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 9 of 34)
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at three and one-half per centum per annum.

There are 190 natives on Saint Paul and 98 on Saint
George Island; the females exceed the males in number
to the extent of about four per cent.

Fur sealing as an industry dates from 1790, though
the animal had been known for some years previous.
Captain James Cook discovered them on Desolation
Island in 1772, and on the Sandwich Islands where he
spent the winter of the same year. Captain Widdall
found them on the South Georgia Islands during his
attempts to discover the South Pole. Smaller rookeries
were found from time to time in all oceans, and in due
course sealing progressed to the point of extermination.
No exact account of the total catches was kept, but
it is estimated that 1,200,000 seals were killed on the
South Georgia Islands, as many more on Desolation
Island, about half a million on the Sandwich Islands and
2,500,000 on Massafuero Island, in the Southern Pacific.
American sealers visited the last named island in 1797,



and some fourteen vessels were engaged in the trade at
one time ; it is believed that more than three million seals
were killed in the course of six or seven years, all the
skins being taken to Canton, China, where prices ranged
from 50 cents to $6.00 per skin.

Kerguelen, an island in the southern Indian Ocean,
discovered in 1771, was thronged with fur seals, and in
the following twenty years English sealers killed nearly
1,500,000 of the animals, and continued their operations
until the seals were exterminated — a fair example of
human greed.

The Crosett Islands, also in the southern Indian
Ocean, were at one time populated by fur seals — hunters
killed every one.

Pribilov Islands, discovered by Vitus Bering, a
Russian navfgator, in 1841, in Bering Sea, off the coast
of Russian America, now Alaska, have for more than a
century been the resort annually visited by the greatest
number of seals; the exact total has never been known
owing to the impossibility of taking a census, thousands
being in the sea all the time, and great numbers continu-
ally shifting from the shore to the water or from place
to place on the land; a careful estimate, scientifically
worked out about fifty years ago, placed the number at
between five and six millions on the Pribilov Islands, or
rather two of them, St. Paul and St. George. There
are herds also on Otter Island and other small isles in
the group.

Some years subsequent to discovery the Russian-
American Fur Company took charge of the islands, but
was chiefly concerned in the capture of sea otters, which
were abundant and valuable, and consequently compara-


tively few seals were killed for some years, their fur
being considered unattractive ; later great numbers were
killed for common consumption, and doubtless all would
have been destroyed had not the Russian government
wisely regulated the catch, which was reduced to about
32,000 per annum.

South Shetland Islands, south of Cape Horn, were
discovered in 1820, and during the following three years
were visited by a considerable number of sealers who
slaughtered the seals, old and young, nearly 400,000 of
them, ceasing operations only when there were no more
seals to kill.
^ Shetland Islands, a small group northeast of Scot-
land, were formerly frequented by fur seals ranking
above all others owing to the length, density and beauty
of their fur — all killed.

Cape Horn, southernmost point of South America,
was formerly the summer retreat of many seals; com-
paratively few remain at the present date.

Lobos Islands, off the coast of Uruguay and be-
longing to that country; these rookeries were formerly
frequently raided by roving sealers, but for many years
have been protected by the government, and all persons,
except those employed to kill the seals, are prohibited
from landing; the collection varies from seven thousand
to twenty-one thousand skins per annum. The salted
skins are shipped from the islands to Montevideo, and
thence to England. The islands in this group that are
frequented by seals are the Castillos, near Cape Polonio.

Falkland Islands, a number of rocky isles in the
south Atlantic, were discovered in 1592; they belong to
Great Britain; a few seal skins are annually collected.


Vancouver Island, on the Pacific Coast, property of
Canada, is still frequented by a small number of fur
seals, some of which have been taken each season ; these
seals, up to ten thousand in a year, were mainly killed
off Cape Flattery, and doubtless formed part of the great
herd moving toward the Pribilov Islands. Under inter-
national agreements the catch has been discontinued.

Cape of Good Hope, at the extreme southern point
of Africa, has long been a source of supply, but in recent
years the catch has been small. Sealing on the rookeries
at this point is regulated by the Cape government.

Komandorski, embracing Copper and Bering Is-
lands, off the coast of Kamtchatka, in Bering Sea, owned
by Russia. For many years Copper Island rookeries
ranked as next in 'importance to those on Saint Paul and
Saint George Islands in regard to quantity and quality
of fur seal skins annually marketed, the catch aggregat-
ing upwards of forty thousand pelts.

