Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Wandering Dane Found a Home in Minneapolis

He called himself Andrew Madsen Smith.  In his autobiography he identified himself as “Soldier and Sailor, Moulder and Merchant, Tramp and Trader, Soap-boiler and Scribe, Peddler and Philosopher,  Overseer and Understrapper,  Jack-of-all-Trades and Master of Fortune.”  He was all of those and additionally a successful whiskey man, but hs chose to write under the name "Hans Lykkejaeger, The Wandering Dane.”

Smith story began when he was born in Juteland, Denmark, in 1841 to a poor family and began life named Anders Madsen Schmidt.  According to his autobiography, while still young he was put to work in a foundry but soon ran away to the sea.  His career took him to many adventures as a ship’s cook,  a London street tramp, and then back to sea and, through jumping ship, to the clutches of Indians in the jungles of Brazil.  Eventually he shipped with an American vessel.   When the Civil War broke out he took a bounty payment and joined the Union Navy.  When that enlistment ran out he joined the Union Army, later had another stint in the Navy and then again was in the Army,  fighting Indians in California.  Smith’s life in America took him all over the country, often on foot, and included jobs farming, peddling, and working on the railroad.

It was in that last occupation at Ogden, Utah, that Andrew/Hans, a large man who eventually weighed 250 pounds, met the love of his life.   In his book she is “Gretta.”  In life she was   Bottila Elgberg, a Danish immigrant nine years his junior, a woman who initially spurned Smith but married him in April 1872.  In his autobiography,  Smith/Lykkejaeger says of her:   “I was looking for my luck and found her.  Finding her, I found my luck.”  His account ends with the newlyweds moving to Salt Lake City that same year where he at last found his calling as a whiskey man.  Under the name A. M. Smith with $10 cash he opened a liquor store he called the California Wine Depot.  A bottle from that period is shown here.

The autobiography ends in Utah.  Here the story was picked up by Ron Feldhaus in his book on Minnesota bottles.  With ample advertising, good whiskey and wines, as well as canny investments,  Smith became a financial success in Salt Lake City.  An amber flask shown here exist from this enterprise.  Ever restless, he pulled up stakes in 1876 and with his family headed east to Philadelphia where he set up another liquor store.   After an initial business failure (something to which he was accustomed) Smith started over in the City of Brotherly Love, succeeded the second time and in 1886 was able to set up a small branch in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Perhaps drawn by the large Scandinavian immigration population in that state, when the business in Minnesota thrived,  Smith sold his Philadelphia store and moved his family West to Minneapolis. It would be home to “The Wandering Dane” for the rest of his life as the California Wine Depot became a fixture at 249 Hennapin Avenue.  That appears to be Smith’s bulky frame at the center of his highly illustrated wine label and trade mark.  For a number of years he also ran a eatery next to his store he called the California Restaurant.

The Dane featured a number of brands,  including “A.M. Smith’s Special Bourbon Whiskey,”  "Fine Old U. S. Cabinet Rye,” "Flour City Rye,” "Golden Buck,” "Harvester" and “Pennant.”  One brand was a “Amsco,”  an anagram of Smith’s assumed name. He also was noted for his “Crescent Brand” beverages.  He advertised these vigorously, including ads purportedly showing the large casks of wine and whiskey at the interior of his establishment.  He also featured trade cards with winsome children as the focus.

In a city where whiskey men regularly supplied saloons and other favored customers with gifts,  Smith was famous for his giveaway items. Among them were highly decorated shot glasses, artistic and finely etched.  He also provided tip trays.  Unlike other liquor dealers who lithographed their name and product around the edges, which sometimes made them hard to read,  Smith put his name and message right into the design.  He may have fancied himself the roaring lion shown on one tray.  Both trays were made by Chas. W. Shonk of Chicago. In addition, Smith was noted for distributing calendars, almanacs,  dominoes, corkscrews, and brushes as merchandising artifacts.

Smith's largesse may have stemmed from his own collecting interests.  He was a world known collector of rare coins, beginning during his period in Philadelphia when he worked as a coin dealer as well as a liquor merchant.  He subsequently wrote three  books on coins, beginning in 1881.  His “Encyclopedia of Gold and Silver Coins of the World” (1886) is still prized by numismatists and is itself sold for large sums.  Looking at pages of the tome is convincing both of Smith’s knowledge of coins and his ability to present information in a highly organized fashion.  Referring to bottle collecting,  Feldhaus says that of all Minnesota whiskey men “perhaps A.M. Smith would have best understood our hobby.”

In time Smith’s wine and liquor business became one of the largest in the region.  As localities in Minnesota and neighbor Wisconsin were voting “dry” through local option, he also did a thriving mail order business.   Discussing his success, Smith said, “And we are continuing to do better and better and better. I have increased in size, property and family.” 

It apparently was during a prosperous era that that Smith decided, using a “nom de plume,”, to write the story of his early life and likely to self-finance its publication. Originally entitled “Up and Down in the World: Or Paddle Your Own Canoe” and later “Luck of the Wandering Dane,” the book was first published in 1885 and ran 130 pages, with illustrations on virtually every page by an unnamed artist (Smith himself?).  The book cost 25 cents and on its cover states:  “For sale by all news dealers.”  A reviewer in the Atlantic Monthly said sourly of Smith’s autobiography:  “Occasionally the tale is told with snap and cleverness, but on the whole its humor is rather of the swaggering sort and hardly worth smiling over.”

The 1910 U.S. Census found Andrew and Bottila living in Minneapolis in a house with a niece and two servants.  He was 69 and gave his occupation as “liquor merchant.”  After years of running his wine and liquor business in Minneapolis, Andrew Smith died in July 1914, ostensibly as the aftermath of wounds he had suffered during his Civil War service.  His son, Mason Smith, carried on the business until it was shuttered by the coming of Prohibition in 1919.  By this time the family interests had diversified to an automobile dealership and a sand and gravel business.

Note:  “Luck of a Wandering Dane” has been republished by Hewlitt Packard as part of  a series of reprints from the collection of the University of Michigan Library.  It is worth reading about the early years of this “larger-than-life” whiskey man, but the current cost of the book is somewhat more than the 25 cents asked for the original.  Smith’s autobiography also has been available at no cost in an on-line version.

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