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 20 of 34)
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Kangaroo 245

Squirrel 12,400

Marmot 1,261

Leopard 474

Stone Marten 185

Blue Fox 644

Cross Fox 788

Red Fox 6,684

White Fox 1,888

Silver Fox 326

Grey Fox 4,626

Skunk 88,897

Lynx 4,756

Beaver 8,689

Pahmi 9,692

White Hare 200

Russian Sable .... 199

Russian Fitch .... 2,327
AmericanOpossum 1 1 3,83 1

Ringtail Opossum. 13,949
AustralianOpossum 19,403

Australian Fox . . 3,156

Japanese Marten.. 1,217

Japanese Mink . . . 4,420

Chinese Weasel . . 42,686

Chinese Civet 4>556

Leopard Cat 4405

Wild Cat 11,017

Ringtail Cat 1,196

House Cat 15*097




It was a great sale, not merely because nearly
ooo pelts were sold, but importantly in that it in
sively proved that once and again raw furs in exti
quantity, in spite of the non-existence of foreign
mand, may readily be marketed in the true center of thv

It was great in that it brought into clear relief the
positive spirit of patriotism prevailing in the Fur Trade
of America.

Mayor Mitchel, of New York, addressed the as-
sembled merchants in behalf of the Second Liberty Loan,
and the response was spontaneous and inspiring, in-
dividual subscriptions ranging upward to one hundred
thousand dollars being made as rapidly as the tellers
could record names and amounts; bonds were taken in
the five days of the sales to the amount of



"Blue pelts," the term correctly describing fur skins
which are blue on the pelt or leather side, are the skins
of fur-bearers caught early in the fall, while the tem-
perature is above freezing; such skins are "unprime,"
and the condition of the leather is due to the fact that
the blood which supplies "life" to the fur and hair at
the roots during the period of growth, has not completed
its purpose and been in due course absorbed into the
veins of the body. When the animal is killed in this
stage of development, the light strain of blood feeding
the fur coagulates, corrupts, turns the pelt blue, and
weakens it as corruption progresses.

A blue pelt invariably means immature fur, and a
weak leather. The same skin caught a few weeks later,
when prime, would be mature in fur and strong in
leather, and would command a much higher price — and
be worth the difference.

"Shedders" is the term applied to fur skins caught
in the spring from the time the temperature again rises
and remains above thirty-two degrees. Such skins may,
if not taken too late, have fairly strong leather, but
the excess of fur necessary for the maintenance of the
normal condition of the animal in winter begins to
fall out, or "shed," and continues to do so after the
skin has been manufactured, and on account of its
poor wearing quality tends to condemn good fur as well
as bad in the opinion of purchasers for consumption.



Legislatures of the several States should prohibit
the capture of fur-bearing animals before the fur be-
comes prime, under penalty of seizure of the skins wher-
ever found with added fines for all subsequent offences.
There is a more effective remedy. Raw fur dealers and
furriers know that as a rule blue pelts and shedders are
practically worthless, wanton waste, and should there-
fore refuse to buy them at any price. The present inter-
ests of the trade, and the perpetuity of the fur industry,
demand such action, not to-morrow or some time, but

Jf ut JSresisimg

Fur skins are rendered clean, odorless, and pliant
by a process, embracing several operations, known as
dressing; it is the initial manipulation, and definitely
and effectively marks the distinction between "skins"
and "furs." The date at which skins were first dressed
is unknown, but it is a well attested fact that fur dress-
ing is not an attainment to be credited to civilization, for
it was practiced long before Governments were dreamed
of or States were formed.

Civilized navigators and pioneers of earliest record
who visited great or small or out-of-the-way places
where seasons rule, moderately low temperatures or the
ice king continuously reign, invariably found that the
aborigines, yellow and red, knew how to dress the skins
of furry animals, and in most instances were master
workmen, or workwomen, for much of the fur dressing
done by people ranking as savages was, and is, done by

North American Indians and Esquimaux have, so
far as can be learned, been particularly efficient, and
their dressing is not surpassed in any essential point by
the most skilled modern workmen operating singly or
in teams with vastly superior mechanical devices and
approved materials.

