Antique objects always fascinate me. Whenever I am metal detecting, I try to identify the age of the items I find, especially if they do not look like anything modern. So, when I dug a square nail, I did not waste time and tried looking for information that could help me identify if it had any value.
So, what is the square nails’ value? If you want to know, this article will provide you with the significant facts you need about these antique nails.
Hand-forged square nails date back to ancient Roman times, making them a vintage item. While some people collect these nails, they do not have a high value. The reason is that square nails are common and easy to find.
Square Nails’ Value in the Modern Times
Before machines became available, blacksmiths made nails by laboriously forging them one after the other. The difficult and time-consuming process made nails an expensive commodity. In fact, people used nails as legal tender until the 1700s.
However, American inventor and mechanical engineer Jacob Perkins developed a quicker process for making nails during the Industrial Revolution in 1785. The process allowed artisans to mass produce nails, thus making them less expensive. In addition, the development of a nail-making machine paved the way for creating square nails.
Today, square nails’ value is not as high as other old collectors’ objects. Unlike other vintage items that people collect due to their rarity, square nails are still pretty standard, with many online selling them. In addition, people buy and use these square nails to restore old wooden buildings and objects. (source)
Square Nails and Their Prices
You can still find people selling square nails today. You just need to do a few clicks on the web, and you will find tons of selections. So, if you are planning to conduct restoration on an antique object, the table below will give you an idea of the square nails’ worth.
|Square Nails Description||Prices|
|1900s Square Cut Iron Nails 2”||$12.99|
|1850s 1-Inch Vintage Square Nails||$11.41|
|4-Inch Long Cut Square Nails||$15|
|1 ½-Inch 1850s Square Nails||$11.36|
|Vintage Square Cut Nails||$7.50|
Square Nails Value in The 1700s to 1800s
Before Perkins patented the first machine for mass producing nails, blacksmiths sold nails in dozen. And because they are complex and time-consuming to create, ancient nails were expensive.
The middle class treated nails as a valuable commodity. They barter and trade goods in exchange for nails, with every 100 pieces of nails considered a penny.
People also heavily hunted for nails during the American Revolution. They went as far as burning abandoned houses to retrieve the nails burrowed into the woods. Once a building is down, and only its ashes remain, villagers will search the building’s remains for nails that they can use for either personal or trading purposes.
Square nails’ value and other forged nails, in general, were so high in ancient times that some families would set up small manufacturing sites within their homes. The entire family would flock together on this site and spend hours creating nails one after the other.
Needless to say, a square nail’s value was equal to money before machine-cut nails came into the picture. They were so precious that people hammered them in trees traditionally as a form of offering for gratitude and healing. In the modern days, however, square nails’ value is measured based on the history they tell. (source)
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How Old Are Square Nails?
Hand-wrought nails have been around since the ancient Roman period. There were two types of early nails – the first type had a round head, while the other had a T-shaped head.
Round head nails had their heads driven above the surface of the woodwork. Their general purpose is fastening. On the other hand, T-shaped head nails had their heads hammered into the surface of woods for the goal of finishing.
Moreover, square nails became popular during the 1800s. It means that square nails have been around for over two centuries. Blacksmith called them square-cut nails, but they are a bit more rectangular.
By the 1820s, nail-making machines became so popular that manufacturers created countless square nails daily. One factor is why square nails’ value is lower than the worth of hand-forged nails made by blacksmiths. (source)
Where Were Square Nails Used?
People mainly used square nails for constructing buildings, furniture, and other woodwork. They were prevalent among carpenters as they held wood together very well. The reason is that square nails could maneuver through wood fibers, allowing them to grip the wood rigidly.
In addition, square nails twist and turn into wood fibers, preventing the wood from splitting.
Moreover, carpenters used square-cut nails for a lot of woodwork. If you have a piece of antique furniture that predates the 1800s, there is a big chance it has square nails fastening its parts.
Square Nails and The Modern Times
People are still using square nails today. Massachusetts-based Tremont Nail Company is the last American nail company to produce and supply square nails. However, the company now uses steel instead of iron when making these nails.
Founded in 1819, Tremont Nail Company still has its own vintage nail-making machines. It has been using the devices since the 1850s and keeping them running by making replacement parts when the machines need some fixing. (source)
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Why Did We Stop Using Square Nails?
