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The history of Barbed Wire: From Cowboy Scourge to Prized Relic of the Old West

August 27, 2012

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 of the Thomas J. Barnes patent of 1907, some folks might pay even more than that. In fact, for collectors of barbed wire, or barbwire as it’s also called, the past few years have been a veritable rust rush, as choice examples of rare wire that have been squirreled away for decades are entering the market.

This isn’t the stuff you see today by the side of the road, although the design of barbed wire has not changed that much in more than 100 years. What gets barbed-wire collectors excited are scarce examples of wire manufactured from 1874 through the first decade of the 20th century, when barbed wire was a multi-million-dollar business and everyone wanted a piece of the action.

The market for wire was driven by the new demand for fencing. Railroads needed to secure their newly laid right-of-ways (the last spike was driven in the transcontinental railroad in 1869), while ranchers were compelled to keep their livestock within property lines rather than letting them graze on the open range, which was increasingly being converted to farmland.

Excerpt from a text by Ben Marks, Collectors Weekly. Continue HERE

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