Peltries of every description as removed from the
bodies of the animals are stretched and dried on boards,
in which state they are classed as "raw," are hard, stiff,
greasy, more or less unpleasantly odorous, and in every
particular unfit for use, and therefore have to pass
through the operations known as dressing to render



them available for manufacturing purposes ; dressing re-
sults in perfectly purifying and deodorizing the fur, and
making the leather as soft and pliant as the finest kid
used in making gloves.

Methods of dressing furs pursued by expert dress-
ers engaged exclusively in the work, are too complicated
to be learned other than by practical experience, particu-
larly in the manipulation of the choicer and very costly
skins, which have to be handled with great care to avoid
injuring the fur — except under arrangements at "own-
er's risk," the dresser has to make good losses due to
his inefficiency. All fur skins are not dressed in exactly
the same manner, generally, however, they are soaked
for a number of hours in slightly salted water to ad-
vance the softening of the leather; the skins are then
allowed to remain in the air until the moisture exapo-
rates, after which they are greased on the leather side
with butter, oil or lard of best quality ; low grade butter
and cheap oils have been used on all but the highest
priced skins, but not with satisfactory results as the
finished furs retained somewhat of the offensive odor
inherent in such materials. The skins, varying in num-
ber according to quality and size, are next placed in a
machine similar to that used in felting wool, operated by
power, and which as it revolves turns the skins over and
over and upon each other until the leather becomes quite
clean and soft ; during this operation the skins are liable
to become over-heated, and if this condition is approxi-
mated the skins are promptly removed from the machine,
spread out to cool, and are again put back for a final
beating. Skins heated to excess while being beaten may
be uninjured in leather, but the fur will be damaged,


appearing curled, crinkled and burned in spots and
patches; such skins are classed as "singed," and the
total or partial loss in value falls upon the dresser.

When the beating operation is completed the skins
are individually examined, and all remaining shreds of
flesh and fat are removed with a dull knife ; the skins are
next placed in a machine with a mixture of sawdust, rye-
bran or wheat flour, and are beaten with alternating
plungers until the sawdust mixture takes up as near as
may be all the grease, natural and added for dressing,
both upon the surface and in the pores of the leather;
the small amount of grease remaining upon completion
of the above operation is removed either with clay, or
by placing the skins in a revolving wheel, called a
"drum," with very fine sawdust from red cedar, and
revolving them until all grease is absorbed. Following
their removal from the drum the skins are shaken or
beaten to remove the sawdust and other dressing sub-
stances from the fur.

The operation of cleansing the leather of grease
with sawdust and bran was formerly performed by
"treading^*; the skins and dressing substances were
placed in casks and men tramped them with their bare
feet for hours — in instances the men treading the pelts
were not only "in their bare feet," but were otherwise
as undressed as the furs they were treading.

When the mechanical operations are completed,
workmen carefully comb the fur on all parts of the pelt,
and then for the first moment since its removal from the
body of the animal the beauty or defects of the fur be-
come fully manifest to the observer.

Furs are first dressed and are then dyed; but cer-


tain kinds of skins are only partially dressed and are
then dyed, the dressing being subsequently completed;
owing to this practice dressing and dyeing, are often con-
ducted in the same establishment, particularly by opera-
tors who prefer, on account of the responsibility in-
volved, to dye skins of their own dressing.

The work of fur dressing is performed chiefly at
and in the vicinity of Leipzig, and in lesser amount in
other cities of Germany; at and near Paris and Lyon,
France; Moscow and Petrograd, Russia; London, Eng-
land; Greater New York, Newark, N. J., and to a lesser
extent in other cities in the United States.

Furs were more or less excellently dressed from the
earliest date at which they were used as clothing by
savages, barbarians, partially and progressively civilized

The work of the Esquimau fur dresser is perfect in
every particular. In 1609, when Henry Hudson ex-
plored the country bordering the river now bearing his
name, he learned that the Indians were expert fur
dressers as well as alert trappers and hunters; and the
same fact was noted by other explorers and pioneers as
they continued their march toward the setting sun.

