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

. (page 22 of 34)
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 22 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

public sale firms, the Lampson sales are still of greatest


The mole is the strangest of all fur-bearing animals,
not excepting the freaks of nature concentrated in Aus-
tralia, and has a coat most nearly approximating fur
exclusively, the hairs in the pelt being quite as fine and
soft as the bluish fur from which they are not dis-
tinguishable. It lives its life not upon the earth, or in
air or v^^ater, but in the earth, occupying an excellently
arranged dwelling consisting of several chambers, gal-
leries and comfortable sleeping apartments, all con-
structed under ground below the frost line ; tunnels made
by the mole radiate from its dwelling in many directions,
and at varying distances, through which the animal
freely and speedily passes in quest of food, consisting of
grubs and bulbous roots of certain weeds ; at times these
tunnels run sufficiently near to the surface of the ground
to be plainly visible in the form of continuous ridges,
tiny mountains, raised by the mole on its foraging ex-
cursion along higher levels, frequently causing much
damage to fine lawns, meadows and pasture fields, but
on the whole the animal doubtless does much good in


MOLE 889

destroying vast numbers of noxious grubs which feed
upon the roots, or their Hfe juices, of valued shrubs and

The mole abounds in many parts of the world;
numbers of particularly large and finely furred speci-
mens are regularly obtained in Scotland; several hun-
dred thousand skins are oifered at a single sale in Lon-
don. The fur is dark bluish-grey, and is at times so
fashionable that imitations are advantageously intro-
duced to supply the special demand.

At the auction sale in New York, October 17, 191 7,
offerings in mole comprised 71,069 skins, which met
with a good demand; prices realized ranged from 8^
cents to 343/2 cents, according to quality.

LONDON, 1917

Notwithstanding the war, remarkable activity is
shown in the fur business at London; declared exports
to the United States from January, 191 7, to August,
191 7, aggregated in value $4,883,793, an increase of
$6i2,cxx) over the same period in 19 16.

Sales of raw furs at London from January to June,
both months inclusive, in 191 7, comprised: Muskrat 2,-
022,250, American opossum 738,286, beaver 3,981,
skunk 577,536, raccoon 73,115, mink 42,129, red fox
12,096, grey fox 15,552, wolf 28,748, black muskrat 10,-
465, squirrel 646,941, ermine 21,741, mole 148,186, Aus-
tralian opossum 240,000, Australian ringtail 158,384,
wallaby 207,146, Russian sable 467, and 196 fur seal



Australia, the largest island of the world, a near-
continent with an area approximating that of the United
States, differs so remarkably from the rest of the world
that it need not be considered strange that the fur-
bearers native to the country, island if you prefer, are
peculiarly Australian, or totally unlike those in any other

One of the most remarkable is the platypus, or duck-
bill, which is classed by some naturalists as belonging to,
if not the sole representative of, the lowest order of
mammals, and is a sort of connecting link between
mammal and bird ; it has a full coat of soft fur and hair ;
is similar to the American beaver in form of body and
tail; has a broad flat bill and webbed feet, in which
particulars it closely resembles the common duck; its



hind feet are furnished with spurs similar to those on the
legs of the game cock; a full g^own platypus measures
twenty-two inches in length including the tail, which is
four to five inches in length and covered with fur on the
upper side; the animal, which is indigenous to New
South Wales, is amphibious, and builds its nest in the
dry banks of ponds and streams. The fur shades from
dark to light brown, being darkest on the back, lightest
on the abdomen and silvery on the sides. Handsome
collars and muffs are made of platypus fur; the collec-
tion is small.

The koala is an odd creature, found in limited num-
bers only in the southeastern section of Australia; the
animal, which is about two feet in length, has a dense
coat of soft fur of a handsome grey tone, diversified by
a reddish tinge on parts of the body. The creature re-
sembles in some respects several animals, and conse-
quently is known by various characteristic names — Aus-
tralian bear, Australian sloth, and Australian monkey.
In a study of the animals on the great island it becomes



apparent that in the process of evolution, if they evolved
as claimed, some species must have been in doubt as to
the next best form to assume, or element to live in, and
while in the throes of indecision have become fixed mid-
way between bird and mammal, bear and monkey, a
mere dubious thing of land and air and water, but with-
out a secure and positive habitat in either.

