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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dollars to the value of the annual collection, not by in-
creasing the catch, but by confining the season withi
proper limits.

It is an excellent record — there should be no re-


Colb Storage

Formerly individual owners of fur garments and
small furs cared for, really worried over, their posses-
sions during the summer months, packing them in cam-
phor and other odorous things to protect them against
consuming moths, only to have them pretty well mussed
by the return of snowy days. In many instances, where
the involved labor was considered and the cost was not,
the task of caring for the furry treasures was delegated
to furriers, who insured the goods against thieves, fire
and moths.

In these latter days furs of all kinds, raw, dressed
and manufactured, are perfectly protected, and im-
proved, by being kept in cold storage, and this method
of protection is now a distinct and important branch of
the fur business.


Cijarleg ^. porter

Charles S. Porter, who is to-day one of the most
progressive and best known fur merchants in America,
made his entry into the fur business in June, 1874, with
the leading house of John Ruszits, with whom a remark-
able number of young men in succeeding years began
their mercantile career; he remained with Mr. Ruszits
until June, 1879, when he withdrew to accept an engage-
ment in the banking business in Wall Street. With this
exception men graduated from the fur establishment of
John Ruszits remained in the fur trade, occasionally
going with other firms, or entering the lists on their
own account. The charm of the fur business, once
definitely experienced, remains and becomes a dominant
influence; now and then some one breaks the "tie that
binds," and turns to new fields in quest of fortune's
favors, but in nearly every instance is ultimately drawn
back into the world of fur by the irresistable fascination
of the most interesting industry in mercantile history.

Mr. Porter was not an exception to this rule, for
when he had handled mere money for eight years he
severed his connection with banking, and on June i,
1887, re-entered the fur business with Rudolph Schover-
ling, an importer of furs and skins in New York, with
whom he remained until May, 1895; during the period
Mr. Porter made a careful and thorough study of the
detailed merits and values of all domestic and imported
peltries, from the raw product to skins in the various
preparatory stages of manufacture ; at the same time he




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CfjarlejJ ^. J^orter


acquired a complete knowledge of the mercantile and
commercial methods prevailing in the fur trade at home
and abroad.

In May, 1895, Mr. Porter went with H. Liebes &
Company, in their New York house, continuing with
the firm until January i, 1896, when he was requested
to accept an important position with G. Gaudig & Blum,
Leipzig fur merchants, in their American branch at
New York. In this connection Mr. Porter's extreme
efficiency was readily perceived and appreciated, and in
March, 1903, he was chosen manager of the house, and
during the succeeding years he successfully and satis-
factorily discharged the manifold duties of that re-
sponsible office. The business of the house steadly ex-
panded under his painstaking management, and in a
comparatively short time advanced to the forefront
among fur importing houses, and purchasers and ex-
porters of American raw furs.

In March, 191 5, the New York branch of G. Gau-
dig & Blum was purchased by an American corporation,
of which Charles S. Porter was, and is, president; the
business has continued without change of title.

Mr. Porter is a man of dependable, upright char-
acter, sound judgment in mercantile matters, alert and
progressive, and enjoys the esteem and good will of his
fellow merchants in the Metropolis, dealers and manu-
facturing furriers throughout the country, and the lead-
ing fur merchants of Canada and Europe, with all of
whom he maintains gratifying trade relations.

Mr. Porter was president of the Fur Merchants*
Credit Association of the City of New York for six
years, 1908-19 13, and was released from the honor of


further service only on account of the recognized
fact that increasing business demanded his undivided

The outbreak of war in Europe in 19 14, only a few
weeks prior to the opening of a new raw fur season,
made it evident that the widely extended conflagration
would stop fur exporting, and result in the accumula-
tion of a very considerable surplus of American raw
furs for which there was no other available market.
This exceedingly adverse condition immediately en-
gaged the serious attention of Mr. Porter, who, after
careful deliberation, put forth active efforts to devise
and develop sound methods for testing the consuming
power of the home market, and determining the values
of skins, in order that merchants throughout the country
might operate advantageously.

