Copyright
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 4 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 4 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


trade of all other ports of the United States for the
above period, 1916, was $3,432,639,554 — these figures
show that New York City's share of the foreign com-
merce of the United States was 52.57 per cent, of the
total.

The foreign trade of the entire country for year
ending June 30, 191 7, was $8,953,000,000, divided as
follows: exports, $6,294,000; imports, $2,659,000,000.

68



patriotic

At the largely attended public sale of raw furs
held by the New York Fur Auction Sales Corporation,
beginning March 27, 19 17, President Charles S. Porter
presented the following resolution, which was adopted
by a rising vote:

"Whereas, a critical situation now exists in the inter-
national affairs of our nation.

"And Whereas, preparations are now under way for the
mustering, enlisting and mobilizing of troops and naval forces,

"Be It Hereby Resolved in this international crisis that
we, the members of the fur industry, assembled from all parts
of the United States, at the New York Fur Auction Sales,
pledge our moral, physical and financial support in behalf of
our beloved country;

"That we publicly declare our loyalty to our nation, sup-
port to our President, and confidence in our Congress ;

"That we stand ready to make any and all sacrifices
necessary to uphold our national honor ;

"That never should the sacred principles upon which our
Government is founded, be undermined ;

"That we pledge allegiance to our flag and to the republic
for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and
justice for all."

The fur merchants and furriers of the Metropolis
are not only patriotic but liberal; their contribution in
cash to the Red Cross Fund in July, 191 7, reached the
gratifying total of $16,767.50.




69



Jteto 0xkmsi

New Orleans, the principal city of Louisiana, was
founded by French explorers and traders in 1718, at
which time cotton, sugar and rice, products later center-
ing at New Orleans in vast quantities, were not even
dreamed of in connection with the locality; the early
settlers were chiefly concerned in collecting and shipping
raw furs which were readily obtainable in large lots in
the surrounding woods and bayous. Otter, bear, rac-
coon, muskrat and other fur-bearers, though not of the
best grade, were important in point of numbers, and
aggregate value.

In 1762 an association of merchants was organized
under the leadership of Laclede, to prosecute the fur
trade systematically along the Missouri River and its
branches, and from that date the raw fur business of
New Orleans steadily increased in magnitude, and be-
came a profitable branch of trade.

New Orleans was purchased by the United States
in 1803, and since that time trapping has been quite
general in the territory. Muskrats are particularly
abundant in the bayous, creeks and along the levees, and
in recent years the catch has reached a total of many
thousands of skins; the Louisiana muskrat is smaller
and thinner in fur than specimens caught farther north,
but they have their uses and all are marketed.

Large collections of peltries are received at New
Orleans from Texas, Alabama and other States as well
as Louisiana, and it is now a busy fur market — it is an
interesting fact that there are more raw fur merchants
in New Orleans to-day than at any time prior to 191 5.

60



Competttton

It is an impressive fact that in the beginning of the
fur trade in America competition was rank, viciously
so; in their conflict with savage natives, upon whose
trapping grounds they intruded, many white men be-
came the greater savages. Some of the trappers
stealthily appropriated the fur found in the traps of
their fellow craftsmen, and brazenly despoiled the traps
and snares of the Indians; there were white trappers
who directed others away from good trapping grounds,
though many square miles in extent ; others deliberately
lied to inquirers desiring to be shown the way to a
nearby trading post, sending them off upon an opposite
course in the hope that they with their packs of fur
would become lost in the forest, and thus reduce the
volume, and correspondingly augment the value of their
own collection; a few there were who wantonly mur-
dered their more successful rivals, and in instances their
immediate trapping partners, in order to rob the former
or avoid the necessity of dividing the catch with the
latter.

Methods pursued by individual trappers, or groups
of two or three working together, soon changed the
Indians from simple minded co-operators to bitter
enemies, and trapping became a dangerous occupation.
Instead of meeting the issue by curbing the vicious
greed of the white men, and treating the Indians justly,
the remedy was sought in combination, and parties of
twenty to fifty were organized to hunt and trap together
upon shares; the plan proved somewhat safer than
operating singly, in pairs or trios; but the skillful and
industrious trappers soon wearied of dividing the spoils

61



62 COMPETITION

of the catch with indolent associates, and one by one
they resumed their independence.