Dingo is the name given to another Australian
animal, a species of wild dog or wolf, resembling both
in size and general characteristics, leaving the exact
classification in doubt; the skin is utilized in the manu-
facture of rugs and mats. It exists in large numbers.

The kangaroo is another peculiar animal native to
Australia; there are several varieties, rather than
species, in this large family, differing in size from large
rats to giants ; and some having coats composed wholly
of short, harsh hairs, and a few being provided with a
soft woolly under fur suitable for making small articles
of apparel, cloak trimmings and rugs ; pelts of the wall-
aby, or rock kangaroo, are marketed in large numbers;
the fur varies considerably in color, and includes rusty
brown, black and light shades of grey.



The wombat, also of doubtful nature, resembles
the badger in appearance, is found in nearly all parts of
the island; the long and rather harsh fur is a pleasing
grey mottled with black and white, and is largely used
in the manufacture of warm, serviceable clothing.

The red fox abounds in many localities, and thou-
sands of skins are annually exported.

The opossum is the most important fur-bearer in
the island, more than i ,400,000 skins having been offered
in London in a single year; like all other Australian
animals the opossum differs in size, color and general
appearance, but all have one distinguishing opossum
feature — the pouch in which the very young opossums
are carried, and to which they instinctively retreat when
alarmed. Pelts of the large pure grey and the sooty or




black specimens are the best furred, have the longest
fleece, and rank highest in value; other colors are dull
grey, grey tinged with red or mainly reddish, and in-
definite, mixed hues; the fur is used in making ladies'
and men's coats, neck pieces, muffs, linings, trimmings,
children's sets, and carriage robes, and has usually been
in good demand in Hungary, Austria and Russia for
making warm coats, and more moderately in France,
England and America for general wear. The article is
made up natural, and dyed a rich dark brown or lustrous

Millions of rabbits are annually shot, trapped and
otherwise secured in Australia ; some of these are black,
blue and silvery, and are well furred, and are sold in
dozen lots as "furriers' " skins ; the others are packed in
bales and sold by weight for cutting, or felting purposes.



The flying squirrel is about fifteen inches in length,
including the tail which is six to seven inches in length ;
the fur brownish-gray marked by a much darker line of
brown down the head and spine ; the fur is soft and very
fine, and approaches white on the under part of the
body. A membrane extends from the front foot to the
hind foot, and when the animal desires to pass from one
tree to another, or a higher to a lower limb in the same
tree, it spreads its feet and glides lightly through the
air. The animal is found in numbers in Australia; a
few specimens are noted in the United States. The fur
is made up into rather handsome sets.

New Zealand, comprising three islands in the South
Pacific Ocean, has no native fur-bearing animals, but
is overrun by millions of rabbits, descendants of a few
pairs introduced from Great Britain about fifty years
ago — more than eight million skins have been exported
in a single year, with the certainty of gathering a crop
of equal magnitude the following season, in spite of the
fact that the frightful slaughter was not due to a desire
to obtain skins but to insure rabbit extermination. New
Zealand rabbits are somewhat larger than either the
European or American species, colors being a handsome
grey, brown, and mixed brown and grey ; the best furred,
winter skins are used by furriers; other sorts are sold
by weight for cutting ; skins of best quality, that is best
furred, winter caught, weigh from twenty-four to forty-
eight ounces per dozen; common stock from sixteen to
thirty-two, and small skins from four to sixteen ounces
per dozen.

Though buried in snow and bound in ice a con-
siderable part of the year, the large island, known as
Iceland, in the North Atlantic Ocean on the edge of the
Polar Circle, supports abundant animal life, and con-
tributes quite largely to the stock of desirable furs re-
quired and utilized in clothing the human race — natives
of the dreary isle, and many in milder climes; supplies
in excess of domestic consumption are taken over by
Danish merchants, who have a monopoly of this trade.

