You Jeopardy fans will recognize my 'answer in the form of a question'. The answer for this question is:
"Collectors of this 'devil's rope' look for 18-inch pieces with unique barbs, prongs, points, prickers, and stickers."
Yes, barbed wire collecting is very popular. Who knew?
Barbed wire is sometimes credited with taming the West, because it enabled ranchers to fence-in their cattle (and you only have to watch one re-run of Gunsmoke, Bonanza, or The Big Valley to know the importance of good fencing!). It was a huge innovation because there was not the money nor the labor to create wooden or stone fencing and for decades inventors were searching for a wire fence that could stand up to herds of cattle. The breakthrough came from someone whose name is well-known to 21st century Americans - Glidden.
Others had ideas for adding barbs to wire, but none were successful. In the 187os, Glidden patented his idea for two strands of wire - one smooth and one barbed - twisted together. Voila! (Okay, if you've watched Deadwood, you know that they didn't say Voila in the west, but you get the idea . . .) As is always the case with a great invention, others inventors copied it and lawmakers legislated it. To find out more about its interesting history, check out the Barbed Wire Museum website or read more about the Supreme Court ruling in Glidden's favor here.
By 1890, fenced pastureland had virtually replaced the open range in the western United States and eventually there were over 570 barbed wire patents and more than 1,000 different patterns. So as a collector there are lots of choices - choose a pattern or even wire from a certain location - like D-Day wire from the Normandy beaches. So, this might be the perfect gift for the person on your list who has everything - odds are he/she does not have any barbed wire.
I'd love to hear about your collections - even if you stick to more typical things like china or stamps!