Robben Island, in the Okhotsk Sea, east of Sagha-
lien, was at one time an important seal base, but prior
to 1855 nearly all the seals were killed, and it became
unprofitable for sealing vessels to visit the island. In
1870 the seals returned to the island in fairly large num-
bers, and many were killed. The island was taken
from Russia by Japan in the recent war between those

The Kuriles, some twenty-six small islands extend-
ing from Yezo to Kamtchatka, belonging to Japan, are
regularly frequented by fur seals; collections of skins
formerly varied from four to fifteen thousand per
annum. The seals have been efficiently protected by the
government since 1877.

The remarkable success of seal skin as a fashion-
able fur dates from 1870, or subsequent to the purchase
of Alaska, including the seal islands off the coast.
Though the demand for seal skin garments in quantity-
began at that period, the articles manufactured were not
only comparatively but actually low in price, and actual
value, gauged by the appearance of the fur, and the in-
artistic design of the principal seal production — the "seal
skin sacque."

The fur was intrinsically valuable, and when prop-
erly dyed by J. D. Williams, George C. Treadwell, or the
best London and Paris houses, approximated a "thing
of beauty" — fiote it was only nearly beautiful, owing to
the fact that it was practically impossible, with the
methods in vogue, to clear the fur of the long, harsh
"water hairs," a considerable number of which in-
variably remained in the finished fur ; these hard hairs,
which did not take the dye, plainly appeared as small
white points at irregular intervals in the surface of the
fur, marring the otherwise attractive article made of

Early in the seventies Gustave and Ferdinand
Cimiotti began a series of experiments to economically
and completely remove these harsh hairs by mechanical
process, and after much study and labor, and not a few
defeats, finally perfected a machine which effected the
desired result — the removal down to the roots of every
hair in a seal skin. This achievement in unhairing in-
stantly revolutionized the seal business by bringing into
relief the inherent beauty, and greatly augmenting the



commercial value of the fur ; and further immensely in-
creased the popularity of seal skin as a high class article,
the consumption in America rising from a few hundred
to more than two hundred thousand skins per annum.

The Cimiotti unhairing machine was patented April
12, 1881 ; royalty rights were sold for Europe, and the
device has been in continuous operation to date, both at
home and abroad. The inventors adapted the machine to
unhairing coney and muskrat skins with equally wonder-
ful success, if not surpassing results, as these articles,
when dyed seal color, are so transformed in appearance
that only experts can distinguish them from seal; gar-
ments made of these skins of humble origin, when ma-
chined, vie with vastly more costly seal and are sold as
near-seal, electric seal, Hudson seal and other similarly
terminated titles. No other single influence approaches
the Cimiotti unhairing process in changing the Amer-
ican fur trade from the common place of former ages,
to its incomparably grander status of the present day.

Cimiotti Brothers dissolved February 14, 1894; the
business has since continued under title : "Cimiotti Un-
hairing Company/' at the present date with large fac-
tory and every essential facility at 413-415 Willoughby
Avenue, Brooklyn.

Ferdinand F. Cimiotti died January 11, 1905, in the
fifty-ninth year of his age. Gustave Cimiotti died June
5, 1914; bom in Vienna, Austria, in 1841.


Machinery, and the art of the skillful dyer, have
produced more classes of seals than nature ever dreamed
of; and yet, though found in many places, there is only
one true fur seal — outside the transforming workrooms
of a select number of furriers.

The plate above presents a fairly good portrait in
miniature of the fur seal, erect at the rear of the group ;
this is the true fur seal, a real pinnipedian, so designated
because its feet are developed by nature as fins. The
fur seal has various high sounding names not even



vaguely expressive of the character, quality or value of
the fur, namely. North Pacific specimens are of the
genus Callorhimis; those familiarly known as plain Alas-
kans, are learnedly designated as, C. Alascaniis; and
frequenters of waters in the southern hemisphere as,
genus Archtocephahis.

In fur stores, and stores selling furs, we may find
apparel made of Fur Seal — a few such — Hudson Seal,
Near Seal, Electric Seal, Baltic Seal and French Seal;
none of the last five in the list is a pinnipedian, that is to
say, a seal.

