Albert Lord Belden.

The fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea online

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Online LibraryAlbert Lord BeldenThe fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea → online text (page 13 of 34)
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generally learned in the best way, by experience, the
comfort afforded by furs, and became consumers of
finer goods; rich automobilists purchased coats in half-
dozen lots for the use of their guests, and the practice
became so general that auto supply houses now carry
fur coats in stock with tires, tubes and sundry parts. A
number of furriers make a specialty of "auto apparel."


George pernatb ||er?tg

The firm of Herzig Brothers was founded in 1865
by Simon Herzig, in the centre of the trade of that day,
the Bowery and Grand Street ; the business at the outset
comprised manufacturing and retailing, and conse-
quently was mainly local ; in later years it was expanded
into importing furs and skins to meet the requirements
of manufacturers operating throughout the United

George Bernard Herzig, son of Simon Herzig, was
born in New York City, February 9, 1872; he was edu-
cated in the public schools, and attended the College of
the City of New York for some time. In 1890 he en-
tered the fur business with Herzig Brothers, then located
at 133 Mercer Street, serving in the office, primarilly in
charge of the books, but actually in every way in which
the interests of the house could be advanced. In 1895
he laid aside routine office work and entered upon a
series of visits to Chili and Bolivia, and incidentally all
of South America, covering a term of ten years, for the
direct purchase of chinchilla skins; a period of twenty
months was devoted to one of these trips, during which
time he went far afield, climbing the mighty Andes, and
meeting many natives with whom he succeeded in per-
fecting arrangements for securiqg enlarged supplies of
the particular pelts sought by him.

At the time of his initial visit to Chili, a season's
collection of chinchilla skins aggregated about 1,500


s-'vmn^mmiuissr/'. ~s »«wj.^ t -^^^^ji^w^rys'. '^ji,ii»eimi-

tttiaiu -^ti>

George pernarb Jler^ig


dozen; when he had concluded his treasure quests he
had increased the collection to 36,000 dozen skins per
season. His triumph was due to personal contact with
the market and individual producers, and the incentive
of fairer values than had previously ruled.

Down to 1896 about ninety per cent, of the annual
catch of chinchilla skins was shipped to London ; subse-
quent to that date fully seventy-five per cent, of the
yearly collection was forwarded to New York. At the
present time no chinchillas are permitted to be caught,
killed, sold or exported from Chili, under penalty of fine
or imprisonment, or both. This closed season is to run
from March 6, 19 17, to March 6, 1922.

December 15, 191 5, Mr. Herzig went with the
George B. Herzig Company, as general agents in the
Public Auction Fur Sales Department of Funsten
Brothers & Company, St. Louis; all the eastern, Can-
adian and foreign business of the house is transacted
through the New York office, 39 West Twenty-ninth
Street, and is efficiently handled on broad mercantile
and commercial principles, with studious attention to
the development and welfare of the fur trade in it?^
best and largest international relations.

In 1916 Mr. Herzig made a special visit to Uruguay
and was entirely successful in arranging to have the
Uruguayan Government consign the Lobos Island fur
seal skins to the auction sales in St. Louis; this is the
first instance in which seal skins from these rookeries
have been shipped to any market other than London;
the introductory sale at St. Louis was held in October,


Mr. Herzig is not only well known in his chosen
field of business, both in the new world and the old, but
he enjoys the good will of a host of friends and acquaint-
ances in social circles. In earlier life he served five and
one-half years in the Seventy-first Regiment, National
Guard of New York, and at the date of his honorable
discharge was a sergeant in the command.

In 1898 he was in South America on one of his
periodic visits, and owing to that fact was unable to
serve with his regiment in the Spanish-American war.

During the enlisting period of the summer of 191 7
Mr. Herzig patriotically turned his warerooms into a
recruiting station, in order that the fur trade might in
name and service be aligned with the other great Amer-
ican industries in the mighty battle for freedom and the
extinction of barbarism.