Traders adopted the same policy, organization.
They assumed that by combining their mediums of ex-
change — beads, little mirrors, cheap knives and tinsel
trinkets — they would be financially able by fair means
or otherwise, especially otherwise, to drive individual
traders out of the field, and so secure all the fur caught
in a particular section at their own figures, and in due
course all the fur procured in all sections, that is, obtain
a complete monopoly of the trade — buy up hundreds
of thousands of beaver skins at the rate of ten cents
worth of glass beads for each five dollar beaver pelt,
and other skins at the same ratio. It was a good scheme
if it would work — it was a good scheme if it wouldn't
work — viewed simply as a scheme it was considered
flawless, and was adopted without amendment ; in some
cases and places it worked, was decidedly industrious
for a while; but the great success achieved, instead of
crushing competition created it " one association after
another was formed, the last being stronger in men and
means than those preceding it, and no one knows how
much worse, for through all trickery, thievery and blood
shed ran riot — it was more than Greek meeting Greek,
dog eating dog, or the duel of kilkenny cats; it was all
these in simultaneous action. The conflict ended in the
quietus of monopoly, not as a pernicious method,
oh no! but because of the annihilation of the would-be
monopolists.

Competition lived on, though but little less destruc-
tive, or more worthy to exist ; in the passing years com-
petition has been rationally modified, and in the still



COMPETITION 63

wiser ways of not far distant days will, we believe,
wholly give place to helpful co-operation.

The first effort to regulate competition, and check
the increasing tendency of individual traders to outbid
each other for all offered lots of fur, found expression
in a request to trappers to carry their collections to
named posts, convenient points in the wilderness and
other places, on set dates, the goods to be sold or bartered
on the same day; the plan gave each trapper an equal
chance in selling, and all traders an opportunity to buy
on the same terms; the arrangement was too much like
real business to endure, as each trapper believed he
could do better for himself if he brought his collection
to market when no other trappers were present, as under
that condition all the local dealers would contend for it;
and each trader was sure that if unnoticed he wandered
afield and met the trapper alone — "saw him first" — he
could secure the fur at his own price.

Competition has always been keen, and at times
actually cutting; recourse has been had in the passing
years to trick and device by dealers ambitious to mount
to the top; but true and enduring success has been
achieved only by fair means and correct methods.

SPECULATION

Speculation has been the animating spirit of the
fur business in America from the beginning, and it has
been of every shade through white to black — rational,
consistent, simple, foolish and rank. The fur trader,
wherever and whenever operating, has ever been ready
to "take a chance," a moderate, desperate or despicable
chance according to his trend or training; in the early



W SPECULATION

years of the business the chance seems to have been a
"sure thing," and it was as regards the extremes — cost
to the trader and the price at which he sold, if he lived
to complete the transaction.

The early trader, however, had his own troubles,
and unavoidably took some rather long chances — an
unscrupulous partner might carry off all unguarded
peltries in a night ; there was the possibility of meeting
bands of hostile Indians from whom he could escape
only by abandoning his goods; his entire collection of
precious furs, very generally transported along rivers,
was liable to be swept away by freshets; or he might
lose his way in the wilderness and perish of starvation
— all these, and many more, are chances actually run
and experienced. Conditions continuously change with
the flight of time; to-day, steamboat, railway and ex-
press companies speedily transfer raw furs from nearby
and remote trapping grounds to the warehouse of the
fur merchant — but he still takes a chance on every lot
he buys, and all he sells other than for cash.

Unseasonable weather may adversely affect busi-
ness, lessen demand, and cause a marked depreciation
in values; fashion may change and result in a strong
advance or a disastrous decline in price before the goods
pass to the possession of the next buyer; furs costing
fifty thousand dollars, if sent to the public sales may net
the shipper a profit of ten thousand dollars or the loss
of a greater amount.

