Facts, History & Management
- Wildlife Management
- Fur Trade History
Fur is one of the oldest forms of clothing we know. It is still exceptional for its warmth, durability and beauty.
In an age of increasing standardization and mass production, the fur trade preserves skills and values which have been passed down through generations. Fur garments are the product of meticulous handcraft.
Each and every fur pelt is unique. As a result, the making of a fur coat can never really be "automated". From the production and dressing of pelts through to the design and manufacture of the finished garment, the fur trade is still characterized by small-scale, family-run businesses.
Furriers generally purchase their pelts - whether farmed or wild - at international auctions. Major North American auctions are held, several times a year, in Toronto, North Bay, New York and Seattle.
When the auction begins, buyers from the fashion centers of the world, speaking a dozen different languages, bid for each lot as it is presented. It takes a keen eye, strong nerves and a lifetime of experience to play this game. In the brief moments before the auctioneer's hammer falls, decisions must be made which will determine the rest of the furrier's year. This open, competitive system assures producers the highest possible price for their furs. Most major auction facilities are now owned directly by the producers.
From the auction house, pelts are sent for tanning and "dressing". The tanning of animal skins was one of Man's first explorations into the mysteries of applied chemistry. Modern fur dressers have perfected techniques for producing pelts which are supple, lustrous and truly long-lasting.
In addition to simple tanning, to preserve the leather, many other techniques are now used. The long outer guard hairs of a beaver pelt may be removed ("plucking"), and the thick soft underfur "sheared" to a uniform length. This luxurious velvet may then be dyed in a range of vibrant colors. Some of these processes require months and up to one hundred steps to complete.
When the dressed pelts reach the furrier's workshop, they must be sorted into well-matched "bundles", each with exactly the pelts needed to make one coal or jacket.
Each pelt is cut to the designer's pattern. The pieces are wet, stretched and tacked to a "blocking" table, to shape and soften them. Finally they will be sewn together.
With smaller pelts, especially mink, even more intricate work is required. Each pelt is sliced into narrow diagonal strips, and then meticulously sewn back together into a longer, narrower band. This process, know as "letting out", is one of the secrets of making a supple, flowing garment. A tine mink coat requires hundreds of tiny seams.
The furrier's craft is a painstaking process - there is no waste. Even small leftover pieces are collected, sorted by color and fur texture, and then sewn together into "plates" from which less expensive "pieced" garments will later be produced. Everything is used.
The tens of hours of skilled handwork through every stage of this process - from pelt production, to dressing, design and manufacturing - are the major component in the final cost of a fur garment. In all, it takes about one full year from the time trappers and farmers send their furs to auction, until the finished fur garment is ready for the consumer.
Furriers have traditionally concentrated their efforts on making the best quality garments possible, confident that protection of the primary resource is assured by government authorities, wildlife biologists, veterinarians and other competent scientists.
Environmental issues are of such importance today, however, that furriers themselves now seek to inform their customers about the vital role the fur trade plays in environmental conservation:
The fur trade is solidly based on the responsible use of a renewable natural resource. This is true for both farmed and wild furs.
The use of furs from wild species is strictly controlled, nationally and internationally. No furbearing species is endangered by the fur trade.
The fur trade provides income for thousands of North Americans in rural and remote regions where, often, there is little alternative employment.
Fur harvesting is fully compatible with environmental conservation and encourages the protection of wildlife habitat.
Living and working on the land, trappers serve as environmental "antennae" for a predominantly urban society - they are among the first to sound the alarm when wildlife habitat is threatened.
The fur trade is non-polluting, decentralized and is characterized primarily by small-scale family-run operations at all levels of the production chain.
Above all, the survival of the trade is directly dependent upon protection of habitat and sound management of wildlife populations.
At a time when we are all increasingly aware of the need to conserve scarce re- sources, furs are coming to be recognized as warm, lightweight and beautiful - but also extremely practical.
Jim Bridger (1804-1881). Trapper, scout, mountain man. One of first white men to see the future Yellowstone Park and Great Salt Lake, which he believed to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean. Became partner of Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1830 and established Fort Bridger in Wyoming Territory in 1842. Laid out routes for the Central Overland Stage and Pike's Peak Express Company. Returned to Missouri in 1867 where died on his farm on July 17, 1881.
Rendezvous were held on a yearly basis at various locations until 1840, mainly in Wyoming, but Pierre's Hole in Idaho and Bear Lake in northwest Utah were favorite sites as well.
Fort Manuel Lisa was established in 1807 by Manuel Lisa at the mouth of the Big Horn River near Hysham. This was the first permanent settlement in Montana and was occupied until 1811.
John Jacob Astor was the first prominent member of the Astor family and the first multi-millionaire in the US. He amassed his wealth through fur-trading, opium smuggling, and New York City real estate. Famed patron of the arts. At the time of his death, he was the wealthiest person in the US.
In 1919, the Hudson’s Bay Company was approaching its 250th year in business. What began in a coffee house in London, in 1670, had now grown to become the undisputed leader of the international fur trade.
The desire for beaver fur hats in European men’s fashions dates back centuries and spurred the development of the 17th century North American fur trade. Beaver fur was the most prized of the fur trade because of its water repellant qualities. Encouraged by European trade goods, natives hunted beaver to extinction in some areas.
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