Fur-bearers found in Iceland include white bears,
white foxes, white wolves, and snowy hares, several
species of hair seals, hares and foxes, the bear and rein-
deer — the last and seals are not furry, but the skins are
used in making native clothing. Seals are of leading
importance for food, clothing and export, owing to the
fact that they are caught in largest numbers.

Eider down is another valuable product of the
island ; it is obtained by despoiling the nest of the eider
duck which breeds on the small adjacent islands, bays
and inlets; from five to seven thousand pounds of eider
down have been collected annually, worth from two to
eight dollars per pound; the supply has considerably

Greenland, north of North America, is a good fur
country; the animals include the Arctic, blue and white



fox, Polar bear, white hare, wolf, reindeer, common,
crested and other hair seals; some of the Polar bear
skins sent to market measure about fourteen feet in
length by eight feet in breadth, and are used in making
hall rugs of exceptional beauty. The annual collection
of skins embraces several hundred fox and seal skins,
and from ten to forty bear hides.

All furs, skins and eider down collected in excess
of the requirements of the natives, chiefly esquimaux,
are taken to Copenhagen, Denmark, and disposed of at
public sale by the Royal Greenland Company annually,
usually in November; in 191 5 the sale was held on July
13, the offerings comprising 1,333 white and 184 blue
fox skins.


Spitzbergen, a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean
north of Norway, is inhabited exclusively by fur-bearers.
Polar foxes, bears and reindeer, which somehow manage




to endure the extreme cold and survive the long night of
four months, whalers occasionally visit Spitzbergen, and
when so disposed briefly remain to catch a few fearless
foxes and a bear or two.

Grinnell Land is inhabited by hardy esquimaux,
musk oxen and foxes, the fur-bearers being superior in
quality, but the pelts secured are almost exclusively re-
quired by the natives.

Lockwood Island, 80° 24-* north, 42° 45' west
longitude, the highest or farthest point north reached by
Lieutenant J. B. Lockwood, of the Greely Expedition in
May, 1882, fairly abounds in animals, foxes, bears, lem-
mings and ptarmigan, notwithstanding the fact that the
temperature falls to fifty degrees below zero. Speci-
mens, which were secured with little difficulty, were per-
fectly furred, exquisitely soft, silky and beautiful.



Many fur bearing animals, counting species and
peltries, are found in all parts of Europe ; some of them
are individually valuable as fur-worth is estimated in
the markets and fashion centers of the world, and all are
of intrinsic value in consequence of their great utility in
furnishing man with attractive, protective and comfort-
able clothing in temperate and frigid climes. Europe is
of leading importance as a consuming country of excep-
tional magnitude, measured either by a season or cen-
turies; the continent is truly great considered from the
standpoint of its large internal trade and extended com-
mercial relations with the entire outside world — the loss
of the fur trade of only a part of Europe as one of the
consequences of the war beginning in 19 14, seriously
affected the business in all other producing and consum-
ing countries ; and the end is not yet.

Russia is accorded first place in fur production
among European countries, owing to the vast area, the
wild, rugged charact«r of exceedingly large districts,
and immense forests, affording favoring conditions for
the continuous existence of wild animals of many spe-




cies; a considerable part of Russia remains in the state
of original creation, uninhabitable and therefor unin-
habited by man, and consequently better adapted to the
life requirements and perpetuity of the lower order of
animals, particularly fur-bearers, than other portions of
the globe. Russia is also an important fur consuming
country, the long and very severe winters making fur
clothing generally essential for rich and poor ; many who
cannot afford even the cheapest furs wear sheep-lined
coats at all times, the garments being made to be worn
with the woolly side next to the person in winter, and re-
versed in summer. The fur-bearing animals native to
Russia are important in quality rather than in variety
of species, and embrace the sable, ermine, fox, marten,
fitch, squirrel, beaver, muskrat, wolf and badger.