Indians dress skins by pegging them down, leather
side up, upon a smoothe, hard spot of earth; the only
substances used is the brains of the animal from which
the pelt was taken, and juices of certain berries; this
brain-dressing is simply rubbed over and worked into
the leather until it becomes nearly dry, and is then care-
fully scraped off with a blunt instrument, leaving the
pelt perfectly clean and soft. In the era of made haste
in bison extermination upon the western plains of the


United States, Indian dressed buffalo hides, owing to
greater care in skinning as well as excellence in dress-
ing, commanded a higher price in the market than
"white man handled" robes.

Bpeing anb IPIenbins

Though skins were colored somewhere near the
date of the Exodus, furs were first successfully dyed in
the eleventh century, but the results achieved at that
early period in the history of the art were not remark-
ably impressive ; and for many years very little progress
was made in this particular class of dyeing, as the es-
sential work of cleansing the fur previous to applying
the dye was only imperfectly understood. Within the
past seventy-five, but more importantly the last thirty
years, great improvements have been perfected in
methods of dyeing furs both abroad and at home; the
progress made in the United States, mainly in Greater
New York and Newark, has been most rapid and pro-
nounced, advancing from an insignificant beginning to
world leadership in the industry; and the remarkable
degree in perfection attained in fur dyeing and the other
operations preliminary to manufacturing, dressing,
plucking and unhairing, have resulted advantageously
beyond calculation to the fur trade at large in the dis-
covery and development of the latent beauty and value
of many previously unappreciated peltries — this is
especially true of fur seal and coney skins. Sundry
other furs, noticeably lynx, opossum, variegated, and
pale or faded skins, are greatly improved in appearance
and increased in value by dyeing only.

• DYEING 359

Formulas are guarded as invaluable secrets; each
dye of acknowledged superiority, either on account of
color or fastness, is the result of patient study and re-
peated experiments, and their composition and manipu-
lation cannot be obtained from the discoverers for "love
or money."

Furs which may be improved by dyeing, and those
which are from time to time dyed to meet periodic de-
mands of fashion, are usually colored black, brown or
blue ; but many fancy colors are also produced by dyers
as fleeting fads or imitations, such as blue, red, orange,
green, purple and yellow to harmonize with garments
to be fur-finished.

Some skins are at times dyed in dual tones, yellow
ground fur, and black top hairs ; sheared coney has been
dyed in imitation of seal, tiger, leopard and zebra skins ;
white foxes and white hares are dyed a smoky, bluish-
brown to imitate natural blue fox ; these are only a few
of the marvels and freaks produced by efficient fur dyers,
who stand ready to deliver on short notice any novelty
or imitation that may be desired in quantity.

As a rule furs are dyed in the tub, that is, are dipped
in the liquid dye the necessary time for fixing the color ;
seal skin, which are first nailed fur-side out on boards
prepared for the purpose, have the dye brushed on, from
four to twelve applications being required to secure the
desired tone. Plucked beaver and otter are also brush-

Brush-dyed skins suffer no deterioration in leather,
remain pliant, and are much more durable than skins
dipped in the dye tub.

"Seal color," for many years a comparative term in


the trade, was originally a beautiful chestnut brown, but
has been superceded by a much deeper hue, emanating
from Paris, so definitely approximating black as to rank
as black in the judgment of all observers except the
elect few claiming the possession of exceptional color

Mink, sable, marten and other furs chiefly beautiful
on account of the abundance of long glossy hairs, but
which owing to section of origin or season of capture
are naturally too light in color to be in vogue, or which
have become faded, are darkened by an operation known
as "blending."

Such skins would lose much of their gloss and
strength if dipped in the dye tub, and much of the es-
sential sheen of the long hairs would be destroyed if the
dye should be brushed on as in seal dyeing; as a rule
only small portions and patches of the fur require dark-
ening, and this effect is secured by repeatedly touching
the fur to be toned with a small brush dipped in a tinc-
ture specially prepared for the purpose, the painting
being continued until the entire pelt is "blended." Furs
that have become faded in service may be similarly
treated; or when new fur has been pieced into old gar-
ments, the old fur may be blended to harmonize in color
with the new.

