10 Remarkable Relics: Corn Collectibles and Corn Shellers

Illinois couple’s collection of corn shellers and corn collectibles spans a century

| August 2008

  • LittleGiantCS.jpg
    Little Giant corn sheller, 1870.
  • LittleGiantCSdetail
    Detail of the Little Giant.
  • LittleGiantPatent
    The Little Giant, manufactured by Clarke & Utter, Rockford, Ill., patent no. 109,315.
  • Hawley
    Hawley spring-jaw sheller, 1877.
  • HawleyPatent
    Hawley spring-jaw sheller, patent no. 187,850.
  • PorterCS
    Rufus Porter sheller, 1838.
  • DickinsonCS
    Dickinson corn sheller, 1853.
  • DickinsonCSdetail
    Detail of the Dickinson mechanism.
  • PorterPatent
    Rufus Porter corn sheller, patent no. 912.
  • DickinsonPatent
    Dickinson sheller, patent no. 10,003.
  • ShakerCS
    Shaker-style sheller, 1850-1870.
  • CombTool
    Combination tool, 1926.
  • CombToolPatent
    Combination tool, patent no. D70,218.
  • FatherSonCS
    Adult-size sheller from father and son sheller pair, no patent date.
  • PeckPatent
    Peck corn sheller, patent no. 3844X.
  • PeckCS
    Peck sheller, 1824.
  • UnknownCS
    Little is known about this sheller. To use it, an ear of corn is placed between the paddle and the abrasive surface; kernels would have splattered onto the floor.
  • HumphreyCycloneCS
    Humphrey Cyclone sheller, early 1900s.
  • LewisBoxCS
    Lewis box sheller, 1876.
  • UnknownCSdetail
    The shelling surface.
  • ShellerSackCollection
    A sheller and part of the seed corn sack collection put together by Jim and Phyllis Moffet, Modesto, Ill.
  • SeedCornGrader
    Seed corn grader manufactured by the Twin City Separator Co.
  • DuplexMill
    Duplex mill with stand, used to shell corn, grind grain and bone.
  • CornChopper
    Corn chopper.
  • HomeGrownCS
    Home-grown sheller made from a heavy piece of wood and square nails. The sheller is about 32 inches long; a hole at the top would allow it to be hung on a nail. The piece could date to the 1850s.
  • BenchCS
    Bench sheller. See patent 96,938 for related piece.
  • GraeffPatent-1
    Patent no. 66,485.
  • GraeffCS
    H.A. Graeff corn sheller, patented July 9, 1867. See patent 66,485.
  • BenchPatent-1
    Patent no. 96,938.

  • LittleGiantCS.jpg
  • LittleGiantCSdetail
  • LittleGiantPatent
  • Hawley
  • HawleyPatent
  • PorterCS
  • DickinsonCS
  • DickinsonCSdetail
  • PorterPatent
  • DickinsonPatent
  • ShakerCS
  • CombTool
  • CombToolPatent
  • FatherSonCS
  • PeckPatent
  • PeckCS
  • UnknownCS
  • HumphreyCycloneCS
  • LewisBoxCS
  • UnknownCSdetail
  • ShellerSackCollection
  • SeedCornGrader
  • DuplexMill
  • CornChopper
  • HomeGrownCS
  • BenchCS
  • GraeffPatent-1
  • GraeffCS
  • BenchPatent-1

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Hard to say. But it's a safe bet the small hand-cranked corn sheller came next. In the 1800s, chickens were a vital part of the family farm mix, producing meat and eggs for the family's consumption as well as market commodities. And it all started with shelled corn.

"You'd shell daily for chickens," says Jim Moffet, Modesto, Ill. "Hogs will eat it off the cob, but we'd shell for chickens, and we used to grind ear corn for dairy cows. We also ground corn with supplement for beef cattle."

And then corn also played an important role in the kitchen, becoming the basis for countless hearty meals and side dishes. This corn pudding recipe is just one example: Phyllis Moffet's Corn Pudding.

Jim and his wife, Phyllis, have spent decades building an immense, museum-quality collection of corn collectibles and countless other farm relics. The small hand-cranked shellers in their collection cover a span of more than 100 years. Pieces they've gathered range from primitive handmade pieces to fairly sophisticated mechanical devices produced in factories. A selection of 10 types and styles:



Peck corn sheller: With a patent dating to 1824, this sheller is the granddaddy of the Moffet collection. The massive, rare piece features a flywheel with shelling ribs and a bat-like device studded with spikes that rotates the ear of corn. "It was way, way ahead for its era," Jim marvels. Patent 3844X was issued April 9, 1824, to Lemuel Peck, Brookfield, Ct.

Rufus Porter corn sheller: Unique in both its artistic appearance and its use (the Porter sheller was designed to be attached to a permanent post), this sheller was the product of a prolific inventor. Porter has been tagged as the first man in the world to plan and try out the possibilities of a power-driven passenger plane. He invented countless devices (many of which he patented), including a portable horse power, clock, floating dry dock, self-adjusting cheese press, churn, corn sheller and revolving rifle he sold to Col. Samuel Colt. He also worked as a sailor, dance instructor, portrait painter, musician and editor. Patent no. 912 was issued to Porter Sept. 12, 1838, when he lived in Billerica, Mass.