Mr. Porter repeatedly conferred with leading firms
in the trade, and as the outcome of his counsel and
untiring interest in the matter, the New York Fur
Auction Sales Corporation was organized in the autumn
of the following year, and Mr. Porter was chosen

The new organization met with instant favgr in
the trade, and the initial public sale of raw furs held
under its auspices in January, 191 6, was extremely suc-
cessful and highly creditable — a real event in the fur
trade of America.


About 1825 Denison Williams began the work of
dressing and dyeing fur seal skins at Albany, N. Y., he
soon removed from the city, but his associates, W. S.
Packer, Jr., E. P. Prentice and J. H. Prentice, continued
the business, and in a very few years built up a satis-
factory trade, amounting to about half a million dollars
per annum.

At the same period John Bryan, and a little later
George C. Treadwell, James Chase, John S. Smith and
Robert Cheesebrough were engaged in dressing and
dyeing fur seal skins at Albany, upwards of twenty
thousand skins being handled in a season ; owing to in-
efficiency in unhairing the skins, the seal pelts were at
first chiefly used in the manufacture of men's caps, for
which there was a much larger demand than at present.
James Chase, mentioned above, very early traveled ex-
tensively throughout the west in quest of raw furs, and
extended his trips by water to the coast of Alaska to
purchase raw fur seals at first hand from the natives;



prices for such skins at that time were rated not in
dollars and cents, but in cents only.

The business in dressing and dyeing fur seal skins
at Albany began to decline in 1840, and gradually be-
came so reduced in volume that it was abandoned a few
years later by all concerned, except one firm.


Dating from the period, some three hundred years
ago, when the Dutch ascending the Hudson River from
New Amsterdam finally efifected a settlement on the
site now occupied by the city of Albany, trading rela-
tions were established with the Indians, and Albany at
once became a profitable raw fur market. In later years
it developed into a fur manufacturing center, and still
later, near the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth
century, took the lead in handling what subsequently
became an important American commodity. Manipu-
lation of the fur seal skins began at the foundation,
dressing and dyeing, and gradually advanced to what
at first was rather crude unhairing, or the removal of
the long coarse water-hairs. In the beginning the skins
were made up chiefly into men's caps and gloves for
wholesale trade ; and though a number of concerns were
engaged only one, George C. Treadwell, as the result
of exceptional ability and perseverence, achieved a life-
long success.

George C. Treadwell began the work of dressing,
dyeing and manufacturing fur seals at Albany in 1832,
and by close attention to every detail of the business, and
adherance to his initial purpose to turn out only first
class goods, steadily extended his business to all parts


of North America; his particular dye, a rich chestnut
brown, gained an international reputation for beauty,
fastness and general excellence. About twenty-five
years later a demand for seal-skin garments for ladies
began to develop in London as the consequence of im-
proved unhairing, the dye being practically the same in
color as that produced at Albany.

George C. Treadwell very promptly turned his at-
tention to the manufacture of seal sacques, stoles and
muffs with gratifying results.

For a number of years the London dye was lauded,
even by the trade in America, as superior to all others,
and the rich, and the many eager to appear to be rich,
accepted the dictum and paid the enhanced price to
possess the imported article. Some thirty years later a
new seal dye was introduced at Paris; this French dye
was wholly unlike the familiar "seal color," being very
dark, nearly a true black, and as it caught the popular
fancy of the time it very quickly superceded the London
dye. The London dyers quite promptly adopted the
French color, but Mr. Treadwell refused to change his
dye in any particular, considering it too good in every
essential point, to be abandoned. Time proved the wis-
dom of his course in letting well enough alone, for to the
end of his business career he continued to readily market
all the skins he could dress and dye — his aim being, not
the greatest possible quantity, but the highest attainable

The Treadwell exhibit of seal skins at the Cen-
tennial Exposition, Philadelphia, 1876, was awarded a
medal; and was adjudged worthy of three awards at
the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893.


The fur trade of America made its latest great
forward bound, both in volume and increase in valua-
tion, almost immediately after the purchase of Rus-
sian-America, since known as Alaska, by the United
States in 1867 at the bargain price of $7,200,ocx).

