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 25 of 34)
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ian squirrel skins, and sundry European and American
articles. During the day the merchants visit the shops
for the purpose of examining the goods and comparing
prices, but exchanges or purchases are rarely effected
until evening, when buyers and sellers assemble at their
hotels for dinner, which is the most important event of
the day; those gathered about the tables are seemingly
engaged solely in a feast of good things, but as a matter
of fact each one is exercising to the utmost his business
skill, wit and wisdom to effect exchanges, sales and pur-
chases so as to get **the best of the bargain."

At the Irbit Fair, July, 191 7, competition was strong
though prices ruled high; offerings comprised the fol-
lowing skins: Badger, 3,000; house cats, 50,000; ermine,
120,000, which brought from 83 cents to $1.86; Russian
iltis, fitch, 140,000; cross fox, 500; white fox, 7,500, sell-
ing at $12.86 to $14.27; silxer fox, 100, of which ^he
best brought $857.00; red fox from various sections,


8,000; grey fox, 2,500; kolinsky, 60,000; lynx, 500;
baum marten, 2,000; Russian mink, 2,000; sables, 1,500,
brought from $25.00 to $128.00; wolves, 1,000; bears,
300; Mongolian foxes, 700, brought from $4.86 to $6.86;
otters, 200; wolverine, 300; dog skins, 4,000, and 2,075,-
000 squirrel skins.


Important fairs have been held annually at Leip-
zig, Germany, for nearly six centuries. These fairs,
three in number, are attended by merchants and manu-
facturers from Germany, Russia, Greece, Hungary,
Turkey, Denmark, Sweden, England, France, Italy and
America, who visit the fairs as buyers and sellers — eith-
er to purchase furs produced in lands other than their
own, or to sell their native products in an open market.

The bulk of the raw and dressed skins thus ex-
changed or sold is taken for actual consumption ; but in
instances large parcels of lamb, squirrel, hare and other
peltries are purchased for speculation.

Russians have usually been the largest buyers.

The New Year Fair, first of the three, is held in

The Easter Fair, which is of leading importance to
fur merchants, occurs immediately after the sacred fes-
tival from which it derives its name, and usually opens
in April. Large lots of furs purchased at the London
March sales, and direct shipments from the United
States, are sold at the Easter Fair to German and other

The Michaelmas Fair, last of the three, is held in
September. The great European war has adversely af-


fected all these fairs, owing to bad business conditions in
all markets, and the evident inability of foreign mer-
chants to attend or forward goods for purchase and

Hamb ^Uni

A large quantity of lamb skins of various kinds and
sizes is regularly employed in the manufacture of arti-
cles of winter apparel throughout the world; many of
these skins are marketed through the great Russian
fairs, others are shipped to London for sale in the raw,
and smaller lots are sent direct to consuming centers, or
are converted into clothing at the sources of produc-
tion. All are handled in the fur trade owing principally
to the fact that they are made up with the fleece on the
skin, in the same manner as furs, instead of the methods
usually pursued in the manufacture of wool. Several
million skins are annually collected and consumed ; these
skins vary in size, color and texture; the greater num-
ber are white, many are light grey, mixed grey and
white, and some are black; in some specimens the wool
is tightly curled, in others open curled, crinkled or
straight ; certain diminutive specimens, found largely in
Asia, are generally admired. Lamb skins are known in
the fur trade by the following names :

Persian lamb, Persians or Persianer; these have
closely curled wool on all parts of the pelt, and are made
up natural or dyed a lustrous blue-black ; the article is at
times extremely fashionable for ladies' coats, capes,
children's garments and headwear ; some consumers re-
gard selected Persians as superior in beauty to any fur
except sable ; it has no rival as a mourning "fur."

>vi«Bttii.-.ii'%t^t via


Half -Persians are a lower grade of skins of the
Persian class, and are well adapted for making capes,
linings and caps.

Large collections of Persian lamb skins are regu-
larly offered at the fair at Nijni Novgorod, and are sold
in bale lots for dressing and dyeing at Leipzig, where
the finishing processes have been conducted for many
years ; many skins are dyed in Russia, where the article
is extensively used in making garments, linings, and also
for military collars and caps; in recent years Persians
have been finely dyed in Greater New York.