The terms prime and unprime as applied to fur
skins qualify condition of both fur and leather; prime
skins are those taken from animals caught or killed from
late in the fall to the close of winter, or in temperate
climates subsequent to the first few severe frosts in
autumn until in the following spring ice ceases to form
on ponds and marshes; the muskrat remains prime a
little later, or until all ice is melted in the vicinity of its

Prime skins are fully furred, both fur and hair
having attained in growth and quantity the limit in nat-
ural development ; the leather is clean, clear and of max-
imum strength ; in color the fur is at its best, darkest or
lightest, according to the nature of the animal ; in some
specimens, noticeably the muskrat, when prime the
leather is red, a blood hue ; in others, including the mink,
it is white, and in others a light brown or creamy tone.

Unprime skins are only moderately well furred,
tend to shed the fur and hair, even do so freely, and the
leather is weak, blue, and in instances nearly black ; un-
prime skins rank considerably below prime in value be-
cause of their generally inferior quality.


In grading raw skins to determine individual value
many things have to be taken into account — section of
origin, color, size, quantity and quality of fur, condition
of leather, season or date of capture, methods of skin-
ning and handling; an inefficient grader would quickly
effect his ruin financially if buying on his own account,
and even more suddenly lose his position if purchasing



for another. Skunk skins in the raw are correctly as-
sorted in four grades only ; incorrectly into many grades
which are meaningless, misleading and purposely unfair
to the inexpert seller.

Skins that are entirely black, or that have only a
very small white spot in the forehead (called "Star
black") grade as black, or number i. Those showing a
white stripe extending from the head barely to the
shoulder, are graded as "short stripe," or number 2.
Skins having a stripe of white fur running in a single or
double line fairly well down the back, are graded as
"long stripe," or number 3. Skins in which white pre-
dominates are classed as white, or number 4.

All other conditions previously mentioned are care-
fully considered ; occasionally a "black" may be too small,
poorly furred, or have been caught too early or late to
grade number i ; and a "short stripe" may in every other
respect be good enough to grade above number 2.

The best skins, everything considered, are procured
in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania and
Ohio; various other sections produce close seconds.

The skunk is the easiest trapped of all the fur-bear-
ers, and consequently is usually the earliest caught and
shipped to market, but as a rule these early caught skins
are poorly furred, weak in leather, and at times nearly

Owing to the fact that it is a very warm blooded
animal the skunk begins to shed its fur and hair early in
the spring, as soon as the temperature moderately rises,
and on this account late caught skins, as well as those
taken too early, grade low in value.


The fur trade is dependent upon an exceptionally
large number of industries for essential supplies ; the list
comprises: Lumber, butter, oil, salt, coal, chalk, acid;
the products of manufacturers in other branches, em-
bracing, paper, twine, nails, silk, satin, wire, needles,
shears, knives, metal and other combs, brushes, scales,
hammers, barrels, cases of wood, paper boxes, chemicals,
canvas, chamois, braids, muslin, feathers, cotton, linen
and silk thread, buttons of various materials, rubber
cement, artificial eyes, dye stuffs, saw dust, sewing ma-
chines, fur dressing and dyeing machinery, steel traps —
a few other things, and cold storage. The contribution
of the fur trade to other lines of trade is exceedingly
small — merely fur tails to the brush maker, waste clip-
pings of fur to hatters' fur cutters, and shreds of pelts to
glue manufacturers.



Mexico and Central America, blessed with sunny
skies and southern breezes, are insignificant fur produc-
ing and consuming countries. A few raccoon, small pale
mink, wild cat and puma skins are collected, but all rate
low in quality.

Deer skins and alligator hides are secured in larger
quantity, and are regularly shipped to the United States.
Deer skins were exported from Nicaragua in 191 6 to
the value of $42,214, practically all going to the United
States to meet the demands of glovers.

Many interesting animals abound in the Republic of
Panama, the greater number of the species found there
doubtless having traveled thither at a remote period
from northern districts to escape pursuing enemies, but
unsuccessfully, as pursued and pursuers are found hunt-
ing and hunted in the same trackless and almost impene-
trable forests.