The specimen to the right, the one with a long
round, furless tail, is a muskrat, born on the Jersey
meadows or some New England marsh; it resembles a
seal in being able to swim, but otherwise is not even dis-
tantly related or casually acquainted.

Some years ago when fur seal skin was popular and
common, and the demand exceeded the supply, it was
discovered that the pelt of the humble twenty-cent musk-
rat, when properly unhaired and dyed, looked so much
like seal fur that only experts could "tell" which was
which, and as they sometimes forgot to tell, metamor-
phosed muskrat was denominated Hudson Seal — it was
merely accidental that calling the article seal helped the
sale of the product, as there was no desire on the part of
any one to lead the inexpert to suppose that this brand
of seal was indigenous to the Hudson River or Hudson
Bay. Not a few individual buyers of transformed musk-
rat were vaguely led to believe that the article was really
seal; there is no record that fur seal productions were
ever sold as treated muskrat.

By some legal action or suggestion a check was


placed upon advertising dyed muskrat as seal, regardless
of the prefix; announcements latterly appearing in the
daily press read: "HUDSON SEAL (dyed muskrat)."

The animal to the left of the picture, he of the long
ears, is not remotely related to the pinnipedia either in
size, habits or habitat, and would drown if it should fall
into the sea, consequently the learned rich who purchase
and wear this inland fur are not supposed to suppose
that it was skillfully trapped in the chill waters of the
Baltic Sea.

The fact that the animal was born and reared in
France may reasonably account for the first half of its
common trade name, French, but not the more com-
mercially important conclusion, seal.

Under the general rule governing — to some extent
— newspaper announcements, latter day advertisements
informingly read: "BALTIC SEAL (coney)."

Disguising titles, imposed to be excused, add
nothing to the beauty and real value of these furs, and
they doubtless would sell as well as hitherto if correctly
offered as seal dyed muskrat, and seal dyed coney.

^agt an& ^regent

We are wont to believe that we control our habits,
but the reverse correctly voices the truth — our habits
master us; custom rules with a rod of iron, and for
generations has dominated the fur trade, not infre-
quently to its detriment. It passes belief, but is indeed
true that for generations the trade in American raw
furs was conducted in ways more peculiar than any-
thing attributed by Harte to the heathen Chinese. For
some eighty-three years, dating from 1830, almost the
entire annual catch of American raw furs was shipped
to London during the season of collection to be offered
at public auction; a small proportion of the skins, par-
ticular articles specially wanted at the time, was sold to
local manufacturers prior to final day for shipment to
London, but the bulk of the skins were counted, baled
and sent abroad as received. It would seem quite busi-
ness-like were it not for the fact that American mer-
chants followed the peltries to London, bought them in
quantity and brought them back to America; some of
the skins came back in the raw, others were returned
dressed and dyed and considerably enhanced in cost if
not in value by tariff charges added to ocean freight
twice imposed. All the Alaska fur seal skins, a sacred
American product, taken for forty consecutive years
were brilliantly bundled about in that way; during the
whole time, if given the opportunity, American dressers
and dyers could have manipulated the skins, and Amer-
ican consumers, ultimate consumers of three-quarters
of the catch of Alaska fur seal skins, had to buy at a



price augmented by freight and insurance charges to
and fro across the broad Atlantic, a commission to the
London sellers, foreign dressers' and dyers' profits, and
the American duty.

It was the custom of the country, and the older mer-
chants refused to be convinced that the raw fur busi-
ness could be conducted in any other way, and so argued
and believed until August i, 1914, when hideous war
dispelled the delusion.

The sale of American furs at auction in London
was always properly conducted, and was the correct
method of distribution, but the public sale should have
been held in the Empire City of North America, the
trade center of the continent.

It required nearly a year for American merchants
to reach the conclusion that American raw furs could
be sold at auction in America, and some sixteen months
from August i, 1914, to open the first public sale of
national magnitude. War has not only reduced for-
tresses to dust, but it has annihilated traditions and
doubts, and awakened an Americanism that is virile and
unafraid, transformed and transforming, and abound-
ing in "newness of life."

