A Unique Hobby: Barbed Wire Collecting
It is not difficult or expensive to start a basic barbed wire collection. It is possible to spend as much or as little money as you wish, depending upon how serious of a collector that you wish to become. The beginner can expect to pay from a few cents to a few dollars for a sample. Many collectors offer starter sets that can be purchased for under $25.00. Until you become a serious wire collector, you may want to shy away from the more expensive wires.
One way to build a collection, is to search in rural areas for wires to either add to your collection or to trade for other wires. Visit with farmers and ranchers in your area to obtain permission to hunt for wire on their land. Often, land owners will be able to direct you to an old dump or abandoned fence row that may hold some very unusual wire. Sometimes, valuable or unusual wires can be found coiled up in the corner of a pasture. Never cut wire from a fence. However, if you ask permission, the land owner may permit to splice out the wire you want if you replace it with new or good quality wire.
There are certain things to look for when deciding whether to include a wire sample in your collection. Make sure that the wire is at least eighteen inches long. It doesn't hurt to cut a wire a fraction of an inch longer, but a wire that is less than eighteen inches in length can be worthless. Barbs should be evenly spaced from each end, and there should be no missing or broken barbs. If you are purchasing wire from another collector, make sure the sample is identified correctly. In many instances the difference in appearance between two wires is barely discernable, but the difference in value may be considerable.
Your collection may include more than just wire samples. There are hundreds of patented tools for working with barbed wire. Or, you may choose to include in your collection fence posts, ornamental post tops, liniments, or barbed wire advertising memorabilia.
There were more than 530 patents for barbed wires. Including variations of these patents, bootlegged (unlawfully produced), and homemade wires, there are over 2500 types of barbed wire. There are several books that can help you identify and catalog your collection. The official book of the hobby is the Barbed Wire Identification Encyclopedia,by Harold Hagemeier. This book separates by category nearly every recognized variation of barbed wire. Detailed illustrations help you be sure that you have the right match. Another book that may help you get started is Barbs, Prongs, Points, Prickers, and Stickers, by Robert T. Clifton. This 418 page book is an excellent tool for the beginner, however, it is not as complete. The Bobbed Wire Bible series by Jack Glover was the main reference for many years, however, it has not been updated in many years and consequently does not include reclassifications made in the past few years.
There are several numbering systems that have been used over the years to classify and catalog individual wires. One of the most widely used from the 1960s until the 1990s was the Glover number system used in the Bobbed Wire Bible series. Many older collections still use the Glover numbering system. Today, the Glover numbering system has been replaced by a new system from the Barbed Wire Identification Encyclopedia. The Hagemeier numbering system is utilized in the official value guide produced annually by The Symposium and is now the official identification system for buying, trading, and collecting barbed wire.
Once a year, on the first weekend in May, collectors from across the country gather in LaCrosse, Kansas to buy, sell, and trade artifacts from our nations past; barbed wire. The Barbed Wire Swap & Sell, part of the annual Barbed Wire Festival is one of many conventions held across the United States for barbed wire collectors. A main focus of the gathering is the sale and trade of barbed wire samples, however, other items may also be showcased including carved limestone yard posts, railroad memorabilia, antiques, and craft items.
Exhibitors are invited to bring their mounted collections for public display. This provides collectors an opportunity to publically display their collections and submit them for judging in a variety of categories. Ribbons and awards are presented at the end of the show during the annual banquet.
The swap and sell provides collectors with an opportunity to expand or enrich their collections. Individuals as well as dealers of barbed wire and related items showcase their inventory and are prepared to buy, sell, and trade. This provides new collectors with multiple opportunities to obtain samples for their collections that may be otherwise difficult to obtain. Collectors may also purchase wire bundles or complete collections from the barbed wire public auction held on the last day of the show.
A highlight of the Kansas Barbed Wire Swap and Sell is the World Champion Barbed Wire Splicing Contest. Contestants demonstrate their strength and speed in splicing a simulated barbed wire fence with only leather gloves as their tools. The winner is determined by the tightest splice completed in the shortest length of time. Beauty doesn't matter in this contest, because it does not matter how the splice looks, as long as it will support a 75 pound weight suspended from its center.
If you are unable to make it to the show in La Crosse, there are other shows held during the spring, summer, and fall in various states including Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, and California. Consult the museum or a collectors association for time and dates.
There are numerous Barbed Wire Collectors' Associations located in the United States. The Kansas Barbed Wire Collectors Association, Inc. is the parent corporation to the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum and has its home offices in La Crosse, Kansas. Members of the Kansas Barbed Wire Collectors Association have the opportunity to exhibit at the annual show and help to support the mission of the museum. Other collectors' associations, based in several midwestern states, are also eager to help new collectors. Some associations provide their members with newsletters to keep members informed of current activities. Members of The Antique Barbed Wire Society receive a subscription to The Barbed Wire Collector the official publication of the hobby. Contact the museum for more information on how to become involved in a barbed wire association:
Kansas Barbed Wire Collectors Association,
P.O. Box 578, LaCrosse, KS 67548