Artisans made hand-wrought nails for a very long time until the Industrial Revolution. As mentioned, it was during the revolution that American investors tried developing the first machine for manufacturing nails. This machine worked by cutting iron rods and thus producing square-shaped nails.
Jacob Perkins’ patented nail-manufacturing machine became a popular product in America in 1820. The device enabled blacksmiths to mass-produce square nails and export them to different parts of the world. These nails also had superior holding power, making them one of the most used types of nails.
However, square nails’ value only remained until the 1900s. Technology continued to advance, which paved the way for the creation of modern wire nails. Artisans began using better industrial processes, which made the nail-making process a lot simpler than before. They also used round wires for making nails, making the product less expensive.
These cheaper wire nails caused square nails’ value to wane. As these modern nails met market success in America, they also brought the manufacturing of square nails to a complete stop. (source)
Who Uses Square Nails Today?
The use of square nails stopped when the 19th century came. However, people still use square-cut nails today in historical restoration projects. It is why you can see some people are still selling old square nails.
Moreover, some living history museums also use square nails. For instance, Colonial Williamsburg has blacksmith shops that supply it with square nails.
Are Iron Forged Nails the Only Type of Nails Then?
It is easy to think that iron is the only material used for making nails, even in the old times. The reason is that this metal is highly durable, allowing it to get into the wood quickly. However, iron is not the only material artisans use for making nails. Before the development of hand-wrought iron nails, artisans used wooden nails to secure pieces of wood together.
People started using wooden nails in the 1700s, even before square nails had value. Wooden nails, sometimes called tree nails, are common in timber framing constructions. Unlike iron nails that can dig through the wood when hammered, the woodwork needed to have mortise and tenon joints so carpenters could utilize wooden nails. The tree nails pin the mortise and tenon joints, thus securing the timber framing.
The Development of Iron Nails
The earliest iron nails date back to 300 BC. Then, hand-wrought nails became prominent as construction items starting in the 1600s. During this time, blacksmiths made nails by heating iron and forging them into shape. They also made the nail heads separately, hammering them on top of the nail shank until the two parts fuse. This method gave the round nail heads the name rose head nails as the hammering made the nail heads look like rose petals.
After the hand-wrought nails, cut nails, or square nails, came. People used these square nails until the 19th century. The use of square nails only stopped when people created the modern nails we use today. (source)
Knowing The Age of Old Square Nails
Knowing the age of old nails is challenging, mainly because they do not have anything that can indicate when artisans created them. For this reason, the best thing you can do to date an old nail is to observe its physical feature.
The iron nails that replaced wooden nails had large spikes and shanks. In the 1700s, blacksmiths started creating smaller nails that they could use for woodwork that required smaller fastening. It means that larger nails may be older than smaller old nails.
Is it made of iron?
Ancient square-cut nails consist of iron. So, when identifying the age of a square nail, you need to ensure that it has an iron material. The reason is that some blacksmiths still make modern square nails made of wire materials.
Look at the nail head and shank.
Before the first nail-making machine was created, blacksmiths used to forge nails by hand. It means old nails should have signs of hammering both on their shank and head.
If the shank looks hand wrought and has a square shape, chances are its creation dates back to before the 1800s. If the square nail does not look hand forged, look for cut marks on each opposite side. These cut marks indicate that the square nails were machine-cut from the 1800s. (source)
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Metal Detectorist Recap
A square nail’s value may not be as high as before, but this ancient nail is an integral part of history. Once used as an essential commodity, people now only use square nails to repair antique items like furniture.
The production of hand-wrought square nails declined when Jacob Perkins patented the first nail-making machine. It allowed blacksmiths to mass produce square nails. Such resulted in the decline of hand-wrought square nails’ value. The technology continued to develop, and blacksmiths started making nails made of wires instead of iron. As a result, the production of square nails came to a halt in the 19th century.
Did this article help you understand what square nails’ value is? If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, are comment box is open, so feel free to drop them!
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David Humphries, Writer and Creator of METAL DETECTING TIPS. After borrowing my son’s detector and finding $.25. I felt like a treasure hunter. FREE MONEY! I was seriously bitten by the metal detecting bug.
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