antique Old Mouse Traps

Collection of old mouse traps nears 400 mark
Dianne L. Beetler
January 1999
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"Ultimate of the overkill" is the way Dave Huffman describes the mouse trap he's shown holding here.
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Dave Huffman says that feeling "trapped" by a hobby is not necessarily a negative emotion. The Galesburg, III., resident, after all, has collected almost 400 old mouse traps in all sizes and shapes. 

Dave and his wife, Marian, are avid antiquers. About 13 years ago, she bought him an old mouse trap at an antique show. Although Dave is a man and not a mouse, he loved the trap and was pleased when one of his daughters bought him another one. After that, he began trapping the traps himself.

After a while, he ran into an elderly man at an antique show and learned that the man had more than 300 old mouse traps.

"That got me excited," Dave said. "He inspired me."

"A lot of people don't like to think about the gory part," he said.

Dave especially enjoys collecting handmade traps exhibiting fine workmanship.

"I like the thought that went into them," he said.

Some wood traps have dovetailed corners, wood pegs and square nails. Although his collection includes a large number of factory-made traps, he avoids the common flat, springboard traps unless they have good advertising on the board.

He doesn't catalog his collection.

"I can about tell where I got every one, and within $4 to $5 of what I paid for it," he said. He buys a few duplicate traps to trade with other collectors.

Dave's oldest trap is dated 1877, but most of his traps were made between 1890 and 1920. Although most of his traps are American-made, he has some from Canada, France and Germany.

The collection proves that people have been trying for years to "build a better mouse trap." One trap looks like a clip for a potato chip bag. Another resembles a guillotine. Some traps are called "chokers."

A solid brass trap in his collection was designed to hang above the ground in an open position. When the mouse tripped a spring, the trap closed like a hayfork, piercing the mouse.

A Bakelite trap was designed to look like the face of a cat with its mouth open. When a mouse ran into the "mouth" to get the bait, the mouth snapped shut.

Glass traps filled with poison often were placed in orchards. Other traps look like wire cages and baskets. The grimly named "Wheel of Death" is a wire wheel cage that trapped the mouse, which would then run itself into cardiac arrest. Another trap electrocuted mice, and a pre-baited box called a "Mouse House" was designed so that a person could discard the dead mouse without having to see it.

When Dave asks for mouse traps in antique shops, many store owners tell him they have a cat. Dave then asks, "Is it stuffed? Stuff it, and I'll buy it."

With all those traps in the house, one might think Dave would never see a mouse. But he actually found one in one of his traps several years ago. Most of the time, however, his traps are decorative, not functional. FC 

Dianne L. Beetler is a lifelong rural resident who enjoys writing about people with unusual collections. She has been published in Country, Farm Journal, Farm Show, Antique and Collectible News, and AntiqueWeek. 


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