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 26 of 34)
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England and France have from "time immemorial"
worn trailing robes lined with choicest sables and er-
mines, hundreds of skins worth a "king's ransom" in a
single garment, the total outlay being possible only to
the possessors of royal incomes. Owing to the unprece-
dentedly large number of persons officiating, and par-
ticipating by virtue of rank and official position, an ex-
traordinary number of ermine skins was required in
the coronation ceremonies of the present king and queen
of England; as the existing supply in the market was
inadequate to meet the demand, trappers in Russia and
Siberia devoted the preceding winter largely to ermine
trapping to procure new and sufficient supplies; this
marked activity in ermine trapping extended to the
United States where trappers were offered advanced
prices for white weasel — an animal of the same family
as the ermine, but inferior in size and fur — with the re-
sult that many thousands were caught, not for corona-
tion robes in England, but for a multitude of uncrowned



queens and princesses in America who, though not in
"kings' houses" delight to "wear soft clothing" made
popular and costly by royal approval.

Queen Elizabeth of England wore a full depth gar-
ment of crown sables presented to her by the Czar of
Russia, who enjoyed a monopoly of the darkest and
choicest sables annually collected in his empire.

Ermine, though at all times past and present the
ceremonial fur of royalty, is not so exclusively favored
as formerly, other fine pelts being used.

The fur of the Siberian squirrel, which is a hand-
some grey, briefly enjoyed a royal reign in France where
it was first introduced by Napoleon I on his return to
Paris from Thuringia early in the nineteenth century,
on which occasion he presented Empress Josephine with
a sufl5cient number of squirrel skins to make a superb
garment. A royal robe, one of many belonging to the
Czar of Russia, was shown at the London Exposition
in 1 851; it was composed wholly of selected pieces of
fur taken from the neck of the blue fox, which is the
softest and finest part of the pelt; the garment was
extremely beautiful and nearly as light as down, and
was appraised at £3,400 sterling.

Sea otter has been popular for many years with the
rulers of Russia and China.

The Queen of Holland shows a marked preference
for marten fur in the darker shades, which is near-sable
in every particular except price.

The Empress of Austria wears astrakhan whether
it is in fashion or neglected.

The Queen of Spain prefers beaver fur.

The late Empress of China had sable, sea otter, fox


and other furs in practically unlimited quantity, and
adapted to all her moods.

Many of the crowns of historic times have been
lined with ermine and bordered with sable.

Furs have not been continuously popular with
royalty only, but have been worn with a pronounced
sense of pride and comfort by dukes, earls, counts,
mandarins and nobles of every degree, judges and
officials in all lands; and the custom will continue until
all distinctions merge in enthroned humanity.

Jf urg in Heralbrp

Furs have an important place in heraldry, a matter
of profound interest to those concerned in the descent of
man, particularly their own, but who are indifferent re-
garding the ascent of any one, the possession of a coat of
arms constituting an "outward and visible sign" of the
occupancy of a square foot of space at the top — to which
they have, paradoxically, descended.

The shield, which is the chief object upon which the
emblems or charges of heraldry are shown, is character-
ized by what are termed tinctures, which consists of
metals, colors and furs ; the surface of the shield is called
the field.

Ermine of four varieties, squirrel and sable are the
furs used ; their correct titles are :

Ermine — ^A white field with black stripes, or tips of
ermine tails, with a black hair diverging from either side
of the stripe, and three small black spots arranged in the
form of a triangle over each stripe.

Ermines — A sable field, with white stripes and


Erminois — A golden field, with black spots and

Erminites — A white field, with black stripes and
spots; it is similar to ermine in every particular, except
that the hair or line diverging from either side of the
stripe is red instead of black.

Vair — Is composed of bell-shaped pieces of bluish-
grey and white squirrel fur, arranged on the field base
against base. The squirrel producing this fur is bluish-
grey on the back and white on the abdomen, and there-
for called varus. Silver and blue are now substituted
for fur.

Counter-Vair — This is distinguished from vair by
having the bell-shaped figures on the field placed base
against point, or the reverse of vair.

Potent — Another variety of vair, the diflPerence
being in the form of the figures.

Potent-Counter — A description of vair, the figures
on the field being in the form of the letter T.