Broadtail, made up into costly garments, is a lamb
skin showing a beautiful wavy pattern, similar to moire

Astrakhan, or Merluschka, Iamb skins are collected
in quantity at Muraschkino, Russia, and are forwarded
to the fairs by Russian and Persian merchants ; some are
dressed at the stated center of collection, Moscow, Ka-
san and other Russian cities. As compared with Per-
sians the wool is longer and much more "open" in curl ;
fickle fancy alternately favors Persians and Astrakhans,
and prices vary accordingly.



Krimmer, a handsome grey Iamb skin, closely re-
sembles Astrakhan, but many specimens are more tight-
ly curled ; it is very handsome made up natural for chil-
dren's sets, caps, linings and trimmings.

Ukranean. Skins obtained chiefly in the govern-
ment of Kiev, Russia; mainly consumed at home, but a
small quantity is exported.

Caracule or Caracool, is a handsome figured skin,
much admired in ladies' garments ; it is beautifully curled
when taken from very young animals, those only a few
days old, and is an excellent natural black.

Moufflon — is long in fleece, handsome in natural
white, or dyed brown or black.

Mongolian is a moderate priced skin; it is warm,
soft and quite durable.

English and Scotch lambs, when properly dressed
and dyed, resemble the finer Persians, and are pleasingly
bright or lustrous.

Crimea — lambs having fine curly wool abound in
the Crimea, European Russia, and always command a
good price at home and abroad.

South American or Buenos Aires lamb skins, are
used in making or lining coats, military headwear, rugs
and other articles ; they are about fifty per cent cheaper
than the English and Scotch brands; the yearly collec-
tions exceeds a million skins.

These and a few other less important "sorts" of
lamb skins, sheep skins from China, and kid skins from
many parts of Asia, are regularly required by ladies of'
fashion in Europe and America, men of moderate means
and poor people in many parts of Europe and all Asia.

Buffalo, bear, wolf, goat and other large, strong and
heavy pelted skins, while used as furs in the production
of various articles, are specially adapted to the manufac-
ture of sleigh and carriage robes, which is a separate
branch of the fur business ; these skins, and additionally
the complete pelts of the tiger, leopard, lion, puma, jack-
al, Polar bear and a few others make attractive hall and
parlor rugs and mats. Higher cost carriage and sleigh
robes are made of fur seal natural or dyed, beaver, rac-
coon, fox, fawn, wolverine, musk ox, marten, and other
furs, either in regular "stock" or on special order, always
affording the consumer greater comfort and satisfac-
tion than robes of other materials, however expensive.


For many years the American buffalo, properly bi-
son, furnished the chief supply of warm, serviceable and
durable sleigh robes, but greedy tongue and hide hunters,
and reckless slaughterers who claimed to be sportsmen,
unitedly destroying the animal at the rate of nearly half
a million a year, wantonly wasted a valuable asset of the
country, and practically exterminated one of the most
interesting animals in all creation, and which was first
seen in the wild state by white men about the middle of
the sixteenth century.

During the winter of 1844-45 the large open section
of country known as the Laramie Plains, a favorite win-
ter resort of the buffalo, was visited by a severe snow
storm which continued until the entire district was bur-
ied in snow to a depth of about four feet; during the



Storm thousands of buffaloes were trampled to death in
their mad struggle to escape, and many more died of
starvation; a large number, however, survived, but only
to later encounter a destroyer more cruel than nature.
The buffalo has not been seen on the Laramie Plains
since that fatal winter. Prior to 1850 vast herds of
buffalo frequented the plains of Texas, and all of the
great tracts of level land east of the Rocky Mountains
to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, but all, except a
few in captivity, have passed over the border into hap-
pier feeding grounds of the race. For several consecu-
tive years, beginning 1850, a collection of from one hun-
dred and forty to one hundred and fifty thousand buffalo
hides was marketed at St. Louis alone, and other large
lots were shipped direct to New York and Chicago; in
1859 the collection centering at all places approximated
two hundred thousand hides; in 1877 about two hundred
thousand buffalo were killed for their hides in the single
State of Texas ; the following year the supply from all
sources reached a total of only one hundred and twenty
thousand hides of all sizes, and in subsequent seasons,
down to 1883, the collection averaged one hundred thou-
sand hides per annum; from that date, which was the
last great year, the decline in quantity was very pro-
nounced, and before 1890 the last small collection had
been garnered, and, except a little herd in Yellowstone
Park, the American bison had ceased to exist as a wild