The most valuable of these, and of all
pelts, size considered, is the Russian sa-
ble, in Russian, Sobol, a member of the
widely distributed weasel family; it is
found in Asiatic Russia, Siberia and
Kamtschatka, the finest being collected
at Yakutsk. The sable varies in color
with the changing seasons; in summer
the fur is reddish brown with a sprink-
ling of grey hair about the head, but in
winter it assumes a beautiful dark brown,
deep plum or nearly black tone ; the dark-
skins uniformly rank highest in beauty
and value in all markets of the world. Selected, very
dark specimens, known as Russian Crown sables, are


nearly all retained in Russia to meet the requirements of
the Czar and nobility ; it has been a courtly fur for sev-
eral centuries, and while always too costly to be a fad or
become common, it has always been fashionable, rank-
ing with gems as a treasure of exceeding worth ; the fur
is long, dense and remarkably soft, and so peculiarly
rooted in the leather that it may be brushed with the
hand in the natural direction, from head to tail, or the
reverse, and it will remain as placed without apparent
injury or loss of beauty. Russian sable is used in mak-
ing cloaks, wraps, coat and robe linings, collars, muffs
and small articles; a lining for a royal robe requires
from eighty to a hundred skins and may cost from three
to thirty thousand dollars. If the sable, which is never
abundant, was a low priced fur-bearer, it would seldom
be trapped or hunted, as its capture is attended with
many hardships, and even the loss of human life, for as
the fur is best in the coldest months of the year, and the
little animal frequents wild, desolate districts frequently
visited by terrific snow storms, the life of the sable hun-
ter is fraught with strain and peril which only the most



Sturdy, lured by the hope of a rich reward, dare experi-
ence; every winter a number of the sable hunters are
lost in the deep forests, or perish in the snow.

For generations, too many for memory to declare
the number, the choicest Russian sable skins, designated
everywhere as "Crown sables," were reserved for the
royal family and really rich nobles; the last and most
barbaric war toppled the "crown" into the morass of
vanished glories, and in passing terminated the regal
direction of a few selected sable skins, presumed to be
superior but not too good for czars, emperors, courtiers
and trailing inheritors of ducats and dollars.

In 1880 very good sable skins sold for five roubles
each, $3.75; thirty years later, as the result of an in-
creased demand in the United States, prices ranged up
to eight hundred roubles, $600 per skin.


The stoat is another member of the weasel family
which yields a coat of royal fur known commercially as
ermine. It is a small animal, only twelve to fourteen
inches in length, of very slim body, and consequently
producing only a small pelt ; during the spring, summer
and autumn the fur is a dull reddish brown and of no
value, but in winter it naturally changes to a creamy hue,
and in many specimens to pure white, except the tip of
the tail which is a clear black. The best ermine, both as


regards size and quality, are annually procured in Rus-
sia, the collection appsoximating seventy thousand skins,
more or less; the fur is invariably used in lining large
coronation robes of emperors, kings and other royal per-
sonages; lining robes worn by certain officials and
judges; as a compenent material of crowns, and in the
production of opera cloaks, wraps and smaller articles
of apparel. The black tip of the tail is inserted in the
white ground of the manufactured fur at regular inter-
vals with excellent effect.


Although many thousands of wolves are annually
killed, the slaughter being conducted at all seasons, the
animal continues to abound, and it is believed that more
than one hundred thousand wolves are still at large in
Russia. The Russian wolf is exceptionally fierce and
voracious, and the animal most feared by man; a large
number of human beings, and countless domestic ani-
mals are annually killed and devoured by savage Russian
wolves. The fur of the wolf is suitable for making
warm loose fitting coats, ladies' sets, and robes ; it was in
particularly good demand for military uses in the
trenches and open field work in the great European war.
Methods of trapping wolves in Russia differ from those
pursued in other places ; the most effective trap consists
of a large wooden pen provided with swinging doors
which can be easily opened or closed by men concealed
nearby; the wolves are lured into the pen by a trapper
who passes out at one door as the wolves enter by the
other ; the wolves thus taken alive are killed at the con-
venience of their captors.


The species of squirrels valued on account of their
furry coats are very numerous in all parts of Russia and
Siberia; they are larger than the American squirrels,
and are superior in every respect, particularly in being
well furred, whereas the American squirrels have coats
showing a growth of short hair only; the difference is
due to the greater severity and length of the Russian

Russian and Siberian squirrels of the same class
vary in color, beauty and value according to the districts
in which they flourish; those taken in Eastern Siberia,
especially in the Amoor district and near the sea coast,
are of superior size and quality, and are known in the
trade as Saccamina squirrels ; these are a beautiful dark
grey. The second grade is classed as Yakutsky; skins
of this class are dark grey and blue, of fair size, and are
prepared for market in two assortments.

