Column – Antiquer’s timely find has a distinct Smithfield flavor

Published 7:56 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Only one with Smithfield bonafides can appreciate Gary Stanley’s find last year at a Harrisonburg antique shop.

Stanley, an Edenton, North Carolina, resident who grew up in Smithfield and graduated from Smithfield High in 1980, stumbled on a century-old wooden replica of P.D. Gwaltney Jr.’s “pet ham,” which delights thousands of visitors annually at the Isle of County Museum. 

Stanley is hoping some old-timers can help shed light on the piece. 

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He reached out to Rachel Popp, curator at the Isle of Wight County Museum, who used  deductive reasoning to make some reasonable assumptions.

Popp noted that the Gwaltney’s logo on the “fabulously cool” piece was the same one used in the company’s marketing in the 1920s as Smithfield began to evolve from a peanut town to pork producer.

“These assumptions suggest that this wooden hame could have been crafted after the inception of the pet ham in 1920 and the company’s incorporation circa 1929,” Popp told Stanley in an email. “Since the logo used still has the ’s on Gwaltney’s and still uses the ‘Land of Peanuts’ marketing statement which began to fall out of use as early as 1930, a possible and safe date range is 1929-1931.”

Stanley has searched extensively online and “found no other piece like it.”  

“It’s a folky piece that mimics a real ham very well,” he notes.

The Harrisonburg shopkeeper had just acquired it at an estate sale and knew little about its history. 

“The estate was that of an older gentleman (no name given) who had recently acquired it from another sale, but he died relatively soon after the purchase,” Stanley told me. “I immediately purchased the ham knowing that it must have some historical value.”

That value, certainly if measured in nostalgia and sentiment, grew with Smithfield Foods’ recent announcement that it would no longer make the Genuine Smithfield Ham for which our town is known in parts far and wide.

On my recent visit to western North Carolina, the hotel desk clerk saw my driver’s license and noted that he grew up in Smithfield, North Carolina. When people ask him where he’s from, the response more often than not is, “Oh, where they make the salty hams.”

“No, not THAT Smithfield,” he replies, admittedly with a little envy.

Our signature ham’s demise notwithstanding, Smithfield’s genuine history lives on at the Isle of Wight County Museum — and, in a smaller way, on Gary Stanley’s shelf in Edenton.

If you know anything about his prized possession, shoot him an email at 


Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is