An excerpt from the Farm Implement News shows the effect of binder twine prices on farm implement dealers.
Cover of "The Story of Twine" showing a sisal plant and a finished ball of twine.
Farm implement dealers were often in a quandary about when to buy their stock of binder twine, as this humorous June 1893 letter from a dealer to The Farm Implement News points out.
"Last winter when the twine sellers opened the campaign of ’93, prices were made on the basis of sisal at 8-1/2 cents. Many dealers bought readily, some in quantity. The price was not high (and) it was believed that the twine market was at last upon a solid basis.
“Alas for human confidence, alas for the signs of the times, it was a thing that is not to be. At the opening of harvest, before many farmers had bought their twine, the axe is swinging menacingly above the price, cleaving the early quotations and the early buyer’s hopes.
“Oh, the pity of it, Horatio. Here is the dealer who paid last winter’s prices. In his window hangs a black-and-white sign that says he has twine at such and such a price. Across the street is his competitor, who last winter was either shy or indifferent. A postcard lays upon his desk and his senses revel in delight as he reads: ‘Sisal at 7-1/2 cents; manila, 8-1/2 cents; pure manila, 9-1/2 cents; telegraph orders at our expense.’ No need to buy a carload or risk money up front. Just send a message C.O.D. and get 300, 500 or 1,000 pounds at the 200-ton price.
“Is it strange that the black-and-white sign across the way disappears? Or that the man who removed it says things unfit for publication, and makes plans to thrash the first drummer who has the temerity to say ‘twine’ to him next fall?
“Of course the cut prices increased sales. Of course the farmers were wantonly extravagant, and where two pounds were enough for an acre, they used four because it was cheap. Of course they stumbled over each other in mad endeavor to get twine to fix their fences instead of using wire. Of course they played football with it and made fishing lines. Doubtless there will be a homemade hammock of binder twine on every farm, and every parlor picture will be hung on a new piece of sisal. Next winter there will be ‘weaving bees’ to use up the vast surplus twine which farmers bought because it was cheap, and before spring every farm house will be resplendent with twine tidies, twine chair covers and twine mats. The rag rug will be replaced with one of twine. Next spring the horses will prance around in fly nets made of twine, and the hired man will wear a pair of twine overalls. The whole farm will be one grand panorama of sisal, half and half, and manila.
“How horrible would have been the result if the first price had been maintained? Every poor, downtrodden farmer would have been able to buy only enough for tying up his grain. Horror of horrors! Think of it, just enough, and no more!
“Think it over, and then join me in wondering, ‘Where did things go so wrong?’”
So, just as today, the lot of a farm implement dealer was hard, although the “poor, downtrodden” farmer, resplendent in his new twine overalls, may not have agreed. By the way, binder twine is still available; I priced a single ball at the local AGCO store and it costs $14.99 per ball as opposed to 65 to 75 cents ($16 to 19 today) per ball back then. FC
Learn more about twine in Binder Twine an Early Necessity for Harvesting.