The fur bearers in Panama include the opossum,
raccoon, jaguar, ocelot and panther; the first named is
most abundant and differs most in size and appearance,
some specimens being smaller than a guinea pig, and
others equal in size to the largest northern specimens;
peltries of the various species of fur-bearers are infer-
ior to northern, the average temperature of Panama be-
ing eighty degrees, and rarely six or eight degrees lower,
at which temperature skins never become prime.



In 1634 the population of Canada, other than na-
tive Indians, was approximately sixty souls; during the
twelve succeeding years colonies settled along the bor-
der, and the number of white inhabitants increased to a
total of about twelve thousand, and trading with the
Indians began. This early fur trade in Canada was
largely regulated by officials, and it is doubtless true that
considerable favoritism was shown, some being allowed
to trade with but slight restraints, and others being de-
nied the privilege of dealing with the natives ; the trad-
ing was conducted by barter, the methods and mediums
of exchange differing but little, if any, from those in
common practice farther south ; at the outset all trading
was in the hands of French and English pioneers, the
former leading in number and activity. From the year
1535, when France took possession of the wonderful
northland, and more importantly since its cession to
Great Britain in 1763, Canada has continuously been
one of the greatest fur producing countries of the world.

Pierre E. Radisson and Medard Chonart left
France and went to Canada in 1654 and began trading
for furs with the Indians near the St. Lawrence River ;
in the season of 1658-9 they extended their operations


(Photo loaned by Revillon Freres Trading Co., Ltd.)

farther westward with success; three years later they
prosecuted the trade northward, and during this expedi-
tion, which extended over many months, claimed to
have visited what is now known as Hudson Bay, but the
claim was not well substantiated. They continued their
operations for several years, and consequently preceded
the Hudson's Bay Company, by which they were subse-
quently employed on very fair terms; they were, how-
ever, rather unreliable, or at least were not dependable,
as they left the Hudson's Bay Company and went over
to the assistance of French rivals, and later returned to
the English company. Practically all of the early years
of the fur trade in Canada were marked by a decidedly
fierce war of competition, at times threatening the ex-
tinction of one side or the other ; forts built by the French
and English trading companies changed hands again
and again, until the really more reputable, and positive-
ly most fair dealing of the several concerns gained con-
trol and unquestionably the legal right to operate. In
1680-82 a war of competition prevailed between the fur
traders at Albany, New York, and Quebec, Canada, in


the purchase of beaver skins, the English at the former
post paying about thirty per cent, more than the French
at Quebec — the traders at Quebec, considering the very
low figures at which beaver pelts were then purchased,
might have met the issue by paying the Albany price, but
while it has always been an easy matter to cut wages,
there does not seem to have been a time when reducing
dividends was not viewed as a hardship. The rivalry
continued, and Indians south and north of the border
were for a long time in a state of real war, and it was not
until after the peace of 1690 that an open market was
established at Montreal ; in the following year vast sup-
plies of Indian goods were carried to Montreal, and
stocks at Albany were depleted. Montreal duly became
the chief, if not the only market, the French being the
dominant traders, and so remaining, until the capture
of Quebec by the English in 1759, since which date all
Canada has been under English rule.

Peter Pond, an American, in 1775, traveled to the
far north in Canada as a fur trader; in 1777 he ex-
tended his trips to Deer River, thirty-eight miles be-
yond Lake Athabaska, and during the following year

(Photo loaned by Revlllon Trifm Trading Co., Ltd.)


erected a fort at that point ; it was the first fort built in
that remote section and was named The Fur Emporium.
In 1785 Peter Pond, Peter Pangman, Alexander N.
McLeod and John Gregory, the latter two Montreal fur
merchants, formed a rather strong company, and were
successful traders with the Indians in the vicinity of
Athabaska, along the Red and Saskatchewan Rivers, and
other northern regions, and became strong competitors
— fair and otherwise — of the Northwest Company, a
powerful association organized by fur merchants of
Montreal in 1783, the chief factors being Simon McTav-
ish and Joseph and Benjamin Frobisher, with thirteen
other stockholders.