Purflew — ^A border of fur bell-shaped, similar to
vair; when limited to a single row it is said to be pur-
flewed; when two rows are used, it is counter-pur fiewed;
and when three rows are employed, it is vair.

Mantling — This is the heraldic name of a mantle,
somewhat larger than the shield behind which it is ar-
ranged. Mantlings for kings are of gold cloth, finished
or lined with ermine fur; when intended for peers the
mantlings are made of crimson velvet, lined with white
fur marked with black bars, the number of bars varying
according to the rank of the owner. Mantlings for com-
moners are lined with plain white fur.

Cap of Maintenance — This is the name of the Cap


of State borne before English sovereigns at their coro-
nation ; it is made of velvet and lined and bordered with
ermine fur. Coronets of dukes, earls and other robes
are similarly lined and bordered.

Fur-bearing animals most frequently represented
in heraldry are the lion, stag, deer, bear, wolf, ounce,
hind, cat, panther, squirrel and seal.


Priests claiming to be servitors of the "one true
God," and those who served Baal and sundry gods of
the imagination, early noted the value of fur as a ma-
terial for making or ornamenting sacerdotal robes for
special occasions, exceptional ceremonies, spectacular
if not spiritually inspiring, and sheckel-securing incan-
tations; and as primitive and diversely superstitious
forms of divine service still abide, furs retain their early
sacerdotal vogue.

In the period of the Exodus, the Hebrews while in
the Wilderness of Zinn were required to build a taber-
nacle, and offerings for the purpose were brought to
Moses by those who possessed the desired articles,
namely, badger skins, ram skins dyed red, and goats'
hair ; the ram skins were used as a covering for the tab-
ernacle, over which there was an outer covering made
of the badger skins — the latter being impervious to
moisture; the goats' hair was spun and made into cur-
tains for the tent over the tabernacle, eleven curtains
being made, each one forty-five feet long by six feet
wide. When the "camp set forward," the people moved
from one place to another, the "ark of testimony," the
"table of shewbread," and all that pertained thereto.


were first protected with a cloth of scarlet and over that
a covering of badger skins; the seven-branched "candle-
stick, with its tongs, snuffers and oil vessels" were put
in a bag of "covering of badger skins." The golden
altar was first protected with a "cloth of blue," and over
that "a covering of badger skins" ; all the "instruments
of ministry," and all vessels pertaining to the altar were
similarly covered with badgers skins while the camp,
people, was in motion.

Under the law of Moses, "the priest that offered any
man's burnt offering" was permitted to retain "for him-
self the skin of the burnt offering." Two rams were
slain and burnt as offerings in consecrating Aaron as
high-priest, and his sons as assistants in the service of
the first tabernacle ; the ceremony consumed seven days.

Later, when the temple had been erected at Jerusa-
lem, the goat was allowed to be presented in the temple
as an offering for sin ; this particular offering consisted
of two goats, which were brought to the high-priest who
cast lots upon them, "one lot for the Lord, and the other
for the scape-goat" ; the first was sacrificed by the high-
priest, and the other was permitted to "go for a scape-
goat into the wilderness."

The ram also served as a burnt, peace or trespass
offering. The burnt offering of the prince on the Sab-
bath day, presented through the high-priest, consisted
of six lambs and a ram without blemish.

John the Baptist wore "a girdle of skins about his

The false prophets were stigmatized as those who
"wear sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening
wolves" — the visible sacerdotal garment was the symbol


of gentleness, but it was worn merely to deceive. The
Bishop of Rome, cardinals, and bishops of other sees,
wear ermine upon occasions.

Aboriginal priests often wore furs, noticeable as
grotesque rather than beautiful or seemly.

In the days when the bison abounded in the United
States a pure white specimen was on rare occasions cap-
tured by an Indian hunter, and its skin, priceless to the
captor, was devoted to religious uses.

jFur ClotJ)ins

The selection of the skins of animals for the produc-
tion of necessary clothing was undoubtedly made at a
period when no other material was available; and the
continued employment of skins for the purpose by the
human inhabitants of Greenland, Iceland and the entire
Arctic regions may be accepted as an instinctive adapta-
tion of the material most perfectly suited to their needs
and comfort, and the maintenance of life itself under
the climatic conditions to which they are subject. A
puzzle past solving is encountered in the endeavor to
determine how the original inhabitant of those dreary
wastes of ice and snow managed to live until he caught
his first seal, reindeer or eider duck for the dual purposes
of subsistence and clothing.

