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Russ Kendall's receives 'blessing' from coin dealer

Russ Kendall's Smoke House in Knife River received an unexpected piece of its history in the mail last week. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)1 / 4
The owners of Russ Kendall's Smokehouse in Knife River received this century old relic from it's early days as a North Shore business. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)2 / 4
This "encased Indian Head cent" was an early 20th century marketing and loyalty program for Russ Kendall's Smokehouse in Knife River. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)3 / 4
Cody Olson works the counter at Russ Kendall's Smoke House in Knife River. (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)4 / 4

Last week, when Kristi Kendall Olson was opening the mail at Russ Kendall's Smoke House in Knife River she came to a hand addressed envelope from Indianapolis, she really wasn't sure what to think.

"I was just hoping it wasn't a complaint," Kendall Olson, the daughter of Russ Kendall and granddaughter of founder W.T. Kendall, said with a laugh.

Far from being a complaint, the contents turned out to be a trinket from the North Shore business's distant past, an "encased Indian Head cent." The letter was from Sam Shafer, a professional coin dealer in Lost Dutchman Rare Coins in Indianapolis, and the coin dates back at least a century and possibly as far back as the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt. The encased pennies were common advertising methods in the years just prior to World War I, with businesses handing them out to customers after a purchase.

"They would encase it inside in some type of metal, and it was designed to be a business card and a lot of times it would say good luck or had a chamber pot on it and have some sort of joke attached to it," Shafer said. "They assumed that people would show it to their friends and so it was a great way to advertise, too."

Gordie Olson, Kristi's husband, said the encased cent also served not just as advertising or a business card, but as a loyalty program. Customers would receive one after a purchase and if they showed it at their next purchase, they would get a nickel off the total. A nickel may not sound like much in 2017, but an original cash register that sits behind the bar at Russ Kendall's has a maximum purchase of 50 cents. Cody Olson, Gordie and Kristi's son, said he had seen other tokens with a similar purposes, but this was unique.

"I actually thought it would be a different token," he said. "I had never seen anything like this."

Shafer found the encased cent on the auction site eBay for just $9. Since Indian Head pennies ceased production in 1909, it is much more common to find wheat pennies, which were produced from 1909 to 1958. Making it still rarer, was the fact that it makes specific reference to a business and it appears to have never circulated so it's in exceptionally good shape and Shafer estimated that if he had resold it, the token could have brought in $75 or more.

"It was obviously designed to be a pocket piece, but for whatever reason this one never circulated," he said. "It's in as almost as nice a shape as you can find one of those."

Shafer's unexpected gift comes at a special time for the owners of Russ Kendall's. A fire in May 2014 destroyed much of the production and storage areas of the business and many of the trinkets and keepsakes from the past were destroyed along with it.

"It's kind of a blessing to receive something like this," Gordie said. "We're just finishing up the buildings after the fire, so to find something like this now is special. Everything that would have been important to us was stored back where the fire was. All of the plumbing was glowing red hot, so all of the special things like that were destroyed."

Shafer said it was rare to find a business that was still open and owned by the same family more than a century later.

"I thought it was so unique that the business was still in operation, most businesses don't stay around for over a hundred years," Shafer said. "I just thought that was really cool, being in business myself. I just really wanted to donate it and I felt like it was the right thing to do and somebody there might enjoy having it."

Gordie said he's been carrying it around since they received it and showing it to customers, but they haven't figured out what the right way to display it in the store will be. The Olsons, however, were really touched by Shafer's gesture and the fact that he would choose to give them the heirloom instead of reselling it.

"The only way he can put food on the table is reselling items like this," Gordie said. "What he did was take food off of his table and gifted it to us. I think it is really remarkable that he chose instead to send it to us."

Speaking of food, Shafer and Lost Dutchman didn't walk away empty handed. Last week, when he returned to the store Shafer received a package filled with smoked lake trout, salmon and beef jerky for him and his fellow coin dealers to snack on, courtesy of the Olsons and Russ Kendall's.

"It was amazing," he said. "We went to town on it, it was a really nice treat. I'm not usually a big fish person, but I really, really like the lake trout."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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