In 1 787 the new company of traders and their older
rivals, the Northwest Company, united for peace and
prosperity; the business of the combined concerns con-
tinued to be managed at Montreal. A year later the
trade of the associated companies amounted to about
$200,000, and in 1798 had increased to about $600,000.
In those days the * 'turn-over" required considerable
time; receipts of supplies and their distribution to the
Indians, and the forwarding and final sale of a season's
collection of furs, usually consumed about three and one-
half years.

Lachine early became the point from which traders
and voyageurs set out on their annual expeditions in
quest of fur; they made their way northward in birch
bark canoes on the Ottawa River, carrying supplies out-
ward, and returning with cargoes of peltries — some of
the canoes carried up to three thousand pounds. These
voyageurs included French Canadians, half-breeds and
Indians, all of whom were efficient canoemen.


Many organizations were set in motion from time
to time to corner the fur trade of Canada, or kill compe-
tition. Some of them were good, others were quite dif-
ferent in many respects ; but only one association of early
creation, or subsequent formation, has survived the
stress peculiar to the industry from the date of organ-
ization to the present time.

The Northwest Company, a Canadian concern en-
gaged in collecting raw furs in lower Canada, gradually
extended its operations southward along the Rocky
Mountains into United States territory, embracing a
considerable portion of Oregon ; the company was eager
to control the entire raw fur industry, and some of the
members were not over particular regarding the means
employed to gain their purpose. The competition in-
dulged assumed the destructive character of war, not
apparent but actual war, with its customary horrors,
fears, losfe and death; this undesirable condition was
terminated in 1821, in which year the Northwest Com-
pany was absorbed by the Hudson's Bay Company.

For many years after the final conquest of Quebec by
the English, there was a marked decline in French par-
ticipation in the raw fur trade in Canada either by large
single interests or organizations. Ten years ago the
French came back in one notable instance, the firm of
Revillon Brothers entering the field in great earnestness
and financial strength; they promptly built large ware-
houses, established stores and trading posts in the newly
settled provinces and the more remote, almost trackless,
Northwestern wilds, and energetically began the collec-
tion of black fox, beaver, lynx, marten, mink and other
superfine skins, in steamship and carload lots — that is,

(Pkoto loaned by Revillon Frires Trading Co.. Ltd.)

quantities handled by only one other concern in the trade
of the Dominion. In the House of Commons at Ottawa,
Canada, May i6, 1906, the Private Bills Committee
granted federal incorporation to Revillon Brothers ; the
charter gave them exceptional powers, embracing the
right to build railways to connect their trading posts;
to operate vessels for transporting passengers and
merchandise; construct telephone and telegraph lines;
hold lands and exercise various hunting and fishing

The Revillons are operating under this charter with
gratifying results, but the title of the house was in 191 1
changed to Revillon Freres Trading Company, Limited.
English and French, two great concerns imbued with
sound business principles, are once more participating
in the country dear to both because of interests and tra-
ditions centuries old; both have grown wise with the
waning of the years, and their operations instead of be-
ing marred by destructive competition, grow apace un-




der the rule of rational co-operation, not as enemies but
as allies, sane and upright, and worthy of enduring suc-

We show elsewhere on an insert page in halftone, a
photograph of York Factory, one of the more import-
ant posts of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Fur-bearers indigenous to the Dominion embrace
many species, the annual catch of individual specimens
extending to totals of six and seven figures — muskrat
approximating 1,000,000, beaver 100,000, marten 70,-
000, foxes 30,000, and several others incredibly large
numbers; the yearly collection, however, possesses su-
perior interest on account of the quality rating, as the
fur ranks at highest grade in color, density and excel-
lence in detail, as a rule surpassing in quality the fur
obtained from animals of the same species taken in other
places, except northern and northeastern sections of the
United States and other localities where equally low
temperatures prevail during the winter months.

(Photo loaned by RevlUon Freres Trading Co., Ltd.)


