Friday, April 23, 2010

Cobalt Blue Salmon Pillow With A Date Nail In It's Mouth


Since the "cobalt blue salmon pillow" portion of our title is certainly self-explanatory, TSG supposes our readers are wondering, "What the heck is a date nail?"

Well, friends, wonder no more!

Date nails were invented in Europe the 1860s as a way to assess wood treatments used for railroad ties.  Nail heads were stamped with the date and driven into ties (and later, telephone poles) to keep a record of how well various treatments worked in preserving the wood. This method was adopted by railroads in the US some years later; the earliest know example being from 1897.

TSG encountered an amazing display of these bits of railroad arcana while visiting the Western American Railroad Museum (WARM) in Barstow, California. The exhibit pictured below is the result on one man's obsession...since 1969, Albert Gustafson has traveled the 50 states and Europe "pulling nails".  He has amassed the largest collection in the world.

Albert likes to mount his nails in a felt backing and frame them. As you would expect, we here at TSG have chosen a slightly more esoteric way to show off our collection.


Parm said...

Well, that hits the nail right on the head!

OK, I got that out of the way for all concerned.

I presume that the choice of "54" is anything but a coincidence, hmmm?

Kinda brings to mind a silver dollar that was out in my Mom's living room, found when we were taking care of things after she passed away. The silver dollar was a 1922. I brought it home, and since it obviously had some meaning to her, I polished it up, got it nice and shiny, and keep it down in the studio. It was months later when it suddenly dawned on me . . . 1922 - the year she was born! She obviously kept that particular dollar around for that reason.

I'm wondering how this guy got such a huge collection, unless there's a huge amount of repetition there? How are these nails different from one another, aside from the date itself? Were different fonts used? And how many different fonts could be expressed on the head of a nail with just numbers?

Willard Biscuit said...

Hit the nail on the FISH head, you mean?

Yeah, the "54"'s in memory of the infamous New York disco from the 70s. Or maybe something else.

As to the size of date nails in the Gustafson collection? I guess he did it pretty much exclusively upon retirement. Also, according to the WARM website, Albert got help from his wife Agnes--although it doesn't mention how enthusiastic she was.

And the variety? Well, each company had it's own type of nail and unique "font" used in the date stamp. This collection represents date nails from railroad/utility companies going back almost 150 years. Multiply all the different companies by the number of date stamps and you come up with something like 3,500 unique examples.

Parm said...

"Fish head." You just couldn't leave well enough alone, huh? I may have to scale back my efforts in these regards.

So, there really WERE a ton of different fonts used. Incredible. Must have been quite the challenge for the guys coming to the party late, and being challenged to gin up a font that was different than all their predecessors while staying within the confines of that tiny little canvas.