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FUR (connected with O. Fr. forre, a s...

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Originally appearing in Volume V11, Page 348 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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FUR (connected with O. Fr. forre, a sheath or case; so " an outer covering "), the name specially given to the covering of the skin in certain animals which are natives of the colder climates, lying alongside of another and longer covering, calledthe overhair. The fur differs from the overhair, in that it is soft, silky, curly, downy and barbed lengthwise, while the overhair is straight, smooth and comparatively rigid. These properties of fur constitute its essential value for felting purposes, and mark its difference from wool and silk; the first, after some slight preparation by the aid of hot water, readily unites its fibres into a strong and compact mass; the others can best be managed by spinning and weaving. On the living animal the overhair keeps the fur filaments apart, prevents their tendency to felt, 'and protects them from injury—thus securing to the animal an immunity from cold and storm; while, as a matter of fact, this very overhair, though of an humbler name, is most generally the beauty and pride of the pelt, and marks its chief value with the furrier. We arrive thus at two distinct and opposite uses and values of fur. Regarded as useful for felt it is denominated staple fur, while with respect to its use with and on the pelt it is called fancy fur. History.—The manufacture of fur into a felt is of comparatively modern origin, while the use of fur pelts as a covering for the body, for the couch, or for the tent is coeval with the earliest history of all northern tribes and nations. Their use was not simply a barbarous expedient to defend man from the rigours of an arctic winter; woven wool alone cannot, in its most perfect form, accomplish this. The pelt or skin is requisite to keep out the piercing wind and driving storm, while the fur and overhair ward off the cold; and " furs " are as much a necessity to-day among more' northern peoples as they ever were in the days of barbarism. With them the providing of this necessary covering became the first purpose of their toil; subsequently it grew into an object of barter and traffic, at first among themselves, and afterwards with their neighbours of more temperate climes; and with the latter it naturally became an article of fashion, of ornament and of luxury. This, in brief, has been the history of its use in China, Tatary, Russia, Siberia and North America, and at present the employment of fancy furs among civilized nations has grown to be more extensive than at any former period. The supply of this demand in earlier times led to such severe competition as to terminate in tribal pillages and even national wars; and in modern times it has led to commercial ventures on the part of individuals and companies, the account of which, told in its plainest form, reads like the pages of romance. Furs have constituted the price of redemption for roya captives, the gifts of emperors and kings, and the peculiar badge of state functionaries. At the present day they vie with precious gems and gold as ornaments and garniture for wealth and fashion; but by their abundance, and the cheapness of some varieties, they have recently come within the reach of men of moderate incomes. The history of furs can be read in Marco Polo, as he grows eloquent with the description of the rich skins of the khan of Tatary; in the early fathers of the church, who lament their introduction into Rome and Byzantium as an evidence of barbaric and debasing luxury; in the political history of Russia, stretching out a powerful arm over Siberia to secure her rich treasures; in the story of the French occupation of Canada, and the ascent of the St Lawrence to Lake Superior, and the subsequent contest to retain possession against England; in the history of early settlements of New England, New York and Virginia; in Irving's Astoria; in the records of the Hudson's Bay Company; and in the annals of the fairs held at Nizhniy Novgorod and Leipzig. Here it may suffice to give some account of the present condition of the trade in fancy furs. The collection of skins is now chiefly a matter of private enterprise. Few, if any, monopolies exist. Natural Supplies.