ANNA – An old tin can salvaged from the attic of a house in the Anna area sold for $16,800 in an online auction.
Troy Kies, an auctioneer and real estate agent from Anna, found the Wild Duck oyster tin in a house that was slated for demolition The home owner, whom Kies declined to identify, had asked him to take anything he could sell out of the house before it was destroyed.
Kies knew old cans had value, but he had no idea just how valuable the empty Wild Duck oyster tin was when he discovered it.
“I didn’t realize how rare the one I had was at the time,” he said. “I would have never expected it to be the Holy Grail of oyster cans.”
After removing the oyster can and several other items from the house, Kies started researching it and learned how rare his discovery was. A 2014 article from Garden & Gun Magazine stated only two gallon-sized Wild Duck oyster tins were known to still exist – one owned by a private collector in Maryland and one owned by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland.
“We’ve seen remarkably few,” Pete Lesher, chief curator for the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, said of the Wild Duck cans, “probably fewer than 10 anyway.”
Several factors have contributed to the value of the Wild Duck cans.
The brand was manufactured by R. E. Roberts Co. out of Baltimore, which was best known for its Maryland Beauty brand. It’s not clear for how long, or when exactly, the company used the Wild Duck brand but it probably was prior to World War II.
“It must not have been for very long,” Lesher said. “Why they launched the separate brand, why they got out of it, we’ll probably never know.”
The brand’s short time in existence combined with the attractiveness of the can contribute to the value of the Wild Duck tins, Lesher said. And the fact that there are so few of them left has significantly added to their value.
“It’s supposed to be the Holy Grail of oyster tin collecting so it’s pretty amazing,” Kies said.
Along with the short life of the brand, the cans’ rarity also is a product of them not being collected or valued when they were produced, Lesher said. They might have been reused temporarily for storage but would have been trashed soon after.
Restaurants, the main purchaser of the gallon-sized cans, in particular were unlikely to save old cans, Lesher said. Not many individuals would have purchased a gallon of oysters, he said.
“You’d have to host a good sized party to go through a gallon of oysters,” he said.
Today, vintage oyster tins are popular items for collectors in Maryland and elsewhere on the East Coast, Lesher said. Their popularity stems from regional identify and a celebration of oysters in the area.
Chesapeake Bay produced more oysters than anywhere else in the world in the 1870s and 1880s, Lesher said, and the tins offer collectors a connection to the region’s past.
The can Kies discovered was purchased on Monday by an individual from Delaware, whom Kies also declined to identify. Every bid for the tin came from the East Coast, near the locations where oyster companies were located.
“All the interest has been from the East Coast – from Virginia up to Maine,” Kies said, adding one person offered him $10,000 in cash for the can if he would have canceled the auction.
Knowing the most interest in oyster tins was along the East Coast, Kies promoted his auction with targeted advertising through Craigslist, Facebook and AuctionZip.
Locally, people were interested in seeing the tin out of curiosity as its price soared online, but no one in Shelby County and the surrounding areas submitted a bid.
“They were just interested in looking at it because the price was going sky high,” Kies said.
Kies has hosted auctions for more than a decade. He’s had real estate and vehicles sell for more money, but the Wild Duck oyster tin is the most valuable collectible he’s ever sold.