Alaska was discovered by Vitus Bering, a Russian
naval officer, in 1728, and in 1741 Russia took posses-
sion of the entire mainland, and conferred upon the new
territory the name of Russian-America.

From 1 741 onward Russian subjects regularly
visited the Alaskan coast to trade with the natives, from
whom they obtained — ^by profitable barter or more
favorable force — ship loads of sea otter skins, for which
there was a ready sale in Russia and a very strong
demand in China.

The first permanent settlement in Alaska was
effected in 1783 by the Russian-American Trading Com-
pany, on Kodiak Island; a large stone warehouse and
smaller buildings as residences were erected, and the
settlement became an active center for the collection of



sea and land otter, fox, mink and other skins. In 1800
the company erected a greater number of more imposing
buildings, and established a larger colony at Sitka, which
became the capital of the territory, and so remained
during Russian occupation.

Pribilov, a Russian navigator, in 1786, discovered
oif the coast of Alaska a group of islands which have
since borne his name, and which at the time were fre-
quented by hundreds of thousands of fur seals; there
are many islands in the group, but those to which seals
chiefly resort are Saint Paul, Saint George and Otter
Island. The pelts of the fur seal, which are not natur-
ally attractive, did not rank at the time as "fine fur" ; a
few seals, however, were killed each season, but were
regarded as uninteresting, the market price per skin
being merely nominal. In 1799 the Russian- American
Company was given the exclusive right to take fur seals,
which they killed in gradually increasing numbers up to
approximately forty thousand in a single year, market-
ing the skins chiefly in China; prices varied consider-
ably, from the "top notch" of six dollars, to less than
fifty cents per skin average — a decided difference as
compared with nearer fifty dollars at the present time.

In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska, in-
cluding the Pribilov Islands, and the following year
American citizens in a free-to-all dash nearly extermin-
ated the fur seals, then estimated to number upwards of
five million individuals, and undoubtedly would have
slaughtered every last seal on the rookeries if they had
possessed sufficient salt to preserve all the pelts, and the
necessary vessels for their transportation to the States.
The government intervened, and a few seals remain to










The eagle shown above rather more than covers the
area occupied by the Pribilov Islands were Alaska fur
seals, blue and white foxes are obtained.

Copper Island and other fur seals abound along
the Siberian coast opposite the line marked the "West-
ern Boundary, Treaty of 1867."



this day — remain in spite of the reign of unwisdom
marking their official oversight.

In 1870 the Alaska Commercial Company, Senator
John F. Miller, of California, president, secured from
the government of the United States a contract giving
the said company the exclusive right to take fur seals
on the Pribilov Islands for a period of twenty years
from May i, 1870, upon the following terms: the com-
pany to pay into the treasury of the United States, as
rental, $55,000 per annum, a revenue tax of $2 on each
fur seal skin taken and shipped, 62^ cents for each seal
skin taken and shipped, 55 cents per gallon for each
gallon of seal oil taken for sale, and to supply the in-
habitants of the islands of St. Paul and St. George an-
nually with twenty-five thousand dried salmon — an
Alaskan product — and sixty cords of fire-wood. The
Alaska Commercial Company covenanted to take not
more than 75,000 fur seals on St. Paul Island, nor more
than 25,000 fur seals on St. George Island in each year
of their lease.

In addition the company paid the natives forty
cents each for skinning seals. On a catch of 100,000
fur seals per annum, the above figures show that the
cost to the company was very close to four dollars per
skin. A government "by the people for the people"
would have done its own seal catching, salting and ship-
ping with a resultant profit of about five hundred per
centum per annum.

The Alaska Commercial Company prior to the date
of its fur sealing contract had been engaged in collecting
raw furs from native Alaskans on the mainland, where
it established trading posts in 1869, practically ruling


the country and monopolizing its fur trade along the
coast and as far inland as it was profitable to transport

During the term of its lease of the fur sealing
privilege the company obtained additional revenue from
the sale abroad of blue and white fox skins purchased
from the natives on St. Paul and St. George Islands at
forty cents each for blue and sixty cents each for white
fox skins; the natives were allowed to take up to five
hundred of these foxes each winter — note the price.