The last lot of buffalo hides received at New York,
about eight hundred, was purchased by a sleigh robe
manufacturer at eight dollars each, and after making
them up into robes — a single hide finished natural or


lined with felt constituted a robe — sold them at first at
fifteen dollars, later at twenty-five, fifty and sixty-five
dollars each, and the last pair at one hundred and twen-
ty-five dollars each. In the early history of the trade
buflfalo hides, according to size and condition, were
worth from one to three dollars each in the raw. In the
trade buflFalo hides were classed as "Indian-handled," or
dressed, or "whiteman dressed," the former for many
years rating as the better hides. Indian squaws of sev-
eral tribes, particularly the Crows, were efficient dress-
ers of buffalo hides, the work being done by them with
the brains of the animal and certain juices known, in this
connection, only to themselves; the leather of hides
dressed in this way was white, clean and soft. Some of
the Indian-handled hides were smoked; these were also
pliable, but dingy on the leather side. Hides of the buf-
falo, mountain sheep, deer and elk dressed by Indians
always retain their soft finish; and when wet, or even
soaked in water, do not dry out hard or harsh. Many
of the Indian-handled hides were ornamented on the
leather side with crude outline sketches in red and yel-
low pigments; these highly colored pictures, also the
work of the squaws, represented some event in the life
of individual braves, or the history of the tribe.

Some of the light-leathered hides were used in mak-
ing men's coats for service in the colder sections of the
West and Northwest ; owing to the low cost these coats
were also popular with car drivers and truckmen as far
East as Boston.

During the period of abundant buffalo life from
twenty to thirty thousand hides were secured each year
in Canada, mainly through the Hudson's Bay Company.


A few small herds remain in captivity ; the largest, about
325 head, is on the Indian Reservation in Montana; a
herd of about 150 near Fort Pierre, South Dakota ; about
50 in a privately owned park at Cardigan, Minnesota;
Yellowstone Park about 75; Goodnight ranch, Texas,
about 52; and smaller numbers at Denver and New
York. There is a herd of wild buffalo near Great Slave
Lake, and a few in captivity at Winnipeg, Canada.


Superior robes and rugs are made of bear skins,
including the black, white, brown and grey specimens.

The black bear, a native of North America, has very
glossy hair and a good coat of soft under fur; during
the first year, or "cub" period, the fur of this species of
bear is gray, and does not take on the clear black hue
until the animal is nearly two years old; the black bear
sheds its coat twice a year, and for all commercial pur-
poses the fur is in its best condition early in the winter,
or before the bear has slept in it for four months, more
or less. As the black bear is hunted all the time for its
pelt, fat, flesh and the bounty paid in some States and
counties it will soon become extinct.

The cinnamon bear found in Alaska is of great size,
and its skin makes a rug suitable only for the excep-
tionally large rooms in castles and modern mansions;
the government protects the animal by wise laws, but it
is too big to long survive the destruction wrought in
open seasons.

The Polar bear, which is fairly well distributed over
the Arctic regions, is also of extreme size; specimens
captured have measured nearly fourteen feet in length


by five feet in height, and weighing two thousand
pounds. The Polar bear has a dense coat of very long
silvery or pale yellow upper, or "water-hairs," six inches
or more in length, and a good growth of fur on all parts
of the body, including the soles of the feet ; extra large
pelts with the skin of the head and feet in perfect con-
dition for mounting, bring extreme prices — the annual
collection is small.

The grizzly bear of North America, is another
giant, attaining a length of more than eight feet, and a
height of four feet, and weighing up to one thousand
pounds; the long, rather harsh fur is a dingy brown
sprinkled with white, producing a grizzled effect ; the cub
is brown only ; collection small, about three hundred, and
declining. The grizzly is occasionally seen east of the
Rocky Mountains, but is more generally met west of
that range, and as far as the Pacific coast.

Brown bears are found in the mountains and heavy
timber lands of Europe and Asia ; their fur is usually of
medium quality, and is used in making heavy coats. The
Syrian bear, varying from dingy white to brownish-grey,
according to the age of the individual, has a smooth
soft fur ; collection is small, and all used abroad.