—We are dependent upon the Carnivora, Rodentia, Ungulata and Marsupialia for our supplies of furs, the first two classes being by far of the greatest importance. The Carnivora include bears, wolverines, wolves, raccoons, foxes, sables, martens, skunks, kolinskis, fitch, fishers, ermines, cats, sea otters, fur seals, hair seals, lions, tigers, leopards, lynxes, jackals, &c. The Rodentia include beavers, nutrias, musk-rats or musquash, marmots, hamsters, chinchillas, hares, rabbits, squirrels, &c. The Ungulata include Persian, Astrachan,Crimean, Chinese and Tibet lambs, mouflon, guanaco, goats, ponies, &c. sex and age, in the killing for the purpose of equalizing the numbers of the catches. As evidence of indiscriminate slaughter the case of the American buffaloes may be cited. At one time thousands of buffalo skins were obtainable and provided material for most useful coats and rugs for rough wear in cold regions, but to-day only a herd or so of the animals remain, and in captivity. The majority of animals taken for their fur are trapped or snared, the gun being avoided as much as possible in order that the coat may be quite undamaged. Many weary hours are spent in setting baits, traps and wires, and, frequently, when the hunter retraces his steps to collect the quarry it is only to find it gone, devoured by some large animal that has visited his traps before him. After the skins have been carefully removed—the sooner after death the better for the subsequent condition of the fur—they are lightly tacked out, pelt outwards, and, without being exposed to the sun or close contact with a fire, allowed to dry in a hut or shady place where there is some warmth or movement of air. With the exception of sealskins, which are pickled in brine, all raw skins come to the various trade markets simply dried like this. Quality and Colour.—The best fur is obtained by killing animals when the winter is at its height and the colder the season the better its quality and colour. Fur skins taken out of season are indifferent, and the hair is liable to shed itself freely; a good furrier will, however, reject such faulty specimens in the manufacturing. The finest furs are obtained from the Arctic and northern regions, and the lower the latitude the less full and silky the fur, till, at the torrid zone, fur gives place to harsh hair without any underwool. The finest and closest wools are possessed by the amphibious Carnivora and Rodentia, viz. seals, otters, beavers, nutrias and musquash, the beauty of which is not seen until after the stiff water or top hairs are pulled out or otherwise removed. In this class of animal the underneath wool of the belly is thicker than that of the back, while the opposite is true of those found on the land. The sea otter, one of the richest and rarest of furs, especially for men's wear, is an exception to this unhairing process, which it does not require, the hair being of the same length as the wool, silky and bright, quite the reverse of the case of other aquatic animals. Of sealskins there are two distinct classes, the fur seals and the hair seals. The latter have no growth of fur under the stiff top hair and are killed, with few exceptions (generally of the marbled seals), on account of the oil and leather they yield. The best fur seals are found off the Alaska coast and down as far south as San Francisco. It is found that in densely wooded districts furs are darker in colour than in exposed regions, and that the quality of wool and hair is softer and more silky than those from bare tracts of country, where nature exacts from its creatures greater efforts to secure food, thereby developing stronger limbs and a consequently coarser body covering. As regards density of colour the skunk or black marten has the blackest fur, and some cats of the domestic kind, specially reared for their fur, are nearly black. Black bears have occasion-ally very black coats, but the majority have a brownish under-wool. The natural black fox is a member of the silver fox family and is very rare, the skins bringing a high price. Most silver foxes have dark necks and in some the dark shade runs a quarter, half-way, or three-quarters, or even the whole length of the skin, but it is rather of a brownish hue. Some Russian sables are of a very dense bluish brown almost a black, which is the origin undoubtedly of the term " sables," while some, from one district in particular, have a quantity of silver hairs, evenly interspersed in the fur, a peculiarity which has nothing to do with age. The best sea otters have very dark coats which are highly esteemed, a few with silver hairs in parts; where these are equally and evenly spread the skins are very valuable. Otters and beavers that run dark in the hair or wool are more valuable than the paler ones, the wools of which are frequently touched with a chemical to produce a golden shade. This is also done with nutrias after unhairing. The darker sorts of mink, The Marsupialia include opossums, wallabies and kangaroos. These, of course, could be subdivided, but for general purposes of the fur trade the above is deemed sufficient. The question frequently arises, not only for those interested in the production of fur apparel, but for those