Farm Collector Blogs > First Things

Farm Country Collections

by Leslie McManus

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The land reserves unique gifts for those who pay attention. This came to mind as I considered framed collections of rocks, seashells and arrowheads on display in the Cream Hill Agricultural School, a part of the Connecticut Antique Machinery Assn. offering.

Outside, club members pulled out the stops in producing a very fine show. Literally every category of old iron was represented in a busy, boisterous setting. Inside the 165-year-old school building, though, sound was muffled. Sunbeams fell on dusty specimen trays assembled when James Polk was president. Evidence of an era when people held a deep interest in their surroundings, the collections once helped people understand their area: its geology, geography and natural history.

As a first-time visitor to rural Connecticut, it seemed to me that a fairly comprehensive rock collection could be assembled during the course of a 15-minute stroll – I’ve never seen such rocky land – but there is no doubt more to it than that. And shell collecting of course requires an altogether different setting and approach, as the collector is dependent on what the tides delivers.

For the farmer working with horse-drawn equipment, arrowheads offered a diversion. In an era before mechanization, the soundtrack of farming with horses was low and intimate: footfalls on earth, the occasional snorting and whinny, the gentle creak of harness, a verbal command. When the plowshare hit a rock or arrowhead, the resulting ping was a signal to look sharp.

Such relics retain immense importance for those who found them and those who kept them. I’ve visited with a man in his eighth decade still bitter over the loss of an arrowhead collection 50 years ago. I’ve seen the care given to preserve a particularly fine hornet’s nest and the place of honor afforded it in a private museum of farm collectibles outstanding in their own right. I’ve listened to a woman discuss dispersal of her late father’s collection of antique iron in matter-of-fact tones – but anguish over disposing of his collection of rocks and minerals. Gathered over a lifetime within five miles of the home place, the pieces in the collection offer profound testimony on a man’s relationship with the land.

In the antique farm equipment hobby, collections of rocks, shells and arrowheads occupy a quiet backwater. But the story they tell has real and enduring value. FC