It’s no holy grail, but Roger Krafve just might have stumbled on a valuable and quintessentially Minnesota relic: an old hockey stick.
With nothing known about the stick’s origins, including what kind of tree it came from, it might be worth little more than kindling. Then again, a Canadian museum forked out $300,000 for an old hockey stick a few years ago, and at least one expert in New York estimates the value of Krafve’s stick near $2,000.
Not bad for a $20 investment this autumn at an antique store near his home in southwest Minneapolis. Krafve, 55, has been collecting things since what he calls “the beer can craze” of the 1970s. “The wife thinks I’m crazy but tolerates it,” he said.
A former goalie at Minnetonka High School, Krafve has long been enamored of vintage hockey gear — including old leather pads and hockey sticks. He’s owned between 50 and 75 sticks over the years.
“But this stick really caught my eye and the price was right,” he said. “As I do more research, I think I might be holding the oldest hockey stick in existence in Minnesota in my hands.”
Crafted from a single piece of wood, it measures 40 inches from heel to shaft top. The blade is flat, not curved like more modern sticks, and there’s a distinctive knob bumping out where the blade and shaft meet.
“Based on the unique design of the stick, I believe it’s pre-1900,” said George Fosty, president of the Society of North American Historians and Researchers.
Fosty, who’s based in New York City, thinks the stick might date to the 1860s or, more likely, the 1890s when Sears catalogs expanded their line of sporting goods.
“Both of these eras are historically important in terms of American hockey,” said Fosty, who has never seen another stick with that blade-top bump. “The stick has an ornamental design, making it unique in terms of its rarity. The ornamental design may also have been an early manufacturer’s mark to differentiate one stick company from another.”
Some early hockey sticks were made in Boston in the mid-1850s, according to the book “The Puck Starts Here,” written by retired Canadian surgeon Garth Vaughan in 1996.
“Unfortunately, there are no known surviving examples or images as to what these early Boston-made sticks looked like,” Fosty said.
If Krafve’s stick proves to be one of those pre-1890 Boston sticks, “then it is historically priceless as it would be the only known surviving stick of its kind,” Fosty said.
More likely, he guesses it’s worth about $2,000 and dates back to the 1890s, when railroads and Sears catalogs made mass-produced sporting goods readily available.
“It is no coincidence that some of the earliest references to hockey in the Minnesota region date to the 1894-95 period,” Fosty said, “a date that corresponds with the Sears sporting goods expansion and increased offerings.”
Krafve thinks his stick is older than that, maybe from the 1870s.
“It is not a mass-produced stick, no manufacturer’s marks,” said Krafve, who’s seen photos from the 1880s showing players bent over shorter sticks like his. “By 1890, the sticks are noticeably longer.”
Fosty insisted the next step is for Krafve to get his stick carbon-tested to determine its general age and origin.
“That would cost several hundred dollars and would only tell you how old the tree was, not the stick — so that’s not going to happen,” said Krafve, who was in the beer and wine business for more than 20 years and now works on the building operations staff at his Lutheran church in Minneapolis.
The antique shop where he found the stick, near 50th Street and Xerxes Avenue, was one where several dealers share a space and rotate shifts. So he’s not even sure whom he bought it from — let alone its provenance or history.
That’s a major difference between his stick and the $300,000 one that the Canadian Museum of History near Ottawa purchased in 2015.
Known as the Moffatt stick, it was cut from a single piece of sugar maple in the 1830s and went on display last summer. Museum officials believe it’s the world’s oldest hockey stick.
The lucky seller, Mark Presley, paid a retiring barber in Nova Scotia $1,000 for the stick in 2008. Following up on a tip from his father-in-law, Presley first saw the stick in 2000 — 12 feet off the ground, propped up on an old sled. When he heard the barber was retiring, he made his $1,000 offer.
“He seemed shocked,” Presley told reporters when the museum unveiled the stick in 2015.
That stick, with a rounded short blade similar to those used in field hockey or bandy, belonged to Charlie Moffatt. He gave it to his barber when he was 92. Charlie said his grandfather used it on Pottle Lake near North Sydney in Nova Scotia — a cradle of early ice hockey. He said it had been in the Moffatt family since it was crafted until he gave it to the barber.
Presley had the stick analyzed at a university in New Brunswick, where experts studied its wear and paint and determined it had been cut from a piece of maple harvested in the 1830s near Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
“Mine is a heck of a lot cooler than his,” Krafve said. “His is rounded and looks like a field hockey stick. Mine has a more modern blade. I guess I need to start handling it with gloves like he did and keeping it in a fancy case.”
Curt Brown’s tales about Minnesota’s history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. A collection of his columns is available as the e-book “Frozen in History” at startribune.com/ebooks.