who derive so much comfort and pleasure from its use, whether the supply of fur-bearing animals is likely to be exhausted. Although it is a fact that the demand is ever increasing, and that some of the rarer animals are decreasing in numbers, yet on the other hand some kinds of furs are occasionally neglected through vagaries of fashion, which give nature an opportunity to replenish their source. These respites are, however, becoming fewer every day, and what were formerly the most neglected kinds of furs are becoming more and more sought after. The supply of some of the most valuable, such as sable, silver and natural black fox, sea otter and ermine, which are all taken from animals of a more or less shy nature, does very gradually decrease with persistent hunting and the encroachment of man upon the districts where they live, but the climate of these vast regions is so cold and inhospitable that the probabilities of man ever permanently inhabiting them in numbers sufficient to scare away or exterminate the fur-bearing wild animals is unlikely. Besides these there are many useful, though commonplace, fur-bearing animals like mink, musquash, skunk, raccoon, opossum, hamster, rabbit, hares and moles, that thrive by depredations upon cultivated land. Some of these are reared upon extensive wild farms. In addition there are domestic fur-bearing animals, such as Persian, Astrachan and Chinese lambs, and goats, easily bred and available. With regard to the rearing of the Persian lamb, there is a prevalent idea that the skins of the unborn lamb are frequently used; this, however, is a mistake. A few 'such skins have been taken, but they are too delicate to be of any service. The youngest, known as " broadtails," are killed when a few days old, but for the well-developed curly fur, the lambs must be six or seven weeks old. During these weeks their bodies are covered with leather so that the fur may develop in close, light and clean curls. The experiment has been tried of rearing rare, wild, fur-bearing animals in captivity, and although climatic conditions and food have been precisely as in their natural environment, the fur has been poor in quality and bad in colour, totally unlike that taken from animals in the wild state. The sensation of fear or the restriction of movement and the obtaining of food without exertion evidently prevent the normal development of the creature. In mountainous districts in the more temperate zones some good supplies are found. Chinchillas and nutrias are obtained from South America, whence come also civet cats, jaguars, ocelots and pumas. Opossums and wallabies, good useful furs, come from Australia and New Zealand.. The martens, foxes and otters imported from southern Europe and southern Asia, are very mixed in quality, and the majority are poor compared with those of Canada and the north. Certain characteristics in the skin reveal to the expert from what section of territory they come, but in classifying them it is considered sufficient to mention territories only. Some of the poorer sorts of furs, such as hamster, marmot, Chinese goats and lambs, Tatar ponies, weasels, kaluga, various monkeys, antelopes, foxes, otters, jackals and others from the warmer zones, which until recently were neglected on account of their inferior quality of colour, by the better class of the trade, are now being deftly dressed or dyed in Europe and America, and good effects are produced, although the lack of quality when compared with the better furs from colder climates which possess full top hair, close underwool and supple leathers, is readily manifest. It is only the pressure of increasing demand that makes marketable hard pelts with harsh brittle hair of nondescript hue, and these would, naturally, be the last to attract the notice of dealers. As it is impossible that we shall ever discover any new fur-bearing animals other than those we know, it behoves responsible authorities to enforce close seasons and restrictions, as to the musquash, raccoon and wolverine are more valuable than the paler skins. Collective Supplies and Sales.—There are ten large American and Canadian companies with extensive systems for gathering the annual hauls of skins from the far-scattered trappers. These are the Hudson's Bay Co., Russian Fur Co., Alaska Commercial Co., North American Commercial Co., Russian Sealskin Co., Harmony Fur Co., Royal Greenland Fur Co., American Fur Co., Missouri Co. and Pacific Co. Most of the raw skins are forwarded to about half-a-dozen brokers in London, who roughly sort them in convenient lots, issuing catalogues to the traders of the world, and after due time for examination of the goods by intending purchasers, the lots are sold by public auction. The principal sales of general furs are held in London in January and March, smaller offerings