Bear skins are not exclusively used as robes anc?
rugs, but are freely employed in making coats, collars,
borders for garments, and headwear.

Many of the soldiers of ancient Rome when going
into battle wore pieces of bear skin over their helmets to
g^ve the wearers a ferocious appearance; the custom,
less the ferocity aspect, remains, members of "crack"
English regiments and the "Old Guard" of New York,
when not in battle, wear large and lofty hats, called


shakos, made of black bear skin. In recent years shakos
have been made of black dyed hare skins, in imitation of
bear ; the hare fur is lighter in weight, cooler and much
cheaper — and nearly as imposing.


Man and wolf have been at war from the beginning
and though the battle has never ceased, the wolf which
has all the while been limited to original methods and
facilities for attack and defense, has continued to exist
in considerable numbers and many places, particularly
Asia, Northern Europe, Western and Northwestern
sections of North America. Edgar, who became King
of England in 958, compelled the people of Wales to pay
an annual tribute of three hundred wolf heads, instead
of money ; and during his reign criminals condemned to
death were pardoned if they were able to prove that
they had benefitted the community by having killed a
stipulated number of wolves.

Other Kings, and English, French, Spanish and
Russian nobles have repeatedly sought to hasten the ex-
termination of the wolf by offering bounties for its de-

The wolf, in spite of all persecution, continued to
exist in rather large numbers in Scotland until the mid-
dle of the seventeenth century, and other sections of
Great Britain to a much later date.

The fur of the wolf is grey sprinkled with black,
being darkest or nearly black on the back, brownish-
grey on the sides and nearly white on the under por-
tions of the body ; the tail is bushy. In southern sections
of the United States the species of wolf most abundant


is deep black or brownish-black; other black wolves are
found in the Arctic regions. The large timber wolf is
much lighter in color, and in many instances the white
fur predominates, and is long and glossy.

The prairie wolf, or coyote, abounds on the prairies
west of the Mississippi River, has a yellowish-grey coat
rather handsomely marked with irregularly distributed
dashes of black hairs. Northern skins are best furred,
most durable and of greatest value.

Wolf skins make exceptionally handsome robes and
desirable rugs, and owing to the increased demand for
furs in recent years have been more largely used in mak-
ing ladies' fur neckwear and muffs, for which purposes
they are dyed either black, blue, taupe or brown.

Skins of the Esquimaux wolf dog, which closely re-
sembles the wolf, are used to some extent in robe manu-
facture. Robes are lined with plushes, cassimeres, felts
and woolen fabrics. Rugs are usually finished with
mounted heads.

Mounted lion skins make handsome rugs.


The angora is the handsomest and most valuable
member of the goat family ; its long, silky, snow-white
fleece is extensively used in England in the manufacture
of delicate fabrics and costly shawls, and in the United
States in the production of plushes in imitations of some
of the most popular furs.

Trimmings, baby carriage robes of exceptional
beauty, rugs and mats are made of Angora skins pro-
cured in Spain, France, the western part of the United
States, and Angora, a small district of Asia Minor.

Some very fine robes, rugs and articles of Indian
clothing are made of Rocky Mountain goat skins; the
hair and wool of this wild goat are long, soft and gener-
ally white, though it varies somewhat in color with the
change of the seasons. Very large supplies of goat
skins, suitable for robes, rugs, coats and smaller arti-
cles, are regularly collected in Asia, Africa and parts of
Europe ; skins secured at Cape Town, and in eastern and
western provinces of Africa, are of good size, best sorts
weighing from fifty-six to sixty pounds per dozen ; they
are sold by weight at the London sales.

The skin of the Chinese goat, considered as a robe
and rug pelt, greatly surpasses the others, both in point
of utility and number, for consumption in the United
States; while these Chinese goat skins are nearly uni-
form in size they differ much in color, some being so dark
as to be classed as black, others are fine bluish-grey, clear
white, grey marked with patches of black or brown, or
a reddish tinge on parts of the pelt. A number of se-
lected skins are regularly dyed black by silk dyers at



Lyons, France ; the color produced by the silk dye is deep
and lustrous; commoner grades are dyed black in the
United States for robe and rug manufacture. Natural
skins, robes, plates and rugs are sold in London at the
principal and minor sales in four assortments — black,
grey, white and mixed colors.

