Variations on the Hand-Held Corn Sheller

Hand held corn shellers serve as a reminder of proud agricultural heritage


| February 1999



Olan Bentley, holding the very rare Eagle corn sheller, surrounded by his collection of hand-held shellers. His collection includes many variations of single styles.

Olan Bentley, holding the very rare Eagle corn sheller, surrounded by his collection of hand-held shellers. His collection includes many variations of single styles.

Photo by Olan Bentley

The first time Olan Bentley saw a hand-held corn sheller was in October 1983.

"I was buying a collection of cast iron seats," he recalled "and I saw a collection of hand-held corn shellers that belonged to the father of the person I was purchasing the implement seats from. I didn't buy any shellers that day, but I was intrigued by them."

Nearly three years would pass until this Ohio grain farmer attended a collectors club meeting and saw an Illinois couple's display. That did it: He soon became the proud owner of two "nubbers", shelling devices used to make quick work of removing kernels from the tip and butt ends of field corn. "They told me hand-held corn shellers, commonly used on farms during the late and early 1900s, were very rare, and that I should not expect to find very many of them," Olan said. "I decided then and there that collecting them was a challenge I could not resist."

Sixteen years later, his collection is fully established. "I'm addicted to the hunt," he said. "My collection now includes over 147 variations of the hand-held corn shellers."

Hand-held corn shellers served many useful purposes on the turn-of-the-century farm. A farm wife might have carried one in her apron pocket when she went out to feed the chickens, kids found they saved wear-and-tear on little fingers when it came time to remove kernels from ears of popcorn, and farmers utilized them to procure the next year's crop, since seed corn could not be shelled with an iron sheller, for fear of cracking the seed coat and ruining chances of germination.

Homemade hand corn shellers of various designs have been made for as long as corn has been grown.