1990 - Volume #14, Issue #6, Page #17[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
World's Largest Seed Corn Sack Collection
Mathwig's collection numbers some-where between 1,000 and 1,100 and contains a number of "firsts" and rare corn sacks, as well as sacks that were used to hold everything from car tire chains to smoked hams to rutabagas. The collection includes the first two seed corn sacks used by Pioneer (actually marketed by the Hi-Bred Corn Company of Grimes, Iowa). Most sacks are made from either cotton or rayon, and most still have company logos and advertising slogans that remain unfaded and bright. Mathwig slips a rectangular piece of card-board into each sack and hangs them for display on the walls of his machine shed.
"I got the idea one day while I was in my shed and spied a few forgotten sacks. I asked myself, `How many mole are out there?' I didn't realize at the time there would be so many different kinds. It's surprising that so many actually survived be-cause not only did the mice get them, but the washing machine did too. I know of a few other sack collections, but I have yet to meet anyone with a bigger collection."
When word got around that Mathwig had an interest in cloth sacks, his collection began growing. He placed a small advertisement in a local newspaper and the response was overwhelming. Farmers picking up seed saw his display and brought their sacks over. He also looks for sacks at auctions, antique shops, and collector's swap meets and uses duplicate sacks for trading and selling. He asks auctioneers to buy sacks for him at estate sales. Most of the sacks still retain tags with information about the seed corn. This information helps Mathwig accurately date the age of the bags. He inventories most of his sack collection in a black, vinyl-covered note-book. The listing includes the type of sack, where it was purchased, and a grade. An unwashed sack in excellent condition gets an "A". A mediocre sack in faded condition might get a "C".
Sacks would often be used as towels or even clothing. "When tunes were tough farm wives used the sacks to sew their families' clothing and make dish towels, pillows, and curtains. I remember my mother sewing cotton sacks together and making bed sheets out of them," says Mathwig. "Many of the sacks contained instructions for removing the ink. But sacks with the ink removed have no value for me."
Some sacks offered incentives to the farmers who purchased them. One of Mathwig's seed corn sacks, a 1952 Renk's, -offers to give away three Allis-Chalmers tractors to farmers producing the three highest yields of the season. "That's when top corn yields were about 110 to 115 bu. per acre," Mathwig notes.
Other rare seed corn sacks in Mathwig's collection include a 1924 Dekalb sack, a 1948 Jacques sack, and the first Funk Brothers sack. He owns the entire Northrup King Seeds cloth sack collection and has even received an offer from the company to buy the set. He has seed corn sacks distributed by Montgomery Ward, Sears & Roebuck, 'and Gamble's, and some sold by South Carolina and Tennessee plantations. Most sacks bear the names of the 16 original sack-producing factories in the U.S. and Canada, including Bemis, Chase, Cincinnati and Fulton, four companies that are still in business.
Mathwig owns just one cloth soybean seed sack. "Soybean seed was introduced just when high cotton prices were forcing sack manufacturers to switch from cotton to paper, so cloth soybean seed sacks are rare."
According to Mathwig, old cloth sacks lose their value once they're washed. "People think washing a dirty sack will make it nice and clean, but it also ruins the logo," says Mathwig; who recently began using some of his more common Pioneer cloth seed corn sacks to make stuffed teddy bear toys that have the company name across the face.
Anyone interested in selling cloth sacks to Mathwig should send a list of av
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