From 1870 to 1889, both dates inclusive, and em-
bracing the term of its contract with the government,
the Alaska Commercial Company took and shipped i,-
523,290 fur seal skins from St. Paul, and 317,177 fur
seal skins from St. George; a grand total — grand for
the concern — of 1,840,467 skins.

The second twenty-year lease of the Alaska fur
sealing monopoly was keenly competed for by a number
of shrewd bidders, including the first lessees ; the prize
was secured by the North American Commercial Com-
pany, whose bid exceeded by more than three-fold the
amount received by the government under the preceding

In the battle of the bids the new concern won a
triumph over competitors, but no one has ever affirmed
that the victory was supplemented by great financial
success. The new lessees confidently expected to take
at least sixty thousand seal skins per annum; but the
Treasury Department at Washington suddenly became
intently interested in the conservation of the seal herd,
and assuming that so large a catch as sixty thousand


would hasten seal extinction, permitted only a reduced
number of skins to be taken.

The North American Commercial Company was
organized at San Francisco, April 15, 1890; the officers
were: Isaac Liebes, president; Lloyd Tevis, vice-presi-
dent; Ernest C. Cox, secretary. Directors: Darius O.
Mills, Herman Liebes, Henry Wadsworth and William
S. Tevis.

The North American Commercial Company had a
stormy sea to navigate under its twenty-year lease; the
catch it was permitted to take was reduced by the officials
at Washington to fifteen thousand skins in a year, was
raised to thirty thousand, then reduced to twenty thou-
sand, again to fifteen thousand, and on down to seven
thousand five hundred, with a demoralizing effect on the
market, and the final subsidence of seal skin as a leading
fashionable fur. The company experienced further
trouble, a great deal of it, in consequence of differences
of opinion with officialdom regarding the proper amount
accruing to the government from year to year, with
claims and counter claims, and an endless war of words.

When the lease expired at the end of the sealing
season of 1909, there was no desire to renew it, and no
attempt to seek new lessees — politics and business had
not mixed, and politics was master in the matter.

The government assumed control of the catch in
19 10, and for the past five years, 19 13- 17, the number
of Alaska fur seals annually killed has been about
twenty-five hundred, the number required to supply food
for the natives on the islands of St. Paul and St. George.

On April 21, 19 10, the government took charge of
all affairs on the Pribilov Islands, including the detailed


management of the fur seals, blue and white foxes, and
the business of marketing their skins.

In 19 10 a total of 12,920 fur seals were killed on
the islands, and their skins were sold through C. M.
Lampson & Company, London, December 16, 1910, for
the gross sum of $435,083.59, an average of $33.68 per
skin; the net amount — less insurance, freight, disburse-
ments and commissions — received by the government
was $403,946.94. If the lease of the privilege of taking
seal skins had been continued, the government would
in 19 10 have received $131,007.

In 191 1, the second year under government control,
12,002 seal skins were taken; these were sold in London
by C. M. Lampson & Company on December 15, 191 1,
for the gross amount of $416,992.40, an average of
$34.74 per skin; the net receipts by the government were
$385,862.28, or $263,141.83 more than it would have
received under the leasing system — or government
liberality to a favored few.

In 1913 fur seal killing on the Pribilov Islands solely
for the pelts was discontinued under agreement with the
government of England, Japan and Russia, in order to
afford the seals an opportunity to multiply.

A limited number of seals have since been killed
each year to supply the natives on the islands with
fresh and salted meat pending the annual return of the
herd. All explorers, white men, have eaten seal meat,
and they pronounce it good. The high cost of living in
the states might be reduced by canning seal flesh when
the next larger kill is made in 1918.

During the summer of that year, 191 3, twenty-five
hundred fur seals were killed to furnish flesh food for


the natives; 1,898 of these seal skins were sold at auction
in the raw at St. Louis, Missouri, on December 16, 1913,
for a total of $55,156, or an average of $29.06 per skin.

A total of 1,959 dressed and dyed fur seal skins
was sold at auction in St. Louis on January 29, 19 17,
with the following results :

Middlings, 12; middlings and smalls, 21; total, 33
skins, sold in one lot, brought $60.00 each.

