Klondike Collectibles

Klondike Collectibles

Toronto media executive Phil Lind is modest about his collection of Klondike Gold Rush memorabilia. In a 1997 Klondike Sun article, Lind remarked: "I'm a small time collector of memorabilia." Historian Michael Gates disagrees: "He's a Yukon fanatic."

If that's the case, Lind came by his fanaticism honestly. His grandfather, John Grieve Lind of Ontario, was already mining for gold in the Fortymile section of the Yukon when the inciting 1896 Rabbit Creek gold discovery was made. By the time the area was flooded with "stampeders" hoping to strike it rich, Lind was already a rich man. He was one of the few who found riches. Of the roughly 100,000 who made it to Alaska, only about 20,000 completed the 500-mile cross-country trip to the Yukon gold fields. Of those, 2,000 found gold; 200 found significant amounts of gold; and around 40 got out of the Yukon with their fortunes intact. Grandpa Lind left the Yukon in 1902, never to return. He went back home and started what was to become the largest independently owned cement company in Canada. Others — like John Nordstrom and Levi Strauss — leveraged their modest findings into 20th Century retail and manufacturing powerhouses.

Though the Klondike experience of John Lind certainly changed his family's fortunes, Phil Lind emphasizes that it was his grandfather's example of perseverance through adversity that became the family's most valued asset. "I think it's about the spirit of what is encompassed here rather than the actual (fact) that he went and mined for gold. There's a lot of philosophy behind this thing...the spirit of the Yukon, which is that there are opportunities available, but it's not easy. Life isn't easy so you have to work to succeed."

It's the "spirit of the Yukon" that drove Lind to assemble a respected collection of Gold Rush books, documents, artifacts, and memorabilia.

Bestselling author Charlotte Gray credits Lind's "formidable collection" as being essential to the research for her book "Gold Diggers, Striking It Rich in the Klondike". In turn, Gray's book was a primary source for the development of the 2015 PBS documentary "The Klondike Gold Rush."

The stampede for Klondike gold lasted only a few years. When gold was discovered in Nome, Alaska in 1899, Yukon claims were abandoned en masse as prospectors left for Nome's easier pickings. Three years of Klondike activity produced an enduring cultural legacy that includes literature, films, television, music, theater, festivals, and pop culture references.

Indeed, the very act of getting to the gold fields created a trail of ephemera and artifacts that attracts a dedicated corps of collectors. Let's follow the "collectibles" trail to the Klondike:

  • Newspapers and Periodicals: On July 17, 1897, the Seattle Post Intelligencer headline read: "Gold! Gold! Gold! Sixty-eight Rich Men on the Steamer Portland. Stacks of Yellow Metal! Some have $5,000, Many Have More, and a Few Bring Out $100,000 Each! This story was picked up by newspapers worldwide, and soon stampeders were booking passage to Skagway, Alaska. Harper's weekly sent writer Tappan Adney to the Klondike, and his columns have become a treasured find for collectors.
  • Maps, claims, and other ephemera: Printed maps abound. One can find travel maps and guides on how to get from most major cities to Alaska, maps explaining how to get from Alaska to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, maps of the Klondike gold fields, and maps showing existing claims. From time to time, collectors will find railroad and steamship tickets and travel documents.
  • Equipment: Canadian authorities were startled by the number of people showing up at the border who were completely unprepared for the 500 mile journey to Dawson City. To avoid mass starvation and crime they issued orders that no one would be allowed to cross the border without a year's supply of food: three pounds a day, or about 1,100 pounds per person. Mining equipment added about another 1,000 pounds to the burden: picks, shovels, pans, cooking utensils, sacks, barrels, and other paraphernalia. Much of this equipment was left behind when stampeders abandoned their claims, and is still in circulation for collectors to find.
  • Memoirs & books: Stories of Klondike exploits abound. Tappan Adney had a regular readership in Harper’s, but the undisputed master storyteller of the Klondike is Jack London. His novels "Call of the Wild", "White Fang" and short stories like "To Build a Fire" are hailed as literary and cinematic classics.
  • Mail and Telegrams: Stampeder's stories and letters to family are touching on a personal level; such letters and telegrams have served as primary source material for historians. There were two types of mail service in the Klondike: sketchy and non-existent. Mail would pile up at the trail head towns of Skagway and Dyea, uncollected by missing miners. Ambitious entrepreneurs would deliver mail to the gold fields for a price (usually fifteen to fifty cents per letter) but stampeders moved their camps often, and were hard to find. For those interested in reading a few of the miner’s letters, the Postal Museum of the Smithsonian Institution has a page dedicated to this subject.

How does one begin to collect Klondike memorabilia? Experienced collectors suggest burying oneself in Klondike history books, websites, and Gold Rush tales. In this way, one becomes familiar with the locations, timelines, persons, and three-year history of the Klondike Gold Rush. It's not necessary that these be collectible antiquarian books; indeed, rare original editions of such books are expensive to acquire. Best to start, they say, by reading books that one can buy at a local bookstore or Amazon. Dedicate shelf space to these books, and keep them handy for easy reference.

Also suggested is (if it's affordable) is to take a trip to Dawson City via Skagway or Dyea. Hiking the Chilcoot Trail out of Dyea is inspirational, according to David Meissner, author of "Call of the Klondike."

Phil Lind sums what it's like to be a collector of Klondike Gold Rush memorabilia: "It's always fascinated me. This is one of the best stories that Canada has. It has everything. It juxtaposes us vis-a-vis the United States. It's a perfect context — how the Americans were here, had their own societal makeup and how we dealt with that in Canada...it's just a great, great story."

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