Sunday, September 16, 2007

There's Nothing Good On eBay?

My husband is adamant - "There's nothing good on eBay." I disagree, and this post is my attempt to prove him wrong and to direct family historians with a connection to the 1898 Alaska Gold Rush to something for sale on eBay that may be of benefit to them, and that I WANT! It is, however, out of my financial league.

So, what is it? It is a previously unknown album of original photographs, illustrations, and captions of the 1898 Alaska Gold Rush compiled by a Boston Newspaper Correspondent named C. J. Messer. All of the information contained in the album could be used by the family historian to paint an historically accurate depiction of this place and time.

As of this post the latest bid is $3,500, as I said, out of my league.

The photograph of the typical miner's habitation is priceless. If you have an ancestor named Jackson, who was a mail carrier in Alaska in 1898, wouldn't you want to know he was "the wickedest man above parallel 60 degrees" and what the wickedest man looked like?

Hurry, the auction only has one day left! Go take a look, I think you will be as enthralled as I have been.

I have posted one of the photographs with biographical information under the "Fair Use" Doctrine, for educational purposes. The actual auction site can be found here.

The following is the description as posted by the seller:

Very rare and historically important, 1898 Alaska Gold Rush Album of original Photographs compiled by a Boston Newspaper Correspondent named C. J. Messer who traveled to the Klondike Gold Mining Region with Neal D. Benedict in March of 1898. This Album is a recently discovered variation of the Neal Benedict “Report” which is among the most important collections of photographs documenting the early days of the Klondike Gold Rush. The Album / Scrapbook measures approx. 12" x 10" and contains 86 interior pages. Sixty of those pages contain original photographs taken along the route of this historic expedition. There are 176 original photographs each measuring 3 3/4” square and mounted 4 to a page. All 176 photos are of the same format and each has a detailed, hand written title beneath the image. Besides the 176 images taken on the journey to the Gold Fields, the album also includes approx. 22 photographs of "Folk Art" type drawings of the Gold Region and of Gold Miners in camp which appear to be the work of one of the members of Messer's group or perhaps the work of someone they met along the way. There are also a number of photographs, in various formats, mounted on the final pages of views in the Gold Regions, views of Portland, Oregon, and a few miscellaneous images (including a candid snapshot of Theodore Roosevelt). Glued to the some of the early pages of the Album are a series of newspaper clippings that tell a story of a trip to the Gold Fields. It seems that this is a serialized "story" written by Messer and published in an unknown Newspaper (he was a correspondent for the Boston Telegram, the Eastern Syndicate and the Associated Press). The tale of the trip (titled “Existence’s Price” ) is told in the style of a novel rather than a typical newspaper or magazine report. It reads almost like something written by an aspiring "Jack London". The author plays the part of a newspaperman who manages to attach himself to a group of associates headed for the Klondike Gold Fields and seems to follow the path that the Benedict / Messer group traveled during this expedition.

The journey (and the Photos) begin in Seattle on March 10th, 1898 where C. J. Messer and Neal Benedict board the Connecticut & Alaska Mining and Trading Co.’s Schooner “Moonlight” which carries 32 passengers and 35 tons of equipment on the 4 week trip to Valdez, Alaska Territory. From Valdez (at this early date only a comparatively small collection of cabins and tents) the “Benedict Expedition” (including C.J. Messer) travels up and over the Valdez Glacier to the Klutena Valley. They reach a small encampment on the Klutena River called “Saw Mill”. From here Messer (and we assume Benedict) travel to “Copper Center” and follow “Millard’s Trail” to Drum Lake and the Sanford River. It appears that Messer and Benedict are not Gold Miners but rather “observers” of the “goings on” in the Region - C. J. Messer as a Newspaper Reporter and Neal Benedict as a budding "entrepreneur" reconnoitering the area in hopes of generating the interest of investors in developing the Copper River Area as a "tourist / resort destination" similar to the "Spas" and "Resorts" so popular with the upper class Victorian traveler of the late 19th century. This journey ended with their return to Seattle on August 27th, 1898.

Neal D. Benedict, a resident of Florida, was a member of the Connecticut and Alaska Mining and Trading Company, which prospected the Copper Basin in 1898. He drafted an account of the 1898 “Expedition”, which was illustrated with 158 original photographs. The manuscript (entitled The Valdes and Copper River Trail, Alaska) was never published but on April 7th, 1899 Benedict submitted 2 copies of the typescript manuscript to the United States Copyright Office. Both copies of the typescript were accompanied by 158 numbered and identified photographs taken during the journey. It appears that Benedict produced at least 1 other copy of his manuscript which also included the same 158 images. In 2007 one copy of the Typescript resides in the Library of Congress, one in the Alaska Historical Library (this is one of the 2 original copies deposited with the Copyright Office that was returned to Alaska at the request of Alaska’s US Senator) and the third which is owned by the preeminent Collector of Alaska Historical Material Candy Waugaman.

The (previously unknown) Album offered here appears to have been assembled by C. J. Messer using not only the 158 images included with the Benedict Manuscripts but with 18 additional images from the same group as the Benedict photos, 22 images of Alaska Gold Rush “Folk Art” paintings and approx. 15 other photographic views (some of larger size) taken along their route. Of special interest is the fact that under each photo in this album there is a neatly hand written description of the image. In most cases this description includes the title given to the photograph by Neal Benedict (as seen in the previously known typescript copies) but Messer goes on to elaborate on what is pictured in the image. Sometimes he adds important information not found in the Benedict titles. In some cases Benedict’s titles are actually a less than honest representation of what appears in the image and the descriptions written by Messer in the album offered here take great pains to tell “the whole truth”. An example of this is a photo of Neal Benedict with his foot on a large log holding an ax. In the Benedict typescript this photo is titled “The Artist and Author of this work, Cutting Wood in Solemn and Solitary Grandeur near Camp Valdes”, while in the Messer Album the title reads “N. D. Benedict. Never cut down a tree in his life though from the general appearance you’d think differently”. another example involves Benedict’s photo Number 24 which is titled in his monograph “A Tent at the Fourth Bench.”. in the Messer Album that image is described as “The Camp of the woman miner who was later Mrs. Jinkings. This is the roof that the soldier sewed in “Existence’s Price”.

There's Always Something Good On eBay!



Blogger Lori Thornton said...

Let's hope that a museum or archives purchases it or that the purchaser donates it to one!

September 16, 2007 at 4:06 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


In that vein, I wrote our Museum of History and Industry and alerted them to the auction, as it has a Seattle connection.


September 16, 2007 at 4:23 PM  
Blogger Janice said...

I agree, I hope a museum obtains these. A few years back I alerted a local church that their original 1800s records were on eBay and they managed to win auction.


September 16, 2007 at 5:46 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

I do so hope the winner shares this with the world.


September 16, 2007 at 5:56 PM  
Blogger Nikki - Notes of Life said...

I can see why you'd want it. It certainly looks and sounds very interesting. I doubt many private individuals have that kind of money. I hope whoever snaps this up will share it somehow.

September 17, 2007 at 3:38 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Well Nikki-ann, you know I can't resist a great photograph. Old or new. And yours are great.


September 17, 2007 at 4:03 PM  

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