He buys on his own judgment, and believes it is
good, but he never knows; he cannot tell how any lot
of fur will work out until it is sold, "clear and clean,"
and even then a failure may occur and change an antici-



SPECULATION 65

pated profit into a fifty per cent. loss. Collectors who
spend many months in procuring by barter and purchase
large lots of skins to be offered at Russian fairs, shippers
who devote a few weeks or months to the collection of
peltries to be sold to highest bidders at public sales,
and fur merchants who purchase supplies of raw furs
C. O. D. from trappers and small dealers — none of
these buyers know a moment in advance of the com-
pleted transaction the amount that will be realized on
their respective ventures.

If all these chances could be eliminated, the raw
fur business would lose very much of its present interest
for a majority of the traders, and all of its attraction
to many.

The chance that always "looks good" constantly
irradiates the eagerly awaited "next time." Specula-
tion is indeed the animating spirit of the fur trade in
all departments, beginning with the boy who enthus-
iastically hopes to catch a ten-dollar mink in a section
never visited by an animal more valuable than a twenty-
cent opossum; and running on to the would-be furrier
who is ever ready to "take a chance" with inadequate
capital, or credit granted by speculative creditors.

Some fur speculators are firm believers in luck;
others take a chance anyway. Some years since one of



(W)



66 SPECULATION

the first class was run down by a trolley car; he was
taken up and carried to the police station, and in his
card case the sergeant found ten specimens of four-
leaved clover, kept as good luck emblems ; when he came
to an officer asked him if he did not see the approaching
trolley car, and he mildly murmured: "Ko, sir; I was
looking over my left shoulder at the new moon for
good luck."

In March, 1896, Herman Liebes made a wager of
five hundred dollars with P. M. Grunwaldt, of Paris,
that the total fur seal catch for the year would be less
than 7,500 Alaska, 10,000 Copper Island and 60,000
Northwest Coast skins. The catch for the year was as
follows: Alaska, 30,000; Copper Island, 14,418; North-
west Coast, 55,000 skins. The wager embraced all
three, so neither won.

Competition remains; the law of supply and de-
mand may seem to govern market prices, but it does not
dominate speculation. Organization, pooling of capital,
and public sales here and there on fixed dates, are all
again being tried out, and not a few entertain the fond
hope that the almighty dollar multiplied to the seventh
power will evolve monopoly. These are reminded that
"history repeats itself," not in certain particulars only,
but in detail. Monopoly in furs is unattainable; the
forces that make for it are self destructive.



Some of the long settled methods prevailing in the
conduct of the fur business are peculiar.

Raw furs collected in practically all places of pro-
duction are systematically forwarded to certain centers
year after year, noticeably to general fairs in Russia,
trading markets in China and London, to be bartered
or exchanged for other commodities or cash; prior to
1 9 14 considerable supplies of American, Russian and
Asiatic furs were similarly sent to Leipzig, Germany,
to be sold to visiting buyers from all consuming
countries.

American, Russian and other furs forwarded to
London public sales in years agone were quite regularly
purchased by Leipzig houses and taken to the latter
city to be sold to firms in New York, Moscow and other
cities — sources of origin. Some of the skins purchased
for Leipzig account were dressed and dyed at that place,
and then sold to merchants in the cotmtries from which
the pelts were first sent roaming.

As a rule fur merchants operate more readily in a
rising than in a declining market, as the initial increase
in values, unless unreasonably sudden and extreme, is
believed to pressage an advancing period. Manufactur-
ers very often regard the matter differently — if values
decline they confidently await still greater reductions;
and if prices rather sharply rise at the first public sale
of the year, they refrain from buying in the expressed
hope that lower values will prevail later — delight and
disappointment alternate as the years come and go.
The actual market value of most raw skins is a

67



68 METHODS

matter of considerable uncertainty from the beginning
of the season of collection to the instant of recording
the final bid for each article, and even then, as various
classes of skins are offered in many small lots of differ-
ent quality, the average price, profit or loss, on the entire
offering of the individual speculator, remain in doubt
until laboriously computed.

The value thus ascertained only serves as a basis
for new operations in the field until the close of the
ensuing public sale, when higher or lower prices are in
turn established.