In the long ago, when the fur trade was a matter
of beads, trinkets, scheming to exploit unsuspecting In-
dians, wreck competitors, and get the best of every bar-
gain regardless of the means employed, there were men
wholly mastered by greed for gold, and also "good men
and true" who preferred an honest penny to an un-
righteous dollar. It would neither be wise nor interest-
ing to recall and record the names or chronicle the deeds
of all, simply because they were once "in the fur trade" ;


some of them, like meteors, flashed and flamed com-
paratively but for a moment, and then disappeared, just
as those little points of light "go out" in the still deep
darkness of the night; others, less brilliant but equally
hopeful, entered the ranks quite confident that they
would be able to retire with a competence in a year and
a day — and retired fully awake to the fact that a
"painted ship upon a painted ocean" never enters port."
Patient, painstaking plodders alone remain; every
one now at or near the top began close to the bottom
and climbed, and laboriously kept on climbing, not on
the run, but step by step, unafraid and unconquerable.

The following are the figures quoted in the price
list of a leading New York fur house in 1867:

Silver fox, as to size and color $10.00 to $30.00

Red fox, northern and eastern 1.25 to 1.50

Red fox. Pa., N. J. and Ohio i.oo to 1.75

Red fox, western and southern 50 to .75

Cross fox, as to size and color 2.50 to 6.00

Grey fox, northern and eastern 40 to .50

Mink, N. Y. and eastern. 1.50 to 2.25

Mink, N. J., Pa., Ohio, Ind., 111. and

similar i -25 to i .75

Mink, southern sections 50 to 1.25

Marten 1.50 to 1.65

Fisher, northern and eastern 2.50 to 6.00

Raccoon, Mich., N. Ind., Indian handled .60 to i.oo

Raccoon, N. Y., No. Pa. and eastern. . . .40 to .50

Raccoon, southern states 10 to .25

Otter, northern, eastern and N. W 3.50 to 5.00

Otter, southern sections 1.50 to 3.50


Bear, northern and southern 2.00 to 8.00

Beaver, northern I.CX) to 1.50

Opossum, northern, cased 06 to .08

Skunk, prime black, cased 10 to .12

Skunk, white and black 03 to .05

Muskrat, spring 14 to .16

Muskrat, fall and winter 07 to .08

Muskrat, southern 05 to .06

Wildcat, northern and eastern, cased.. . .35 to .50

The following are prices quoted in December, 1916:

Silver fox, dark skins $2.00 to $1,000.00

Red fox, northern and eastern 1.50 to 14.00

Red fox. Pa., N. J. and Ohio i.oo to 7.00

Cross fox, all sections dark 15.00 to 75-00

Cross fox, all sections pale 6.00 to 30.00

Grey fox, northern 45 to 2.00

Mink, New York and eastern 75 to 4.00

Mink, N. J., Pa., Ohio, Ind 60 to 3.50

Mink, southern sections 35 to 2.25

Marten i.oo to 25.00

Fisher, northern and eastern 6.00 to 25.00

Raccoon, except southern 20 to 3.50

Raccoon, southern states 15 to 1,60

Otter, northern and eastern 3.00 to 16.00

Otter, southern sections 1.75 to 10.00

Bear, northern and southern i.oo to 20.00

Beaver, northern 2.00 to 8.00

Opossum, northern 05 to .80

Skunk, prime black 2.00 to 3.50

Muskrat, fall and winter 20 to .45

Wildcat, northern 75 to 4.00


The higher prices of 191 6 ruled in spite of the fact
that the collection was much larger than in 1867, and
all Europe had been at war for two years, causing a
very marked reduction in exports.

In 1875- 1876 manufacturers complained that it
was well nigh impossible to operate profitably on ac-
count of the prevailing high prices of raw furs; the
ruling values were:

Prime black skunk, $1.75 for number i; $1.00 for
ntmiber 2, and 50 cents for number 3.

New England mink, $3.50, $1.75 and $I.CX).

Western raccoon, $1.00, 40 cents and 20 cents.

Cross fox, dark, $5.00, $2.00 and $1.00.

Best section opossum, 30 cents, 20 cents and 10

Forty years later, season of 191 6:

Prime black skunk, $4.50, $2.50 and $1.50.
New England mink, $4.00, $3.00 and $2.00.
Western raccoon, $3.00, $2.00 and $1.00.
Cross fox, dark, $, $ and $35.00.
Best section opossum, 80 cents, 50 cents and 25
cents, according to exact grade.


