Antique wire and nails do more than mark property lines and hold timbers together. They tell the story of America in the decades after the Civil War, when railroads linked the coasts and the age of open-range cattle ranching came to an end. Hundreds of patents for barbed wire, also called barb wire or barbwire, were granted at the end of the 19th century, as entrepreneurs tried to capitalize on the new demand for wire fencing.
Functional square or cut nails, so called because they were cut from sheets of iron, preceded ones made from steel wire. Date nails with numbers or letters stamped in their heads were used to convey information about whatever they were hammered into. For example, a date nail in a railroad tie might identify when the tie was laid or, if it shows letters, the type of preservative used in the wood. Date nails in telephone poles, also known as pole nails, often marked the pole's height.
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Why would anyone pay $500 for a rusty piece of barbed wire? Well, if the 18-inch long specimen, or cut, is the only known example … [more]