Natives of these extremely frigid latitudes, where
the temperature remains continuously below zero for
days and weeks, require fur garments which cover the
entire person, for if any part of the body is even briefly
exposed to the atmosphere it is instantly and often se-
riously frost-bitten; and thus attired in their homely
home-made suits of common seal and reindeer skins they


appear, as seen from a distance, more like fur-bearing
animals than human beings ; but those who pause to won-
der quickly realize the wisdom of the semi-savages as
shown in the selection of attire adapted to environment
rather than expressive of mere personal pride. Esqui-
mau clothing is composed of furs and skins, down and
feathers, all the work being done by the wearers; the
head of the family catches and skins the animals, and
his better-half completes the task.

Esquimaux women dress the skins by chewing them
until the leather becomes extremely soft ; pelts thus pre-
pared are impervious to cold and moisture, and absolute-
ly wind-proof, qualities of the utmost importance in a
treeless waste almost ceaselessly swept by icy gales.

Hair seal, reindeer, and such other fur skins as he
procures from time to time, walrus hide, bird skins and
eider down are the component materials of the winter
and summer clothing of the Esquimau; the principal
garment, or "parkie," is of reindeer skin, is made moder-
ately close fitting, reaches to or somewhat below the hips,
is put on over the head and includes a hood sufficiently
large to cover all parts of the head except the face.

Trousers are made of seal or reindeer skin, from
three to five pieces being sewed together in such a man-
ner that the several parts are separately noticeable at a
considerable distance ; parkie and trousers are worn fur-
side out. Seal skin and walrus hide intended for trim-
ming or special ornamentation, are denuded of hair and
tanned white or a light shade of yellow.

Heavy boots and large mittens complete the visible
portions of the costume. Beneath these outer garments
the Esquimau wears lighter and warmer ones made of


eider down, delicate fawn and bird skins, and specially
prepared reindeer hides; these downy under garments
are worn with the fur or feathers next to the person,
and prove perfectly protective to all parts of the body
during the severest winters.

Men and women are attired alike, with the occa-
sional exception of some slight additional ornamentation
in fur or feather upon parkie or trousers as an expres-
sion of innate feminine love of finery and effective color.

Reindeer skin is almost exclusively used in making
clothing for the brief and not too intensely warm "sum-
mer time."

In his house composed wholly of ice and snow the
Esquimau sleeps the sleep of the blessed lying between
robes of Polar bear, seal, reindeer and fox skins. Furs
were for many years reserved to kings and queens, after
men became so inept as to invent such imperious lux-
uries ; later ladies and nobles, probably as an act of royal
diplomacy, were permitted to possess and wear furs
compatible with their rank; and as time went on the
privilege of wearing furs in autocratic realms was grad-
ually extended to all titled persons — ^baronets, knights,
squires, church dignitaries, jurists, public officials, the
learned, self-exalted, and the mere possessor of money
however acquired; and finally in the leveling sweep of
democratic progress, everybody having "the price" from
costliest sea otter down the scale to cheapest coney —
and a little lower still the modest figure demanded by
second-hand emporiums specializing in furs and filmy

Furs are today more extendedly popular than in
any past period, and are almost universally worn, except


in tropical climates, because of their attractiveness, the
comfort afforded the wearers, and more largely on ac-
count of the commanding favor of fashion — only the
exceptionally wise dare to contravene the decrees of
fashion. The humble pioneer blazing the way beyond
inhabited borders for a succeeding civilization in which
he scarcely hopes to participate; the courageous hunter
seeking game and fur in trackless forests, desolate plains
and snow-capped mountains, in order that nabbobs and
ladies fair may be gloriously attired; the venturesome
explorer striving to master the mystery hedging un-
known regions, from pole to pole, in the service of hu-
manity ; the fearless prospector delving for gold in lands
where ice is ever present and Boreas holds triumphant
sway the greater part of the year ; the sturdy woodsman
toiling midst snow and ice in northern forests felling
mighty trees to meet the needs of dwellers in cities,
towns and humble homes — all these and many more have
found great coats, caps, mitts and sleeping bags of fur
almost as essential as food in their battles of endurance
with the elements.

