History in a Can

(From the Alaska State Museum)

by Steve Henrikson,  ASM Curator of Collections

Though famous for our isolation and uniqueness, the scattering of Alaskan material culture around the globe shows the extent of our engagement in the world economy.  Years ago I was in Manhattan, on the “museum crawl,” and took a few minutes to browse an antique mall in the Garment District.  The bottom floor was reserved for the glitziest of furnishings and decorative arts, and there, amidst the Deco and the Louis XIV, I glimpsed something so incongruous I thought I must be hallucinating. In the middle of a fashionably lit kiosk of fine porcelain and crystal was a century-old Alaskan salmon tin.  I couldn’t have been happier.

The label read “Red Brand Spring Salmon, Arctic Packing Company, Alaska,” and the can itself looked early.  It was hand-soldered, with a small vent hole that was plugged with solder after the cooking process. The label appeared to be an 1890s chromolithograph, an expensive process by which master printers hand stippled designs on stone plates to produce complex designs with naturalistic shading in over a dozen colors—each color requiring its own stone plate.  The Arctic Packing Company operated canneries at Larsen Bay, Olga Bay and Nushagak Bay in the 1880s and 90s.  However, the latter site was in operation beginning in 1878. One of only three canneries that began operations that year, listed as Alaska’s first.

Read the full Story at the Alaska State Museum

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4 Responses to History in a Can

  1. Tess says:

    So did you buy the historical can?

    I love your pictures: what a great idea to make a blog of them. Much better than leaving them to molder in dark boxes.

    Can’t decide if the school pictures are more interesting than the Alaska cannery: it’s hard to beat a boat crashing into a dock, but the innocence of the couples in the popularity contest is (so to speak) striking.

    • captnmike says:

      The article is from the State of Alaska History Museum so it was not me or my can. Guess I should edit that a bit to clear it up – I tried the Reblog feature and it did not work at all (the original has a lot of header stuff) – So I copied the first three paragraphs and put a link back to their site.

      Getting the pictures out of the box and sorted and such is turning into a big job. Technology has advanced quite a bit in the last few years to make sharing and saving this feasible. The scanner I got will do negatives and slides as well as pictures. I have a friend that is a Pro Photographer and he stopped by and gave me some help getting started sorting the slides.

      The good news is that the WordPress software lets me organize things by category so I have quite a bit of flexibility in putting the site together. Also tagging the pictures and putting captions on them so a search engine will find them is a big job also along with adding the credits to the pictures and the scaling.

      Glad you liked the pictues.

  2. Tess says:

    Oh yes, it is interesting to see behind the scenes of work-life.

    The pictures you have of workers in the canneries are fascinating, just imagining what it would have been like to live and work there. The people all look so young. Is that still the case now?

    My husband worked as an ironworker, an odd duck having graduated from UM with a degree in English (minors in Spanish and Russian), but nonetheless the stories he brought home over the years were nothing like anything one sees on TV or in mass media. Sort of my own Studs Terkel.

    I’ve tried to encourage him to write some of the stories, but of course it hasn’t happened yet.

    • captnmike says:

      I think the bulk of the production workers are still young – we had a lot of college student where I worked – Tough day – 8:00 am to 12:00 midnight one shift – then the machines had to be cleaned and lubricated for the next day.

      Glad you liked the slice of life.

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