Shippers, importers and manufacturers at times
claim to possess important information respecting future
supplies, values and fashions, but expectations built
upon such assumptions, like other dreams, are realized
about "once in a blue moon"; the fact is, no one can
surely know any of these things as they persistently
pertain to the impenetrable mysteries of the morrow,
which can never be solved owing to the ceaseless rotation
of Mother Earth.

The methods peculiar to the trade, prevailing for
generations, have long been regarded as being quite as
firmly established as the ancient laws of the Medes and
Persian, which neither king nor court might alter under
any conditions, but there are indications that essential
and desirable changes in fur trade customs will be em-
braced among the startling surprises thronging the new
era of peace succeeding the world's most wanton war.




TOTTIE IN FUR



i^eto Honbon

Only those who have "gone down to the sea in
ships," or a very small number of men who have had
dealings with "old salts," are aware that for many de-
cades New London, Connecticut, was a port of entry
for sailing vessels laden in part with furs and skins
from the far north, the North and South Pacific Oceans,
Bering Sea and the icy waters around the Poles. The
receipt of raw furs at New London dates from the early
years of the eighteenth century, the time of the return
voyage of the first whaling vessel that sailed from that
place. New London was founded in 1644; it has one of
the best harbors in the United States, and on account
of that fact was chosen as their base by the first whalers,
and so remained until increasing competition and a

69



70 NEW LONDON

greatly reduced catch seriously diminished profits.
The fur part of the industry was at first incidental,
the amount of fur secured on each voyage being de-
pendent upon circumstances; when a whaling vessel in
the course of its Arctic journey was caught in the ice
and imprisoned for several months, members of the crew
spent the days in hunting game, particularly reindeer
and musk oxen, to supply the ship's larder with fresh
meat; during these hunting expeditions over the great
ice fields the sailors shot everything coming or brought
within range of their guns, and in the course of the
long winters captured a fair number of fine foxes, hair
seals and a few polar bears; some years the ships win-
tered near an esquimau settlement, and larger supplies
of peltries were obtained by barter.

In later years increased attention was given to the
capture of fur seals, particularly by the Williams family,
descendents of Roger Williams, who for several genera-
tions were large owners of whaling vessels. The latest
member of the family so engaged was A. C. Williams,
in succession to his father, grandfather and great grand-
father. A. C. Williams operated a number of vessels
in whaling and sealing from 1848 to 1895, and during
that time his vessels landed many fur seal skins and
sundry furs at New London. In instances some of his
vessels were engaged in taking seals exclusively, the
voyages extending to Cape of Good Hope, Sandwich-
land, South Shetland and South Georgia Islands, and
other points. Fur seals were practically exterminated
on the South Shetland Islands in 1821-1825, none being
found there by later visitors; in 1870-1877 Mr. Williams
sent a vessel to the South Shetlands and in the course



NEW LONDON W

of the six years secured about forty thousand seal skins,
all of fine quality, and the last large lot of the Shetlands.

A vessel, sailing from another Connecticut port in
1888 returned with only thirty-nine skins; and one of
Mr. Williams' ships returned the same season with
sixty-nine skins, including skins of eleven pups, all that
could be found.

New London continues to be the port of entry for
whaling vessels returning now and then from the Arctic
with cargoes of oil, baleen, ivory, polar bear and fox
skins, but the catch of fur is never too large to be taken
up without comment by a single buyer.

FLAG ON SEAL ISLANDS

Charles A. Williams, born in New London, Con-
necticut, 1829, was for many years actively engaged
in the capture of whales and the collection of fine
raw furs in Arctic regions. When the United States
purchased Alaska in 1867 Mr. Williams very prompt-
ly sailed for Bering Sea in one of his whaling vessels,
and preceded even the government in raising the
American flag on St. Paul Island; in 1868 he made a
rich capture of Alaska fur seal skins, and brought
them safely to port.

Mr. Williams died January i, 1890.




Betrott

Detroit was settled by the French in 1701, and
was an excellent fur trading center on account of its
proximity to Canada, and the fact that the furs col-
lected were of good quality. The settlement was
taken by the English in 1763, and as the result of the
Revolutionary War became American territory sev-
enty-four years later. In the early days raw furs
were received at Detroit in good supply, being
brought forward by Indians, French trappers and
traders, and in succession by English and American
collectors; the furs were of excellent quality, were
well handled, and the merchants at Detroit enjoyed a
high reputation for ability and integrity — conditions
which have continuously characterized that market.

