Kodiak man stumbles upon treasured can on eBay

AP Photo/Nicole Klauss/Kodiak Daily Mirror

KODIAK, Alaska — Nick Troxell was scouring eBay in search of his next Alaska treasure when he stumbled upon an item he just couldn’t pass up — an old tin can.

At first glance, the can looks like a regular tin can with some years behind it, but Troxell, being a former Kodiak fisherman, recognized the significance of the can.

The front of the can’s label reads “Alaska Salmon” and features a picture of a salmon. On the back are two Aleuts in a canoe with mountains in the background. The processor, the Alaska Improvement Company, is named, as is the location where the salmon was processed — Karluk, Kodiak Island, Alaska.

The Karluk River was once the busiest fishing area in Alaska. The Alaska Improvement Company was one of the canneries that operated in Karluk during the late 1800s, meaning Troxell’s can is more than 100 years old.

“To think that it’s that old and it’s still got the paper on it.” Troxell said. “All these years and years later it surfaces. It’s made quite a trip.”

Troxell decided he wanted to buy the tin can immediately after seeing the posting on eBay. He only had to bid $22 to claim it as his, but said he was willing to go up to $50 for the unique treasure.

“I’m a fanatic on eBay,” he said. “I said I’d go up to $50 for something that I was really after.”

When it arrived from the seller in Minnesota, he showed it to a few friends and then stuck it on a shelf in his office at Nick’s Auto Wrecking Salvage and Metal Recycling.

It wasn’t until Troxell started talking to longtime Kodiak resident Reed Oswalt that he realized the rarity of the can.

According to Patricia Roppel’s book “Salmon From Kodiak,” the Alaska Improvement Company was a California corporation that built a cannery at the Karluk River in 1888. Operations began in 1889 and continued through 1896. In the spring of 1897, it was sold to the Alaska Processing Association.

The cannery continued operating under the ownership of the Alaska Processing Association, until 1911, when operations moved to Larsen Bay, Roppel wrote.

According to pack data, in 1889, the cannery packed 25,600 cases of red salmon; in 1890, 26,000; in 1891, 26,000; in 1892, 52,098; in 1893, 43,076; in 1894, 54,3000; in 1895, 35,700; and in 1896, 87,613.

While millions of cans filled those cases, most were thrown away or recycled in the 120 years since.

“To have one come back in the condition it’s in, the odds of something like that happening is mind-boggling,” Reed Oswalt said. “You’re looking at a real piece of history.”

Troxell’s can made the journey as a piece of metal from San Francisco, Calif. to Karluk where it was formed, packed with salmon, soldered shut, and shipped back to California to be distributed across the country. His tin can might have been shipped directly to Minnesota or somewhere else first, but now it has made its way back to Kodiak Island.

The tin can is in good condition for its age. The label is still legible, and the top is still attached.

“You can see the solder,” Troxell said. “It’s hand-formed.”

The label on Troxell’s can “Canoe” was one of four used by the Alaska Improvement Company, according to Roppel’s book. The other labels include “El Modelo,” “Hatchery” and “Kadiak.”

Troxell said he might eventually see if one of the local museums would like the can, but for now, it will remain in his personal collection.

Nicole Klauss can be reached at [email protected]kodiakdailymirror.com.

04/18/2013 - 8:50am