10 Remarkable Relics: Corn Collectibles and Corn Shellers

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

| August 2008

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.