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When North American railroads began to experiment with treated ties in the second half of the 1800's, it was not known which chemicals, treatment methods, or woods were most economical.They needed some method of keeping track of the lives of ties, so like their European counterparts, they decided to mark them.It might look more like a horizontal blob on this nail.It indicates that the nail was made by American Steel & Wire Co.
If a railroad wanted to use date nails, they would order the kind of nails they wanted (for instance, a 2 1/2" x 3/16" steel nail, round with raised numerals "34").
Often the shape of the nail head has some significance.
For example, on the El Paso & Southwestern round nails were driven into zinc chloride treated ties while diamond nails were driven into creosoted ties.
Briefly, a date nail is a nail with the date stamped in its head. I concentrate primarily on the nails used by railroads.
Date nails were driven into railroad ties, bridge timbers, utility poles, mine props, and other wooden structures for record keeping purposes.