Strength in Numbers

Corn Items Collectors Association showcases diverse category

| December 2005

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    A husking hook from the collection of Curtis Norskog, displayed at the Harlan, Iowa, county fair.
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    Roland Thomas with his Morecorn No. 1 Seed Grader. The grader sorts a variety of corn in five kernel sizes. Roland knows corn: He sold DeKalb seed for 45 years, and farmed. In the process, he’s built an extensive collection of corn items.
  • AHuskingHook_BeverlyEgber-1.jpg
    A longtime collector of corn items, Beverly Egber, Hooper, Neb., is stumped by this piece, which she found at an estate sale. Marked with “The Seed Trade Reporting Bureau, Chicago, Ill.,” the piece features a funnel with a trip.
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    Bob Anderson, Coon Rapids, Iowa, with some of his collectible seed corn sacks. His collection totals nearly 700 sacks, but it’s nowhere near complete, he says. “I’m just a thimble, but that’s how collections get started.”
  • Roland_BobCornShellersDrill-3.jpg
    This Campbell Corn Drill, manufactured in Harrison, Ohio, between 1890 and 1910, features multiple gears. Handsomely restored by collector Roland Thomas, Mondamin, Iowa, and displayed at the CICA exhibit in Harlan, the piece is a remnant of a long-lost time. “If a guy had 20 acres, he had a big field,” Roland says. “And he used this to plant. It just boggles my mind.”
  • Roland_BobCornShellersDrill-2.jpg
    A collection of antique corn shellers.

  • AHuskingHook_BeverlyEgber.jpg
  • Roland_BobCornShellersDrill.jpg
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Curtis Norskog doesn't remember a time when corn wasn't a key part of his life. "I grew up on a farm, and we raised corn," he says. He studied soils and agronomy at the University of Minnesota, was a researcher at Pioneer Hi-Bred for 35 years, was instrumental in forming the Corn Items Collectors Association and is the author of Hybrid Seed Corn Enterprises: A Brief History. Last July, he was among the Corn Items Collectors Association (CICA) exhibitors set up at the Shelby County Fair in Harlan, Iowa.

Curtis' collection got off the ground during his years at Pioneer. He didn't play favorites: He collected anything that had a connection to corn … signs, husking hooks and pegs, seed corn sacks, memo books, handheld planters, ball caps, cups, memorabilia and more. Three decades later, he says, the hobby is more accessible to the newcomer.

"eBay's been a good boost for corn collectors," he says. "You find stuff there that you wouldn't find otherwise. But it's also increased the price. Back in the 1980s, you could buy seed corn sacks for $1-2. Now they're $5-10 each."

Today, he says, interest in corn items may be leveling off. "Pioneer, DeKalb and Funk pieces are generally solid, as are signs." His favorite haunts are farm auctions and antique stores. "It's always fun to go around and see what there is," he says, "see if you can find something you haven't seen before."



Another Harlan exhibitor, Bob Anderson, Coon Rapids, Iowa, also knows that thrill. With a collection of nearly 700 seed corn sacks as well as signs, pens and pencils, belt buckles and pocket knives, he's constantly on the prowl for new treasures. Like Curtis, Bob worked most of his life at Pioneer, and that career spawned a hobby. "I've been in corn all my life," he says. "Corn's in my blood."

New collectors have to set their priorities, he says. "Sacks can get pretty pricey, but you can buy them a lot cheaper than toy tractors," he notes. "You need to know the limit of what you want to spend, and don't try to build a collection overnight." He recommends CICA membership. "You'll make a lot of friends in the hobby."