For generations it was believed that certain fur
skins could be properly dyed only in Leipzig; one of the
principal articles so regarded was Persian lamb skin,
but long "before the war" this dressy skin was satis-
factorily colored by American dyers. For many years
the trade assumed, and consumers were insistently
taught, that fur seal skins could be correctly dressed


and dyed nowhere except in London, and during the
many years when the catch exceeded two hundred thou-
sand skins per annum, nearly all the fur seal pelts were
manipulated in that city, and American wearers of fur
seal garments and novelties per force paid an import
duty of twenty per centum on an American article. Seal
skins were being dyed in America all the time, though in
comparatively small supply, and the dye was good.
Dyers at Paris also successfully entered the field, and
while they did not lead in volume, they set the fashion
in color — and fashion always dominates in fur.

The number of fur dyers in the United States has
increased many fold in the past ten years, and they now
efficiently dye furs of every class suitable for dyeing;
and readily produce the desired color — natural or super-

Illustrations of fur dressing tools shown on the
succeeding page are selected from a large number,
greatly differing in form, used by North American
Indians, as presented in the report of the National
Museum, 1889, by Otis T. Mason, curator of the De-
partment of Ethnology.


Fig. I. Beaming Tool. Made from the tibia of a
horse. There has been little or no modification of the
bone. The fibula furnishes a most excellent natural edge
for the tool. Cat. No. 19891, U. S. N. M. Piute In-
dians, southern Utah. Collected by Maj. J. W. Powell.

Fig. 2. Graining Tool. Made of the tibia of the
deer. At the middle part, where the bone is hardest, it


is cut in two diagonally so as to expose a square edge
on the posterior part. Teeth are cut in this edge to
soften the skin after treatment. Cat. No. 19894, U. S.
N. M. Utes of northern Utah. Collected by Maj. J. W.

Fig. 3. Graining Tool. Made of the tibia of a
horse. The column cut diagonally across the middle or
hardest portion so as to furnish a square edge on the
posterior side. Very fine teeth have been made along
this edge for graining or softening the skin. Cat. No.
31316, U. S. N. M. Indians of the pueblo of Isleta, New
Mexico. Collected by Dr. H. C. Yarrow and Lieut.
George Wheeler, U. S. Army.

Fig. 4. Graining Tool. Made of iron. An old-
fashioned wagon skein, used on wooden axles before
iron axles were invented. The upper or inner portion
shows the holes for the rivets. Its edge is serrated for
graining the hide. The buckskin thong is wrapped
around the forearm and serves as a brace to hold the
tool rigid. The shaft is covered with buckskin to pro-
tect the hand. Cat. No. 14196, U. S. N. M. Sioux In-
dians, Dakota. Collected by Edward Palmer.


All animals specially valued on account of their
pelage have a coat consisting of long, rather coarse hairs
scattered over the entire body, and which generally are
darker than the shorter, softer and much more abundant
set of exceedingly fine hairs which they cover from view ;
the longer surface set consists wholly of hair, the under
set is what we designate as fur.

In some species of animals classed as fur-bearers







the upper and in others the under coat correctly ranks
as most beautiful, and in instances as the only attrac-
tive division ; a few specimens are doubly valuable, being
exceedingly handsome "in the hair," or as fur only.
The first class, those naturally beautiful, includes the
sea otter, sable, marten, fox, chinchilla, mink, skunk,
lynx, ermine, and a few others having short hair and
fur which is either handsomely marked, or uniform in
color; those in which the soft under fur is regarded as
particularly beautiful, whether natural or dyed, include
the fur seal, beaver, otter, coney and muskrat; the
beaver, otter, nutria and muskrat may be effectively used
either natural, plucked or dyed.

The operation of removing the long hairs is vari-
ously termed plucking, picking, clipping, shearing and
unhairing; the last named is now the most important.

