Tuesday, May 23, 2023


By Mary Davis

How many nails does a cup of chai tea cost?

What? Nails aren’t legal tender anymore?

Yes, there was a time when people in the U.S. (and other parts of the world) bartered with nails.

I don’t think much about construction nails until one is protruding, and I catch my hand or the toe of my shoe on it.

Nails have been around for millennia, dating from as far back as 3400 BC, but historians theorize they were likely around before that. Some of these early nails were made of bronze, but the ones made of iron would have rusted into dust.

Bronze Nail, between circa 323 and 256 BC
Nails were made one at a time by a blacksmith or nailer. After a square iron nail rod had been heated, it was hammered to a taper on the end to create a point. Heated once again, the nail was cut free of the rod, then placed in a hole in an anvil or a nail header, where several glancing blows of a hammer would be formed the head. This was the slow production method until late in the 18th century. These were wrought iron type nails.

Roman Iron Nails
Because the laborious process took so long for each one, nails were a valuable commodity. They were so precious and hard to come by in the Colonies that people would burn down their home before they moved or torch old buildings for the nails. In Virginia, they passed a statute in 1645 that prohibited this practice. During bad weather, in the evenings, or during the winter, farmers and their families would have a small set up to make nails for their own use or for barter.
Wrought-Iron Nails
In the last decade of the 1700s and the first decade in the 1800s, nail cutting machines were invented. This enabled nails to be cut from iron plates, but they still had to be headed one by one. These were type A nails.

Heading a Nail
Eventually, a machine was invented in the 1810s which both cut the nails and created the head. This sped up the process and brought down the price. These were type B nails.

Author Photograph from the San Juan Islands Historical Museum
During the 1880s, the Bessemer process for making inexpensive soft steel revolutionized the industry. The use of iron nails quickly diminished. A faster and cheaper method was invented resulting in the wire-cut nail. By 1886, ten percent of nails in the United States were made from steel wire. Six short years later, the steel-wire ones had outpaced the old iron versions, and by 1913, ninety percent of U.S. nails were made of wire.

This type is still used today. With the advent of inexpensive soft steel, this costly object could be produced at speeds unfathomable before and for much cheaper. Thus, nails lost their monetary value.

Which sadly means, I can’t buy a chai with my handful of nails.

Author Photograph

2023 SELAH Award Finalist

A WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) flies a secret mission to rescue three soldiers held captive in Cuba.

Margaret “Peggy” Witherspoon is a thirty-four-year-old widow, mother of two daughters, an excellent pilot, and very patriotic. She joins the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots). As she performs various tasks like ferry aircraft, transporting cargo, and being an airplane mechanic, she meets and develops feelings for her supervisor Army Air Corp Major Howie Berg. When Peggy learns of U.S. soldiers being held captive in Cuba, she, Major Berg, and two fellow WASPs devise an unsanctioned mission to rescue them. With Cuba being an ally in the war, they must be careful not to ignite an international incident. Order HERE!

MARY DAVIS, bestselling, award-winning novelist, has over thirty titles in both historical and contemporary themes. Her latest release is THE LADY’S MISSION. Her other novels include THE DÉBUTANTE'S SECRET (Quilting Circle Book 4) THE DAMSEL’S INTENT (The Quilting Circle Book 3) is a SELAH Award Winner. Some of her other recent titles include; THE WIDOW'S PLIGHT, THE DAUGHTER'S PREDICAMENT, “Zola’s Cross-Country Adventure” in The MISSAdventure Brides Collection, Prodigal Daughters Amish series, "Holly and Ivy" in A Bouquet of Brides Collection, and "Bygones" in Thimbles and Threads. She is a member of ACFW and active in critique groups.

Mary lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband of thirty-seven years and one cat. She has three adult children and three incredibly adorable grandchildren. Find her online at:
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  1. Fascinating! Thanks for posting, Mary.

  2. Thank you for posting today. I found the fact that people would burn their homes to salvage the nails before a move to be interesting!