For many years traders regularly secured their
supplies of fine peltries almost exclusively from the In-
dians, and though red men operating from mission and
trading stations, upon which they are largely dependent,
continue to procure valuable collections of desirable furs,
much of the trapping and hunting is now done by white
men, a small army, who spend the entire season at their
traps in the older sections of the country or the wilds
of the great northwest. For upwards of two hundred
years this initial branch of the fur business was under
the absolute rule of the Hudson's Bay Company, which
established one trading post after another in a steady
advance northward, and ever farther north to the con-
fines of the Arctic Circle, employing a great number of
Indians and, later, white men to trap and hunt, outfitting
them in advance and equitably adjusting differences on
their return with their catch at the end of the season.
The peltries thus secured formed when finally brought

(Photo loaned by Revillon Frirea Trading Co., Ltd.)

CANADA . 239

together a grand total unequalled in volume for many
decades, or until quite recently, when under the incen-
tive of very high prices trapping in the United States
became general from coast to coast and north to south ;
the annual collection of the Hudson's Bay Company is
still important in quantity and of maintained quality,
and in one article in particular, beaver, has continuously
exceeded the combined collections of all other concerns
and individual traders.

All skins secured by the Hudson's Bay Company
are shipped to London where they are offered at public
sale annually, beaver and muquash in January, and all
other articles in March.

The European war seriously restricted the opera-
tions of trappers, traders and every one concerned in the
fur business throughout Canada, dating from the be-
ginning of the season of 1914.

Canada is important both as a fur-producing and
consuming country ; owing to the length and severity of
the winters fur coats, wraps and smaller articles are
quite generally worn by men, women and children on
account of the comfort afforded, and the further fact
that they are pre-eminently fashionable. Domestic and
foreign furs are worn, the former predominating. The
principal manufacturing establishments, wholesale and
retail, are located in Montreal, Toronto and Quebec, but
there are furriers in every city from the border north-
ward to Edmonton.


The otter has a furry coat of remarkable beauty
and durability; the species inhabiting the river sections
of Canada, the country of largest collection, has a long
flexible body, twenty or more inches in length, short
limbs, webbed feet, and a tail, twelve to fifteen inches in
length, covered with short fur; the color is a pleasing
chestnut brown, darkest down the spine, mixed with
whitish gray on the under portion of the body ; the long
water-hairs are very glossy.

Fur of the otter is used in the natural state, or
plucked and unhaired is made up natural or dyed brown
or black; it is particularly well adapted for making
jackets, capes, collars, caps and gloves, and for border-
ing elegant garments made of other furs, or costly
textiles. Some skins, noticeably those from Nova Scotia,
and occasionally others, are very dark, nearly black, and
incomparably luxurious and beautiful made up natural.




For many years the catch in Canada ranged between
fifteen and twenty thousand skins, not falling below the
smaller number, and rarely exceeding the greater by
more than two hundred skins ; in recent years the catch
has greatly decreased, and at no distant date will touch


The pine marten frequents the wooded districts of
North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific; but
chiefly in localities in which the pine tree flourishes;
this choice of habitat is due to the fact that the animal
secures its chief food supply, squirrels, birds and birds'
eggs, in the branches of these evergreen trees.

Marten skins of good quality are obtained in
Alaska and northwestern sections of the United States,
but the best specimens, both in depth of color and density
of fur, are found in the Hudson's Bay districts ; the fur
is a dark, handsome brown, approaching black, darker
on the back and sides than on the under portion of the
body; the tail, which is about ten inches in length, is




black and fully furred. The color, however, is not the
same in all specimens, many being a light shade of brown
on the back and sides, and yellow on the throat and under
portions. Owing to these differences in color the skins
are graded as "dark" or "pale"; dark skins as a rule
command the higher price, but in the case of the marten
this rule has its exceptions, pale skins at times being the
more valuable on account of greater fashionable demand.

Marten is one of the few really handsome furs
subject to extreme fluctuations in value in consequence
of the favor or neglect of fickle fashion. The fur is
used in making superb coats, capes, sets and trimmings ;
it is generally popular in Europe.

Hudson's Bay sable is the name quite commonly
given to marten fur in the manufactured state ; not being
an imitation or a poor fur, it would unquestionably give

Online LibraryAlbert Lord BeldenThe fur trade of America and some of the men who made and maintain it, together with furs and fur bearers of other continents and countries and islands of the sea → online text (page 13 of 34)