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

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.”