Everyone, whether dwelling in a mansion or a hut,
reveling in ease and luxury, or ceaselessly toiling for
mere existence; the millionaire and the man and the
maid of moderate means, appear serenely happy in the
possession of furs, common or costly, or the little fur
fancy favors.

Everywhere, and for everyone able to buy or bor-
row, from king to peasant, princely merchant to push-
cart proprietor in the American metropolis, fur possesses
an irresistible fascination ; even the most efficient valuer
of miscellaneous merchandise from wearables of sim-


plest structure to gems of highest rating, whose loan-
some vocation is pursued under the sign of three golden
spheres, takes an extraordinary interest in furs, invest-
ing again and again in a sense of greater security
than is ever enjoyed by the exclusive fur merchant, or
most enthusiastic connoisseur.


Trade terms may to many seem rather peculiar, but
the words used in designating the furry, hairy or woolly
coats of animals in the marketable state, are clearly com-
prehensible even to minds untutored in trade technical-
ities. Skins of all fur-bearing animals may be properly
designated as furs or peltries; furs, is applied only to
the skins of such creatures as are strictly fur-bearers;
some persons use the singular, designating a single skin
as "a fur"; other forms used by common consent, are;
Sheep pelt, but always lamb skin; goat skins and kid
skins ; ox and cow hides, but invariably calf skins ; buf-
falo hides, deer skins, and horse hides, but always colt
or pony skins.

0ptn anb Cageb

In skinning fur-bearing animals the skin is cut from
the root of the tail down the center of the abdomen to
the under jaw, and is then carefully removed from the
carcass and spread out flat, in which form it is stretched
upon boards of the proper dimensions and nailed in
place, fur side against the board, the small nails used for
the purpose being driven through the pelt around its en-
tire edge. Some less particular trappers, especially be-
ginners and those who too cautiously count the cost, nail
their skins to barn doors, sides of houses, or any place
that "will do." Skins handled in this way, stretched flat
on boards or buildings, are known in the trade as "open,"
and are so quoted in price lists. Skins are also removed
from the bodies of the dead animals by first cutting
across, from the root of the tail, right and left to each
hind foot, and then drawing the skin downward and en-
tirely off the carcass ; skins thus removed from the ani-
mal are said to be cased. These cased skins, in order that
they may be properly dried in the natural size, are drawn
over bent or bowed hickory withes, or upon boards
specially shaped for the purpose and varying in size
according to the known proportion of the skins to be
strteched, ranging from a tiny quarter-shingle for a
weasel, to a six-foot modeled board for a sea otter pelt.

All skins may be taken off the animal open or cased,
but some furs work up in manufacturing better in one
way than the other.

Skins that should be stretched "open" are : Beaver,
seals, nutria and chinchilla; all others should be cased.


Raw, dressed and dyed skins are frequently im-
pressed with various marks, initials or abbreviations to
indicate source of origin, or name of dresser, dyer,
owner or manufacturer; these marks often serve the
important need of positive identification of the goods
when the place of manufacture is in doubt, and in cases
of robbery, furs being regarded by professional and
amateur burglars and sneak thieves as specially attrac-
tive articles of loot.

Dealers, dressers, dyers and manufacturers of
leading rank impress their private marks upon the leath-
er side of the pelt; raw skins are similarly stamped or
merely designated by letters which are universally recog-
nized as abbreviations of the locations in which they
were procured, as. A., for Alaska; L. M., for Lake
Michigan; or the familiar abbreviations of the States.

Very fresh skins are designated "green" or "green-
pelted," to distinguish them from those that have been
dried; fur seal skins are stamped with initials showing
place of origin, Alaska, Copper Island, and other places ;
and also to indicate size and condition ; all fur seal skins
are sold at public sale under these marks or grades en-
abling buyers to know in advance the exact character of
each skin. The Hudson's Bay Company employs numer-
ous exclusive marks indicating section of production,
including :

Canada — The older section of Canada.