The alert trapper — his number is legion — holds an
important place in the ranks of the army of persistent
men who have made and maintained the fur trade of
America, and upon whose efforts its continuance is

He is "to the manor born," a native of wild wood-
lands, vales and hillsides ; a lover of nature, sunny skies,
trackless forests, flowery fields and rippling streams;
nature in all her moods — ^balmy days, frosty nights,
gentle or devastating storms of rain, snow or hail; in
summer and winter, heat and cold, day and night, he
goes his way in the open, trustful, fairly content and

He finds marked satisfaction in studying the furry
people inhabiting the meadows and marshes, lakes and
brooks, woods and uplands, surrounding his humble
home; learns all the works, habits and cunning ways



of the fur-bearers, and in matching and mastering their
natural intelligence makes them his.

The period of the trappers greatest activity in pro-
curing fur is determined for him by protective nature,
and runs from the first frosty nights in late October to
the breaking up of the ice in lakes and streams in early
April, the only days in all the year when the fur upon
the animals is prime, every way at its best and most

The lot of the trapper, upon whose activities the
fur business depends, is not an easy one; his battle for
success, rarely more than daily bread, is fought out in
days and nights marked by floods and snow and ice
and freezing winds, which only those who love the free
and open country would dare to encounter. His reward,
even when he garners all, is meagre, and falls far below
his deserving; but exact justice is not insistently dis-
pensed, as a rule, in matters affecting money.


Fur-bearing animals are protected in nearly all
the states by special laws plainly limiting the portion
of the year during which they may be trapped, shot
or otherwise taken for their pelts, or for breeding in
captivity; where no laws have been enacted for their
preservation fur-bearers have become nearly extinct as
the result of excessive trapping summer and winter ; the
state evidencing least wisdom in conserving wild animal
life as an important asset is Pennsylvania; some of the
New England, Western and Southern States, while hav-
ing given the matter moderate attention, cannot do more
than report progress.



In nearly all sections the open season for trapping
begins November i to 15, and closes, generally, either
March i or during that month ; in some sections the open
trapping season for muskrats, which are best in fur
early in spring, is extended to near the middle of April.

Exact dates are not recorded here owing to the fact
that they are not the same in all the states, and are
usually changed to some extent each year.


Traps used in catching fur-bearing animals are in
the main cruel devices, the exceptions being pits and
boxes designed to catch the animals alive without injur-
ing them in any way.

Spring traps having strong steel jaws which in
closing mangle the flesh and break the bones of the
creatures caught therein, inflict great suffering until
the captive is finally killed by the owner of the traps;
this suffering might be reduced to a minimum by trap-
pers visiting their traps and releasing the imprisoned


animals at the earliest possible moment. This is re-
quired by the laws of some states, is done independent
of laws or no laws by the more humane trappers, but
should be the universal practice.

A trap which will instantaneously kill should be
devised, and doubtless will be when generally and in-
sistently demanded, or trapping is legally prohibited by
any other means.


Credit for according material assistance in main-
taining the fur trade of America is due to the legislators
of a number of the states, though many of the laws
passed for the protection of fur-bearing animals are
"fearfully and wonderfully made," and adequate pro-
vision for their enforcement is rarely well considered.
At the outset it was assumed that fur-bearers, though a
"feeble folk," ought to take care of themselves, and that
any one possessing a supply of salt to place upon their
tails had the right to capture and keep as many as he
desired. When the bison was swept off the western and
southwestern plains and prairies by greedy tongue and
hide hunters, and the beaver was practically exter-
minated in all penetrable portions of the land, the law-
makers reluctantly awoke to the fact that a valuable
asset had been foolishly destroyed, and that all fur-
bearing animals would soon disappear unless fairly good
laws were speedily enacted for their reasonable preser-
vation. At first such laws were placed upon the statute
books of only a few states, but in succeeding years the
lead was followed by one state after another, and at
the present time Arizona, Kentucky and Oklahoma are


the only states affording no legal protection to fur-
bearers; ten other states have adopted laws of very,
limited scope. California, Colorado, Montana, New
Mexico and Washington protect beaver at all times.
Florida and Utah laws protect beaver and otter in the
former from February i to October 31, and in the
latter all the time. Mississippi provides a brief closed

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 9 of 34)