Chinese workmen assort the skins according to
color, dress or tan them, and make them up into "plates'*
— a plate is composed of carefully matched whole skins
and pieces, and measures five feet and six inches in
length by about three feet in width ; one plate suffices for
a floor rug, two plates sewed together lengthwise make
a sleigh or carriage robe; single skins may be used as

The first Chinese goat plates brought to New York
readily sold for from twenty to thirty dollars each; a
few years later the importation reached a total of sixty
thousand plates and prices declined to three dollars.
Chinese dog skins, which are superior to goats, are treat-
ed and handled in the same way, but the greater number
are used in making men's coats. Goat skins are used in
making coats, largely replacing high cost raccoon, coach-
men's capes, trimmings, and fair imitations, in appear-
ance, of black bear, African monkey, lynx, and other

Fine rugs and coverings for couches are made of
carefully dressed moose skins.

Fur seal, beaver and nutria skins, dressed with fur
on, natural and plucked, are quite largely used in making


fine, warm gloves ; these are usually expensive, and suit-
able for dressy wear; cheaper every day and working
gloves are made of raccoon, dyed and natural hair seal,
muskrat and Australian opossum skins; and in larger
quantity of tanned deer, elk and antelope skins, soft
leather skins for men's and ladies' wear are made of fine
kid. Other gloves are made of parts of cow, horse, colt
and pig skin, all of the latter being tanned in very soft
finish and dyed in any primary or fancy color desired.
Mule, sheep, rat, horse, goat and similar skins are split,
tanned very soft, and made up the same as kid.

Deer skins are obtained in quantity in Maine, sev-
eral Western States, Mexico, Central and South Amer-
ica, and Europe. The moose, or properly elk, is the
largest member of the deer tribe ; it formerly abounded
in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and along the Ca-
nadian rivers emptying into the Bay of Fundy; but is
now found only in small numbers in Maine, Oregon,
Washington, the extreme northern border of the United
States, in Canada south of the St. Lawrence River, and
as far north as Hudson's Bay; soft, durable gloves are
made of properly tanned moose hide ; the head, mounted
as a trophy, is worth many times the price of the entire

The Wapiti, better known as American stag, red
elk, or gray elk, is now most numerous in its winter ter-
ritory in the vicinity of Hudson's Bay ; the Indians dress
the skins very finely, using the brains and fat, rendering
the pelt soft and pliant under all conditions of wet and
dry weather.

Antelope, obtained in western sections of the United
States, constitutes a very light-weight stock suitable only


for moderately heavy gloves ; antelope is dressed by both
Indians and white men, the former producing the better
finished and dearer goods ; dressed with hair on antelope
skins weigh from two to three and one-half pounds, and
tanned, as leather, from eight to sixteen ounces each.

Virginia deer as tanned and smoked by Indians, are
soft and flexible and not readily injured by moisture.

Buckskin, tanned deer, is strong and serviceable
for making workingmen's gloves, and is often sold as
"genuine" chamois.

Reindeer skins, obtained in northern portions of
Europe, Asia and North America, provide excellent
stock for the manufacture of strong winter gloves.

Caribou, or American reindeer, is a particularly
good article.

Rocky Mountain goat skins, which are excellently
prepared for glovers' uses by Indian dressers, constitute
good stock.

Buffalo hides, too lightly furred to be used as robes,
were tanned for the manufacture of gloves, but the
leather was too porous to be considered valuable.

Prairie dog skins, dressed as fur or leather, make
excellent short and gauntletted gloves.

The prairie dog, a species of marmot, abounds in
the level lands along the Missouri River and near the
River Platte in Nebraska; it is about sixteen inches in
length, with a coat of reddish-brown and grey hairs and
light fur ; it makes its home in burrows, and where large
colonies exist the entire field is undermined ; recently ef-
forts have been made to exterminate the animal with

Sundry peltries, notably the beautiful furry coats
of ermine, sable and black fox, merit the distinction of
being designated as royal furs, because of their exten-
sive employment for centuries in the manufacture of
state and coronation robes of kings and queens and auto-
crats of every name. The furs enumerated, and addi-
tionally sea otter, blue fox and other fine peltries are
quite generally worn by royalty upon other than court
occasions of great national interest, some or all of them
being conspicuously present in their every day attire
throughout the winter season. Kings and queens of

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 25 of 34)