Collectible Corn Items: The Corn Item Collectors Association

Corn Items Collectors display varied category at regional meet.

| September 2008

  • PioneerSeedCorn.jpg
    Bob Frey, Durant, Iowa, with some of his Pioneer seed corn memorabilia. A Pioneer employee for 42 years, Bob has a broad array of signs, pencils, paring knives, yardsticks, rain gauges, ashtrays, lighters, toys and bags. One bag he recalls very well. “It was a clear plastic bag made of heavy plastic and heat-sealed,” he says. “It was really impressive, the way the corn showed through.” But that beauty was only skin-deep. “You couldn’t stack those bags,” he says. “They were kind of like footballs. And the plastic didn’t breathe, resulting in spoilage. It was a real disaster.”
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    This rare button (from the collection of Gary Kupferschmid, Mediapolis, Iowa) promoted the 1942 national corn-husking contest in Minnesota. That event, however, was preempted by World War II.
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    The straight razor as a promotional piece from the collection of Mary Sue Post, Mackinaw, Ill.
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    Roger and Marilyn Sullens, Salem, Ill., were on their way to the regional show when they made an impromptu stop at an antique shop. The ear of corn on this poster caught Roger’s eye, but the couple soon found that the piece was more than a mere corn collectible: It was a family heirloom. The poster promoted a series of talks by Dr. Cyril G. Hopkins, Marilyn’s great-uncle, a leading agronomist and researcher in soil fertilization methods at the University of Illinois in the early 1900s.
  • SeedCorn.jpg
    A hand-crank nubber to use in stripping “rounds” (used in replanting) from an ear of seed corn. From the collection of Joe Isler.
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    An auction opened this year’s spring regional, under a ceiling-mounted windmill that is wired to function as a ceiling fan.
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    Thermometers mounted on decorative mirrors were a popular premium in rural America in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Bob Chamberlain has a broad array of corn collectibles, but these are among his favorites. His collection of more than 750 seed corn sacks includes half-bushel sacks and sample bags. “They gave the sample bags to the farmer who was going to try out just a little seed,” he says. “He could put it in his 2-row planter and see how it worked.”
  • AllenAves.jpg
    Multiple-hole and spring-adjusted shellers from the collection of Allen Aves, Kirkland, Ill. Patents for several of these pieces date to the 1860s. The 6-hole sheller also features a tack puller in its handle.
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    A DeKalb promotional piece from the collection of Joe Isler, Prospect, Ohio.
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    Pioneer seed corn poster displayed by Bob Frey.
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    Shock tyers from the collection of Joe Isler. Tyers were used to tighten the rope when shocking wheat or corn. Commonly used from 1900-1940, the devices came in countless sizes and configurations, and ran the gamut from homemade to manufactured. One even resembled a short ladder with a ratchet attached, designed for use by children. “The ladder made it easier for them to reach the shock so they could tie it,” Joe says.
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    Pioneer seed corn pencils and bullet pencils, collected by Marilyn Sullens.
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    DeKalb cap pins collected by Marilyn Sullens.
  • BoysStateFairschool.jpg
    Boys’ State Fair School fob, collected by Lloyd Mitchell, Freeburg, Ill. Nothing is known of the origin of the Boys’ State Fair School, but the fob’s attractive corn motif makes it a natural for a corn-related collection.
  • LicensePlateToppers.jpg
    License plate toppers from the collection of Lloyd Mitchell, Freeburg, Ill. Dating to the 1940s-50s, toppers were a popular promotional piece distributed by seed corn dealers. In this display, the Crow’s, Tomahawk, Funk’s G and McAllister’s toppers are examples of rare pieces. The Meacham’s topper is unusual: It promotes a variety of white corn.
  • CornItemCollectors.jpg
    Members of the Corn Items Collectors Assn. are largely concentrated in the Midwest, as shown by the pins on this map. A series of regional meets each year allows members to display their collectibles at antique tractor shows.

  • PioneerSeedCorn.jpg
  • CornHusking.jpg
  • CornItem.jpg
  • Illinoisseedandsoil.jpg
  • SeedCorn.jpg
  • AboutCorn.jpg
  • AboutCorn1.jpg
  • AllenAves.jpg
  • GeneticGiant.jpg
  • Pioneerseedcorn1.jpg
  • JoeIsler.jpg
  • Pioneerseedcorn2.jpg
  • CapPins.jpg
  • BoysStateFairschool.jpg
  • LicensePlateToppers.jpg
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Misery, they say, loves company. But so do collectors - and that accounts for the success of the Corn Items Collectors Assn. CICA members enjoy nothing more than contact with fellow collectors, whether it's over the phone, via e-mail or face to face at a show. The group's spring regional, held in March at the Kenny Bush farm in Milan, Ill., was evidence of that.

More than 40 members attended from all over the Midwest, most bringing displays of corn items from their collections. Some members' collections are vast and comprehensive; others may have just one old relic. But all are welcome, and all enjoy the interaction and opportunity to learn about the category.

"We have an active, strong organization with widely scattered membership," says CICA Secretary/Treasurer Bob Chamberlain, Warrensburg, Ill. "It can be hard to get everyone together at the same time but there's a lot of communication among us. We talk over the phone and learn about new members and their collections, and help each other out. That's what gives our club some solidarity."

Formed 27 years ago, CICA promotes collection, restoration, preservation and display of corn-related items. The range of items stretches from matchbooks to implements and everything in between. Membership has held steady at just under 200 for several years, with the majority in the Midwest.



CICA members have a series of annual events, including shows at the I&I Antique Tractor & Gas Engine Club's Historic Farm Days, Penfield, Ill.; the Northern Indiana Power from the Past club show, Winamac, Ind.; Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show, Portland, Ind.; and the Argyle Antique Gas Engine Assn. show, Colchester, Ill., which serves as the club's "founders' meeting." Several members also attend the Illinois corn husking competition (held this year in Roseville on Oct. 18). The spring regional, which often includes an auction, is held at a different location each year.

The focus, always, is on preservation of America's agricultural heritage. For instance, the club encourages members to consider ultimate disposition of their collections. "We want these items to stay with people who know what they are and care about them," Bob says. But there's plenty of good times mixed in. "Even though we might only see each other once or twice a year, it's like we're neighbors," Bob says. "Everybody sort of looks after everybody else. It's the kind of opportunity that doesn't exist for a lot of people."