Showcasing American Agriculture: The History of Corn in America

The Corn Items Collectors Association takes a broad look at America's agricultural heritage through this unique hobby.

| December 2014

  • Jim and Barbara Sorrell
    Jim and Barbara Sorrell, Sparta, Tenn., with their collection of corn shellers.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Pride of Georgia corn sheller
    Jim Sorrell's Pride of Georgia sheller. "It's one of my favorites," Jim admits. "There are not many of them." Several years passed before he was able to persuade the previous owner to part with it. "And you know it's all about the hunt," he says. "Once I got it, it was like taking a pin to a balloon. There was just a big let-down."
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Silo climbing shoes
    These heavy iron "silo climbers" were used during final stages of construction of silos built from glazed tile, allowing the wearer to climb metal bands that wrapped around the structure. "I've never seen anyone who said they'd used them or seen them used," collector Jim Moffett says.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Bill and Susie James
    Bill and Susie James, Forest, Ohio, with their display of corn items, including hand-held shellers, tiers, tighteners, pegs and hooks.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Antique sweet corn cutter
    This antique sweet corn cutter strips kernels from the ear in one breathtaking swipe. Patented in 1922, the device was manufactured by Burpee Can Sealer Co.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Corn drying racks
    Antique seed-corn drying racks (from the collection of Bob and Carolyn Chamberlain, Warrensburg, Ill.) made an effective backdrop.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Corn shelling seat
    Sitting down on the job was essential in using this sheller, which is from the collection of Jim and Phyllis Moffet. The operator sat with the shelling strip in front of him, beneath his legs.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Fred Pickett's seed corn trailer collection
    Fred Pickett keeps his fleet of seed corn semis safely under glass. He showed nearly 60 at the recent meeting.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Fred and Donna Pickett
    Fred and Donna Pickett, Salem Ill.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Salesman's case
    A salesman's case of husking hooks and pegs manufactured by R.F. Clark Mfg., Chicago, from the collection of Richard Humes, Little York, Ill.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Corn husking competition pennant
    A souvenir pennant from the 1941 national cornhusking contest in Tonica, Ill. Below the pennant is a celluloid souvenir—a tiny ear of corn—from the event. Both are from Richard's collection.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Hawley corn sheller
    Roger Sullens' Hawley sheller. "It worked," Roger says, "but not well."
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • EZ Way potato-picking belt
    A wooden bar suspended from the EZ Way potato-picking belt held a sack that the picker straddled while picking with both hands.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Picking potatoes with the EZ Way belt
    Patent 1,696,509: Raymond B. Tresner, Mabton, Wash., was awarded a patent on Dec. 25, 1928, for his EZ Way potato-picking belt.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus

  • Jim and Barbara Sorrell
  • Pride of Georgia corn sheller
  • Silo climbing shoes
  • Bill and Susie James
  • Antique sweet corn cutter
  • Corn drying racks
  • Corn shelling seat
  • Fred Pickett's seed corn trailer collection
  • Fred and Donna Pickett
  • Salesman's case
  • Corn husking competition pennant
  • Hawley corn sheller
  • EZ Way potato-picking belt
  • Picking potatoes with the EZ Way belt

Want to see the big picture of America’s agricultural heritage? Drop in on a meeting of the Corn Items Collectors Assn. Members of that group share a passion for literally everything related to corn.

At a recent CIC meeting held in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (the group’s meetings are held all over the Midwest), displays ranged from scale model toys to handmade husking hooks, early hand-cranked shellers to shock tiers, husking contests to sweet corn cutters. Some of the pieces dated to the American Civil War; all told eloquent stories of the past.

Hitting the road with cornhusking hooks

An avid contestant in contemporary cornhusking contests, Richard Humes, Little York, Illinois, has a particular interest in collectibles related to husking contests of yesteryear. At the Mt. Pleasant show, he displayed an original salesman’s case packed with 33 husking hooks and pegs produced by R.F. Clark Mfg., Chicago.

The case, which dates to about 1911, looks to be made of leather. In fact, it is made of a heavy cardboard, a material commonly used in inexpensive luggage decades ago, stained to look like leather and trimmed with metal buckles and hinges. “That’s what makes it so neat,” Richard says. “It’s the only salesman’s case I’ve ever seen.”



Boss and Key were the leading manufacturers of hooks and pegs, he says. A smaller competitor, Clark was a glove manufacturer that must have sensed the possibility in a related market. Volume business was the key. “Hooks and pegs didn’t sell for much,” Richard says. “Hooks for maybe 25 cents, pegs for about 8 cents. You would have bought them at the general store.”

Rare Hawley sheller

Roger Sullens showed his pride and a joy, a cast iron corn sheller patented in 1879 by Illinois minister James Hawley. Roger, who lives in Salem, Illinois, spent years searching for a Hawley sheller. His motivation? Geography. “James Hawley lived in Odin, Illinois, just 5 miles from our home,” Roger explains. “We had heard about his corn sheller patent for years but nobody had ever seen one of them.”