N. W. — Northwestern section.

Y. F. — Yorkf ort on Hudson's Bay at the mouth of
Nelson River.



E. M. — East Main, east of Hudson's Bay in Lab-

E. B. — Esquimau Bay, on the north shore of the St.
Lawrence River in the Company's old trading district
known as the Montreal Department.

M. K. R. — Mackenzie River in the northwest, ex-
tending from the Rocky Mountains to the Arctic Ocean.

G. R. — Grand River, Province of Quebec.

M. R. — Moose River in the northwest, southwest
of Hudson's Bay.

B. and M. — Bersimis and Mingan, posts in Canada
north of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

F. G. — Fort Garry, in the Province of Manitoba,
at the juncture of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, about
forty miles south of Winnipeg.

L. W. R. — Little Whale River in Labrador empty-
ing into Hudson's Bay.

G. W. R.— Great Whale River.
Y. T.— Yukon Territory.


Fur, as a term in common use, needs to be defined,
as in the natural state the coats of animals generally
designated as fur-bearers consist of a combination of
fur and hair, and in many species hair exclusively.

Fur is remarkably soft, much shorter than the hair
on the same pelt, and more profuse, covering the skin so
completely that no space may be found for the addition
of even a few spears ; fur is notched near the tip some-
what like a spear-point, and owing to this peculiarity in
structure may be readily wrought into a firmly cohering
mass, known as felt. In color fur shows a very limited


range in variation, embracing bluish and greyish tints,
brown and yellow shades, and untinged black and white.

Hair is round, smooth, hollow or tubular, hard and
even harsh, and though fairly pliant is noticeably brittle,
particularly when extremely dry. Hair, as compared
with fur, is the more deeply rooted in the skin, and of
greater length, but varies considerably in this respect,
ranging from one-half inch, approximately, on some
small canines, to from four to nine inches upon certain
goats, the black monkey and polar bear ; while fur is the
more abundant product, it is outclassed by hair in color
variation. Coats of fur-bearers admired on account
of the beauty, luster and color of the hair, are made
up natural, and include the sable, marten, sea otter,
mink, ermine, chinchilla, and some of the foxes.

Other pelts, valued solely because of the pleasing
appearance and luxurious character of the soft, dense
fur from which the long hairs have been removed, are
wrought into forms for service either in natural hues,
or colors imparted by art.

iWisnamelr jFurg

Sundry manufactured furs are misnamed for vari-
ous reasons, conscienceless retailers being the principal
offenders; there is no justification for the custom even
when the particular act constitutes nothing worse than
a mild deception, for while it is true that "a rose by any
other name would smell as sweet," it is also true that
coney fur foisted upon the unsuspecting under any
other name, wears neither better nor worse than coney.

Furs that are misnamed are always inferior to the
articles under whose titles they masquerade — a high


grade fur is never offered under the name of a common
or low cost peltry.

Misnaming is done to increase sales, secure larger
profits than could be obtained in selling the fur under
correct representation, to gain the reputation of deal-
ing in goods of better quality than are actually handled,
and definitely as an effective bait for catching gudgeons
— snobs for whom nothing ready-made is good enough,
and who proudly "give up" an excess of twenty per cent
over value for a garment "to order," and unwittingly
receive a drummer's sample slightly changed to fit ; and
others who are eager to emulate the over-dressed, and
who would consider themselves grossly underrated if
the tradesman offered them a coat of rabbit fur for fifty
dollars, but who quite cheerfully surrender one hundred
and twenty-five dollars for the same garment when
represented as French sable.

England has enacted a drastic law against this form
of deception, and it is effectively enforced through the
Fur Trades' Section of the Chamber of Commerce. In
some parts of the United States governing the misnam-
ing of articles offered for sale are upon the statute books,
and a few convictions have been secured — there should
be many.

Furs most generally misnamed are :

American sable, sold as Russian sable.

Fitch dyed, sold as sable.

Goat dyed, sold as bear or monkey.

Hare dyed, sold as fox, lynx or sable.

Kid, sold as lamb or broadtail.

Marmot, blended, sold as mink or sable.


Mink, blended, sold as sable, and unhaired and
dyed, sold as seal.

Muskrat, unhaired and dyed, sold as mink, electric
seal, Hudson seal. Red River seal, and many other kinds

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 26 of 34)