Seller seeks thousands on eBay for old Duluth Pack

It's old, worn and has been mended with mismatched thread. And this granddaddy of Duluth Pack bags -- purported to be a rare 1882 prototype of what would become the iconic Duluth company's signature backpack -- is on sale. Literally. Its price on...

Museum piece
Milissa Brooks-Ojibway inspects an early Duluth Pack backpack that's part of the St. Louis County Historical Society's artifacts collection. It's similar to the one for sale this week on eBay for $66,023. Brooks-Ojibway is the historical society's collections manager. (Clint Austin /

It's old, worn and has been mended with mismatched thread.

And this granddaddy of Duluth Pack bags -- purported to be a rare 1882 prototype of what would become the iconic Duluth company's signature backpack -- is on sale.


Its price on eBay was reduced this week to $66,023, down from $77,675.

The backpack has been posted on eBay off and on for years, says Molly Solberg, Duluth Pack's director of sales and marketing, who recalls the original asking price at around $100,000.


"It's been great for us, been great publicity," she said. "Every six months it keeps resurfacing."

But $66,000 is still too much, says antique appraiser Dan Sershon of Duluth.

"People do this all the time," he said. "Ask an outrageous price to see if anyone will bite. I wouldn't value it anywhere near that."

But without comparisons of what others have sold for, it's impossible to intelligently estimate value, Sershon acknowledged.

While the pack is more than 100 years old, it may not actually date back to 1882 and may not be an early prototype as advertised. The News Tribune this week found several similar old Duluth Packs, which seems to debunk those claims and suggests the bag on eBay is not quite that old.

The eBay seller, Tyson Jahn of St. Paul, has been selling vintage Americana online as Joeymest since 2003. His online store's items, which generally sell for less than $2,000, include old boots, messenger bags, hats, coats and jackets, backpacks and various leather items.

So far, Jahn has been holding firm on his asking price for the backpack, rejecting more than 200 offers in the last two years.

"This pack was our pinnacle item that built our store to the high end collection of vintage Americana that it is today," Jahn told the News Tribune in an e-mail. "We have had offers from $5,000 to $8,000. We have had the item for a long time."


According to his eBay listing:

The backpack was handmade in Duluth by Camille Poirier, a French-Canadian who opened a small shoe shop in 1884 at Lake Avenue and Superior Street in downtown Duluth. A small brass label on the pack displays Poirier's name, along with "Duluth" and a patent date of Nov. 10, 1882. That was after Poirier applied for a patent, but a month before he got it.

That and other clues led Jahn to conclude the backpack was a prototype of the now-famous Duluth Pack line of rugged outdoor packs still made by hand.

The backpack is also significant because it was a new design for carrying provisions for wilderness camping, fashioned with a buckled flap, shoulder straps and a head strap called a "tumpline" to help support and carry the load.

In time, the Poirier "Pack Strap" design was called Duluth Pack after the business's location. And in the 1980s, the business took on the name, as well.

The patented 1882 backpack design is basically the same one used for the company's canoe packs today.

More packs out there

The eBay listing calls the backpack a museum piece, the only known original Poirier "Pack Strap" left in existence. The asking price is based on that, its place in North Shore history and the design's contributions to camping, it says.


"Our design was probably made or touched by Poirier himself," Jahn said of his pack. "Proof being the gauge, color and age of the canvas on the bag,"

But Solberg said several thousand other canvas and leather packs were made from 1882 to 1911 with the same brass label dated Nov. 10, 1882.

"We have an ad that says, 'Get the bag with the little brass tag,'" she said. "Those brass tags were implemented from the 1880s to when Camille Poirier sold the pack business to his apprentice in 1911."

That apprentice helped start Duluth Tent and Awning Co. in Lincoln Park, where Duluth Pack continues to make its outdoor packs, she said.

Jahn said he did research and contacted Duluth Pack before putting the backpack up for sale.

"We found out more about the rarity of the pack after talking to employees and not seeing our original pack in their possession," he said.

But Solberg said Duluth Pack has at least one of those early backpacks with the Nov. 10, 1882, brass label that has been displayed at their Canal Park store.

"There's lots of them out there with brass tags," she said. "In the 10 years I've been here, at least once or twice a year, one of those bags comes in for repairs."

Solberg said she recalls a young man visiting Duluth Pack about seven years ago that may have been Jahn.

"I was in customer service when he showed up," she said. "He was very excited and thought he had the original. I gave him a tour."

"He purchased it at a garage sale, I believe," Solberg continued. "During his research, he thought it was one of the originals, because it has some stitching on it he thought was for the umbrella holder."

Packs made in the 1880s and 1890s came with an umbrella holder centered on the flap, but that feature was discontinued in the early 1900s, Solberg said.

And she doubts all the bags had the umbrella holder.

Jahn's bag for sale on eBay doesn't have one, but he believes some stitching on the bag shows it did originally.

Museum donation nixed

Some have suggested Jahn donate the backpack to a museum, according to the eBay listing.

"I have contacted both the Historical Society of Duluth and MHS, and they would like to exhibit the piece," Jahn wrote in background information with the listing. "Even though I would like nothing more than to donate this amazing piece, they are offering no compensation for this family heirloom in a special time of need."

There is no Historical Society of Duluth. But if Jahn had approached the St. Louis County Historical Society at the Duluth Depot, staff there doesn't recall it.

"If he did call, I would have told him we have no budget for that," said collections manager Milissa Brooks-Ojibway, who has worked there 13 years. "Everybody's short of money, and we don't have a budget for that."

But the Historical Society already has two similar Poirier backpacks with the same brass label that says Nov. 10, 1882, on it and they have the early-model head straps. But there's no sign either bag ever had umbrella holders, she said.

Both backpacks were donated to the historical society in 1970, one from the Poirier family, the other from Duluth Tent and Awning Co., Brooks-Ojibway said.

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