The Modern Age: Collecting Barbed Wire

How do I start a collection?

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 the country 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.

How do I identify my collection?

There were more than 530 patents for barbed wires. Including variations of these patents, bootlegged (unlawfully produced), and homemade wires, there are over 2000 types of barbed wire. There are several books that can help you identify and catalog your collection. One of the best books 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. The "Bobbed Wire Bible IX" by Jack Glover has been the main reference book for many years. Though not as detailed, this book is a great starter handbook.

 There are several numbering systems to classify and catalog individual wires. One of the most widely used was the Glover number system used in the "Bobbed Wire Bible" series. Glover numbers have been used since the 1960's as the official identification system for buying, trading, and collecting barbed wire. Today, the Glover numbering system is being replaced by a new system from the Barbed Wire Identification Encyclopedia written by Harold Hagemeier. Use of either numbering system is acceptable, however, the Hagemeier numbering system is utilized in the official value guide produced annually by The Symposium.

Where can I buy, trade or sell wires?

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 and Sell is one of many conventions held across the United States for barbed wire collectors. The main focus of the convention 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 also invited to bring their mounted collections for public display. This provides collectors an opportunity to "show off" 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 almost limitless 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. 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 LaCrosse, there are other shows held during the spring, summer, and fall throughout the midwest. Consult the museum or a collectors association for time and dates.

How do I become part of a wire collectors organization?

There are numerous Barbed Wire Collectors' Associations located in the United States. The Kansas Barbed Wire Collectors Association is the parent corporation to the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum and has its home offices in LaCrosse, Kansas. Other collectors associations, based in several midwestern states, are eager to help new collectors. Many 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  Phone 785-222-9900.