Strength in Numbers

Corn Items Collectors Association showcases diverse category

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A husking hook from the collection of Curtis Norskog, displayed at the Harlan, Iowa, county fair.

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Curtis Norskog doesn't remember a time when corn wasn't a key part of his life. "I grew up on a farm, and we raised corn," he says. He studied soils and agronomy at the University of Minnesota, was a researcher at Pioneer Hi-Bred for 35 years, was instrumental in forming the Corn Items Collectors Association and is the author of Hybrid Seed Corn Enterprises: A Brief History. Last July, he was among the Corn Items Collectors Association (CICA) exhibitors set up at the Shelby County Fair in Harlan, Iowa.

Curtis' collection got off the ground during his years at Pioneer. He didn't play favorites: He collected anything that had a connection to corn … signs, husking hooks and pegs, seed corn sacks, memo books, handheld planters, ball caps, cups, memorabilia and more. Three decades later, he says, the hobby is more accessible to the newcomer.

"eBay's been a good boost for corn collectors," he says. "You find stuff there that you wouldn't find otherwise. But it's also increased the price. Back in the 1980s, you could buy seed corn sacks for $1-2. Now they're $5-10 each."

Today, he says, interest in corn items may be leveling off. "Pioneer, DeKalb and Funk pieces are generally solid, as are signs." His favorite haunts are farm auctions and antique stores. "It's always fun to go around and see what there is," he says, "see if you can find something you haven't seen before."

Another Harlan exhibitor, Bob Anderson, Coon Rapids, Iowa, also knows that thrill. With a collection of nearly 700 seed corn sacks as well as signs, pens and pencils, belt buckles and pocket knives, he's constantly on the prowl for new treasures. Like Curtis, Bob worked most of his life at Pioneer, and that career spawned a hobby. "I've been in corn all my life," he says. "Corn's in my blood."

New collectors have to set their priorities, he says. "Sacks can get pretty pricey, but you can buy them a lot cheaper than toy tractors," he notes. "You need to know the limit of what you want to spend, and don't try to build a collection overnight." He recommends CICA membership. "You'll make a lot of friends in the hobby."

Hybrid seed sacks are the most collectible, he says. Sacks with designs featuring animals or Indians cost more and are more collectible, he says. Always look for bright colors. "Never wash a sack, even if it's really dirty," he says. "If you wash it, it'll strip the color out and that cuts the value. I'd rather have a dirty sack with bright colors than a clean one that's washed out."

Sacks remain his first love. "I never take a sack for granted," he says. "I appreciate each one. I wish they could tell their stories." Some do, through attached tags, and that's a bonus for Bob. "I like to collect sacks with tags on them. Those tags tell the year of germination, grade, variety number, purity, germination rate, where the seed was grown, the company name and dealer name. It's all interesting to me."

History is a strong draw for many collectors, and Gerald Huebert, Portsmouth, Iowa, is no exception. A collector of check wire used in early corn planters, he relishes the lessons learned from farm relics. "The biggest thing about collecting is the history you learn," he says. As an example, he notes that before wire became widely accessible, rope was used in check planters. "And some rope has wire in it."

Gerald's exhibit of check wire samples added another dimension to the Harlan CICA display. Fairly new to the category, and getting familiar with a collection he purchased in its entirety, Gerald is still learning. "Even check wire can be fake," he says. "Some of these pieces look questionable to me."

Gerald's entry into the hobby came by accident and was unrelated to corn items. "I started out collecting fence posts," he says. "Then I moved on to fence tops. Then I went to my first barbed wire show, and started on barbed wire." Then he discovered check wire. Today, he adds to his collection by finding new pieces at shows. Although most are affordable, an 18-inch length can cost as much as $100. But finds are not unheard of. "People find something you collect," he says, "and they'll just give it to you."

- For more information:
The Corn Items Collectors Association, Robert Chamberlain, 9288 Poland, Warrensburg, FL 62573; (217) 674-3334; e-mail: lain@frontiernet.net

CICA 2006 shows: Penfield, Ill., second full weekend in July; Portland, Ind., Aug. 24-28; and Colchester, Ill., Sept. 1-4.