Middlings and smalls, 50 skins, brought $56.00

Smalls, 391 skins, sold for $53.00 each.

Large pups, 811 skins, average $48.00 each.

Middling pups, 510 skins, average $43.50 each.

Small pups, 42 skins, average $40.00 each.

Mixed sizes, No. 3 skins, 71 pelts, average $25.00

Cut skins, mixed sizes, 51 skins, average $46.00.

Practically the same prices as at London on the
same date.

When the government took charge of the Pribilov
Islands it assumed the general control of the blue and
white foxes thereon. During the winter of 1910-1911
under government oversight twenty white and three
hundred and seventy-one blue fox skins were collected;
these pelts were sold at public auction by C. M. Lampson
& Company in London, March 18-19, 1912, for the
gross amount of $16,563.55; the average for the white
fox skins was $9.71, and for the blue fox pelts $44.12.

Foxes of all colors are found on the mainland of
Alaska; shipments of skins from Alaska in 191 1 in-
cluded : black fox, i ; blue fox, from the mainland, 929 ;
silver fox, 82; white fox, from the mainland, 8,063;


cross fox, 402; red fox, 7,499. Other peltries shipped
during the same year comprised beaver, marten, ermine,
wolverine, wolf, mink, lynx, otter, squirrel, muskrat,
black, brown, cinnamon and polar bear.

Bears in Alaska are officially, and peculiarly,
grouped in three classes with reference to their capture.
It is unlawful to kill the polar bear at any time — and
yet 313 polar bear skins were permitted to be shipped
out of Alaska in 191 1.

The black bear is c4assed as a game animal, and is
under the charge of the Bureau of Biological Survey of
the Department of Agriculture.

The brown bear is classed as a fur-bearer, and may
not be lawfully killed from June i to August 31 in each

The Pribilov Islands, very nearly in the center of
Bering Sea, are one hundred and eighty miles from the
mainland ; the largest of these islands, St. Paul, is about
twelve miles in length by six miles in breadth ; St. George
Island is about ten miles in length and somewhat less
than three miles in breadth in average ; the other islands
in the group are much smaller. Hunting and trapping






on any and all of them is restricted by law to natives,
or white men who have married native women.

Catch for 191 7 as follows: Fur seals 4,882, blue
fox 567, white fox 39.

Fur-bearing animals of Alaska, other than the fur
seal and sea otter, include ermine, marten, mink, silver
fox, blue fox, cross fox, red fox, black fox, grey fox,
land otter, beaver, lynx, muskrat, wolf, black and brown
bear and wolverine.

Laws governing trapping fur-bearing animals, and
shipment of their pelts, are effectively and impartially
administered by the Bureau of Fisheries of the Depart-
ment of Commerce.

A part of St. Paul Island is shown below.

^eal €tniui

Following the lease of the fur sealing privilege
in 1870, the fur seals on the islands of St. Paul and
St. George were counted by "triangulation" — that is
the islands were plotted by imaginary lines in tri-
i angles, and the seals within the lines of various sec-
tions were counted as near as could be, and estimates
of all the seals were obtained — the total approximating
five million.

In 191 5 a careful count of the fur seals on the
islands gave a total of 363,872 seals — the remnant
that had survived excessive killing on land and sea,
and the genial fostering care under national interna-
tional and delusional protection. The census for 19 16
showed an increase of 53,450 — providing there were no
very great errors in the count of either years. The total
given for 1916 is 417,328 seals of all ages, as follows:
Breeding cows, 116,977; newly born pups, 116,977;
bulls, 6,131; two year old seals, 48460; yearlings,
67,291, bachelors, 61,492.

In 1918, when the closed season provided by in-
ternational agreement ends, the government will re-
sume the killing of Alaska seals for their pelts ; pres-
ent indications are that the article will be in somewhat
stronger fashionable request at that time, or the fol-
lowing year when the catch of 1918 will have been
prepared, dressed and dyed, for manufacture.



On July 20, 1870, bids were opened at Washing-
ton for the exclusive privilege of taking fur seals on
the islands of St. Paul and St. George, Alaska, for a

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 7 of 34)