being made in June and October; while the bulk of fur sealskins is sold separately in December. The Hudson's Bay Co.'s sales take place before the others, and, as no reserves are placed on any lot, the results are taken as exactly indicating current values. While many buyers from America and Russia are personally in attendance at the sales, many more are represented by London and Leipzig agents who buy for them upon commission. In addition to the fur skins coming from North America vast numbers from Russia, Siberia, China, Japan, Australia and South America are offered during the same periods at public auction. Fairs are also held in Siberia, Russia and Germany for the distribution of fur skins as follows: January: Frankfort-on-the- Small collection of pro- Oder vincial produce, such as otter, fox, filch and marten. February: Irbit, Siberia . . General Russian furs. Easter: Leipzig, Germany General furs. August: Nizhniy Novgorod, Persian lamb and general Russia furs. August: Kiakhta, Siberia . Chinese furs and ermine. December: Ishim, Siberia . Chiefly squirrels. Of course there are many transactions, generally in the cheaper and coarser kinds of furs, used only in central Europe, Russia and Asia which in no way interest the London market, and there are many direct consignments of skins from collectors in America and Russia to London, New York and Leipzig merchants. But the bulk of the fine furs of the world is sold at the large public trade auction sales in London. The chief exceptions are the Persian and Astrachan lambs, which are bought at the Russian fairs, and are dressed and dyed in Leipzig, and the ermine and Russian squirrels, which are dressed and manufactured into linings either in Russia or Germany before offered for sale to the wholesale merchants or manufacturers. The annual collection of fur skins varies considerably in quantity according to the demand and to the good or bad climatic conditions of the season; and it is impossible to give a complete record, as many skins are used in the country of their origin or exported direct to merchants. But a fairly exact statement of the numbers sold in the great public trade auction sales in London during the year 1905–1906 is herewith set out. Year ending 31St of March 1go6. Total Number of Skins. Badger . . 28,634 Badger, Japanese . 6,026 Bear 18,576 Beaver 80,514 Cat, Civet 157,915 Cat, House 126,703 Wild 32,253 Chinchilla (La Plata), known also as Bastard . 43,578 Peruvian finest 5,603 Deer, Chinese 124,355 Ermine . 40,641 Fisher 5,949 Fitch 77,578 Fox, Blue. 1,893 Cross 10,276 Grey 59,561 Japanese 81,429 Kit . 4,023 Red 158,961 Silver 2,510 White . 27,463 Goats, Chinese 261,190 Hares 41,256 Kangaroo 7,115 Kid, Chinese linings and skins equal to 5,080,047 Kolinsky . . . 114,251 Lamb, Mongolian linings and skins equal to 214,072 Slink 167,372 Tibet 794,130 Leopard. 3,574 Lynx 88,822 Marmot, linings and skins equal to 1,600,600 Marten, Baum 4,573 Japanese 16,461 Stone 12,939 Mink, Canadian and American 299,254 Japanese 360,373 Mouflon 23,594 Musk-rat or Musquash, Brown 5,126,339 Black . 41,788 Nutria „ 82,474 Opossum, American 902,0 .65 Australian 4,161,685 Otter, River 21,235 Sea 522 Raccoon . 310,712 Sable, Canadian and American 97,282 Japanese 556 Russian 26,399 Seals, Fur ?7,000 Hair 31,943 Skunk 1,068,408 Squirrel 194,596 „ -Linings each averaging 126 skins. . 1,982,736 Tiger 392 Wallaby 6o,956 Wolf . 56,642 Wolverine 1,726 Wombat . 193,625 A brief account of the different qualities of the pelts, with some general remarks as to their customary uses, follows. The prices quoted are subject to constant fluctuation and represent purely trade prices for bulk, and it should be explained that the very great variations are due to different sizes, qualities and colours, and moreover are only first cost, before skins are dressed and prepared. These preparations are in some cases expensive, and there is generally a considerable percentage of waste. The prices cannot be taken as a guide to the wholesale price of a single and finished skin, but simply as relative value. The fullest and darkest skins of each kind are the most valuable, and, in cases of bluish grey or white, the fuller, clearer and brighter are the more expensive. A few albinos are found in every species, but whatever their value to a museum, they are of little commercial importance. Some odd lots of skins arrive designated simply as " sundries,” so no classification is possible, and this will account for the absence of a few names of skins of which the imports are insignificant in quantity, or are received direct by the wholesale merchants. Names, Qualities and Uses of Pelts.1 ASTRACHAN.—See Lambs, below.
End of Article: FUR (connected with O. Fr. forre, a sheath or case; so " an outer covering ")
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