Another class, the third in value, consists of small-



er skins which are pale blue, steely grey and striped, and
known as Lensky squirrels, and which are assorted into
four divisions according to color.

The next mark, Yeniseisky squirrels, of which a
million or more are secured each year, are lighter in
color, and subdivided into three grades.

Obskoy squirrels constitute the fifth class; they
are pale blue, very finje, and in smaller supply than the
other sorts.

Beisky squirrels, another trade name for the skins,
are blue, small, and fairly good ; the annual collection is
large. There are a few more names, or assortments, but
they are of minor importance on account of moderate

In addition to the above marks, half a million or
more small squirrel skins are annually collected at Arch-
angel and in the territory surrounding Moscow, and are
designated, Kasan squirrels; these are quite generally
taken for home consumption. An incredible number of
squirrel skins, six to twelve million, are secured yearly
in Russia and Siberia, nearly half the total catch being
exported, China and Europe constituting the best mar-
kets. Squirrels are caught in traps, but the greater num-
ber annually killed are shot with blunt arrows which do
not injure the skin or fur; this latter method of capture
is pursued on a large scale at the beginning of the winter
season, at which time the squirrels migrate in vast
troops and are consequently easily shot in great num-

Squirrel fur is used in many ways, and is a showy,
serviceable article; it is of special value as a lining for
coats and wraps, and is extensively used in this way both


at home and abroad, the consumption in China being ex-
ceptionally large ; the fur is also used natural in making
wraps, neckwear, muffs and children's sets, and is dyed
mink color for similar manufacture. Linings are made
of whole skins, backs only, or the belly fur exclusively.
A few linings are made in Russia from the fur of the
heads of the squirrels, but these are rather expensive on
account of the labor cost in sewing the small pieces into
a plate of lining size, from fourteen hundred to two
thousand heads being required to make a single lining.


Fur consumption greatly increased toward the close
of the nineteenth century, and consequently all furry
skins, and a few that merely looked like fur, were requi-
sitioned to meet the constantly expanding demand; the
Russian colt, killed almost immediately after birth, sup-
plied one of these near-fur skins. The hid^, called pony-
skin in the trade, was at first, as a test, introduced in
small lots, but though extremely cheap met with little
favor the skins earliest shown being flat, or short-haired ;


PONY 407

skins subsequently offered were more shaggy, fluffy or
curly, and when dressed were really attractive in ap-
pearance and color. A number were dyed black with
fairly good results, the demand perceptibly increasing
until the number of Russian ponies killed exceeded one
hundred thousand per annum. At the outset of the pony
craze skins could be bought in Russia for fifty to sixty
cents each, and when the fad reached its height dressed
and dyed skins ranged above eight dollars. Ladies' long
black pony coats beginning around ten dollars, kept on
advancing in popularity until the selling price rose to
somewhere near a hundred dollars ; choice, selected light
brown skins went much higher, some furriers asking two
hundred dollars for short coats of natural fluffy pony-
skin — the craze ended just in time to permit one crop
of ponies to mature for the war.


The fur business has for centuries been important
and conspicuous among the industries of Russia, excit-
ing the interest and attention not only of merchants and
traders, but the government as well; the territory for-
merly known as Russian American was taken possession
of by Russia solely on account of the revenue derived
from the annual catch of sea otter and seal skins ; Russia
conquered Siberia and held Saghalien because of the val-
uable supplies of sables, foxes and other peltries col-
lected in both places.

The export trade of Russia is very large, but the
greater part of the annual collection of skins is required
for domestic consumption, as fur is employed in the pro-
duction of all forms of apparel.


Fur petticoats are quite generally worn in winter,
and are favorite wedding presents in certain social cir-
cles, the quality of the garments varying according to
the bride's station in life and the more or less generous
disposition of the donors.

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 22 of 34)