Beaver skins that are to be plucked are prepared for
the operation by being soaked in water to soften the
leather and open the pores so that the hairs may be easily
removed; when the skins become soft enough to be
worked they are warmed, and are then placed upon a
rounded beam, fur side down, and shaved on the leather
side with a moderately sharp knife which cuts off the
hairs at the roots permitting them to be readily drawn
out, or plucked. Otter and nutria skins, which are
similar in character to beaver, and opossum, mink and
muskrat are plucked in practically the same manner;
otter, natural or plucked, is a superb and exceptionally
durable fur; plucked and dyed otter, nutria, mink and
muskrat have at times been freely used as seal imita-
tions, particularly when seal was universally popular
and constantly advancing in price, and the other articles


were at low-water mark in value. Fur seal skins are
plucked differently, requiring two operations to com-
plete the work ; the first constitutes a part of the opera-
tion of dressing, the second may be done at any time
after the skins have been dyed; the dressers remove a
majority of the long hairs, but as those remaining, ap-
pearing as tiny glistening points irregularly distributed
over the dark surface of the fur, mar the beauty of the
pelt, all have to be taken out; originally this finishing
process was designated as "picking," and was done by
girls, who carefully parted the fur, held it down and then
clipped off the short hairs with a pair of shears of
peculiar shape. Since 1881 the work of "picking," from
that date defined as "unhairing," has been done by a
simple but rather remarkable machine, which perfectly
unhairs a skin in about an hour, whereas formerly sev-
eral days were required to do the work imperfectly by
hand. The machine consists of a bellows to blow the
fur apart, a comb to hold it down while the hairs are
being cut, and two knives set horizontal ; the machine is
operated by a treadle moving the skin forward across
an iron bar one-sixteenth of an inch at a time, and as
the bellows blow the light fur open the stiff hairs stand-
ing erect, unaffected by the light current of air, are in-
stantly clipped off by the knives across the entire width
of the pelt.

Some skins, especially coney and muskrat, are
merely "sheared" — that is, all the long hairs are cut
off down to or slightly into the under fur, leaving a
complete surface of uniform depth; sheared skins may
be used natural or dyed as imitations of other furs.

White furs, particularly fox and ermine, and es-


sentially Polar bear, are greatly improved in appear-
ance by bleaching in sulphur fumes to restore the fur
to a clear, uniform white on pelts that have become
stained, soiled or partially yellow.


Adolph Bowsky is the oldest living and actively en-
gaged fur dresser in America. He was born in Brom-
berg, Germany, in May, 1833; after learning the fur
dressing trade in Berlin, he came to New York, and in
1857 was engaged as foreman in the fur dressing and
dyeing works of Theodore Favre, with whom he re-
mained until 1863, when he established a plant of his
own on East Fifty-first Street, where the business has
been continuously conducted to date.

Mr. Bowsky was one of the first dressers to suc-
cessfully deodorize skunk; at first only a few hundred
skins were dressed annually, but subsequent to 1880 he
dressed in excess of one hundred and fifty thousand
skins in a single year.


Max Bowsky, born in Germany in 1852, came to
New York fourteen years later and at once began an
experimental study of fur dressing and dyeing, con-
tinuing his apprenticeship for about twelve years. In
1879 he established independently, and on account of the
excellence of his outpnt became one of the best known
fur dressers and dyers in America; his black dye, par-
ticularly on fine lynx, was the recognized standard.

He died December 12, 1907.



J. D. Williams, whose superior fur dyeing establish-
ment has been most favorably known in the trade of
America for upwards of three-quarters of a century,
was born in Albany, N. Y., in 1817, at which time his
father was just beginning- his business career as a
dresser and dyer of furs. Following his graduation at
Williams College, Mr. Williams secured a suitable plant
at Marlboro, N. Y., and engaged in fur dressing and
dyeing in accordance with the most approved methods
of the time. He later, in association with his father, re-
moved to New York City and opened a factory in Bur-
ling Slip in the immediate vicinity of the center of the
fur manufacturing industry of that date; about a year
later a great fire swept over that part of the city, and
Mr. Williams removed ,to Brooklyn where for more
than half a century he personally conducted a continu-
ously enlarging and popular business in dressing and
dyeing fine furs, especially seal, beaver and otter.

Some time prior to his retirement from active duty
on account of advancing age, he admitted his sons into
the business, which was incorporated in 1901, under
style : J. D. Williams, Inc.

Mr. Williams died at his place of residence in
Brooklyn, April 3, 1901.


In October, 1902, Theodore and Abraham Schiff
and John C. Crasser, under style, Schiff & Company,
purchased the factory and business of the Rodiger &
Quarch Fur Dyeing Company in Brooklyn, N. Y., and

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 20 of 34)