Furs were shipped from Detroit to Montreal,
Albany and New York; transactions at the present
time embrace a very much larger field, both as regards
receipts and shipments, covering the country and
extending across the mighty deep.

Frederick Buhl conducted a successful wholesale
fur and hat business in Detroit from 1833 to 1887,
when he sold the business to his son, Walter Buhl.

Frederick Buhl was not only a progressive mer-
chant, but was extremely public spirited. He was
Mayor of Detroit in 1848; was for years president of
the Fort Wayne & Elmwood Railway Company;
director of the State Bank, Second National Bank,
the Board of Trade and the Merchants Exchange.

Traugott Schmidt established in the raw fur
business at Detroit in 1853 in a moderate way, and by

72



DETROIT 73

rigid honesty, and strictly fair dealing with all his
shippers from least to greatest, steadily enlarged his
business. His trade relations gradually extended to
all parts of the United States and Canada, with con-
stantly expanding exports to Europe. He enjoyed
an enviable reputation for unqualified integrity, and
his word was accepted without question, both at home
and abroad. On December i, 1889, he admitted his
sons to the business, under style Traugott Schmidt
& Sons; the business was then incorporated, the offi-
cers being: Traugott Schmidt, president; Carl E.
Schmidt, secretary; Edward J. Schmidt, treasurer.

Mr. Traugott Schmidt died May 19, 1897, on the
steamship "Trave," upon which he was returning to
America from a visit to Bremen; he was sixty-seven
years of age.

Mark Sloman engaged in the raw fur business
at Detroit in 1876, and achieved marked success as the
due reward of untiring industry, the highest order of
business ability and fidelity. The house deals with
trappers and collectors, from the least in volume to
the greatest, receiving a great number of shipments
in the season from every "nook and corner" of the
United States and Canada, aggregating many thou-
sands of dollars in value. They have for years main-
tained very important connections abroad, and their
standing is of the highest in all foreign markets.
They have occupied their own building. Congress
Street, West, since January, 1910. Mark Sloman,
founder of the house, died November 24, 1908. He
was born June 11, 1833 at Schoensee, Prussia.

Henry A. Newland established in the fur busi-



74 DETROIT

ness at Detroit in 1880, and his house occupied a
leading position, and a high reputation, for more than
a quarter of a century; previously, from 1855 to 1880,
Mr. Newland was a member of the firm of F. Buhl,
Newland & Company.

Mr. Newland met his death in a railway collision
at Bellevue, Michigan, on September 2^, 1893.

Newton Annis, of Detroit, really grew up in the
fur business, for during his school boy days he spent
a considerable part of his vacation time in the fall of
each year buying raw furs from trappers in Southern
Michigan, and selling the goods to dealers in Detroit.
When he left school he was engaged by Buhl, New-
land & Company as a traveling fur buyer, and in 1883
was placed in charge of the fur manufacturing depart-
ment of that house.

In 1887 he began manufacturing on his own ac-
count at wholesale, but in a small way; in 1902 he
occupied an entire building, and employed more than
three hundred operators, and had an important
branch in New York.

Edwin S. George and Otto Hartmann, under style,
Hartmann & George, engaged in business, succeeding
De Steiger & George, manufacturing furriers.

On January 17, 1900, Edwin S. George purchased
his partner's interest, and continued the business
alone. In September of that year Mr. George bought
the stock and good will of the fur business, dating
from 1833, of Walter Buhl & Company. In January,
1901, Mr. George bought up a raw fur business in New
York, which he retained until December, 1902.

In December, 1909, the Detroit business was in-



DETROIT



75



corporated, under style The House of George, the
founder retiring to give his attention to other import-
ant interests.

F. H. Rollins succeeded to the business as
Rollins Company, in 191 5.

Theodore C. Mau, who for twelve years was fore-
man of the fur manufacturing department of Henry,
A. Newland & Company, Detroit, established on his own
account in March 1899, and has since continued to
rank as one of the leading furriers in that very beauti-
ful and prosperous city.






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 4 of 34)