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Originally appearing in Volume V11, Page 357 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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KOALA WOMBAT Or AUSTRALIAN BEAR.—SiZe 20XI2 in. Has light grey or brown close thick wool half an inch deep without any top hair, with a rather thick spongy pelt. It is quite inexpensive and only suitable for cheap rough coats, carriage rugs, perambulator aprons and linings for footbags. The coats are largely used in western America and Canada. Value 3d. to Is. 81d. Preparing and Dressing.—A furrier or skin merchant must possess a good eye for colour to be successful, the difference in value on this subtle matter solely (in the rarer precious sorts, especially sables, natural black, silver and blue fox, sea otters, chinchillas, fine mink, &c.) being so considerable that not only a practised but an intuitive sense of colour is necessary to accurately determine the exact merits of every skin. In addition to this a knowledge is required of what the condition of a pelt should be; a good judge knows by experience whether a skin will turn out soft and strong, after dressing, and whether the hair is in the best condition of strength and beauty. The dressing of the pelt or skin that is to be preserved for fur is totally different to the making of leather; in the latter tannic acid is used, but never should be with a fur skin, as is so often done by natives of districts where a regular fur trade is not carried on. The results of applying tannic acid are to harden the pelt and discolour and weaken the fur. The best methods for dressing fur skins are those of a tawer or currier, the aim being to retain all the natural oil in the pelt, in order to preserve the natural colour of the fur, and to render the pelt as supple as possible. Generally the skins are placed in an alkali bath, then by hand with a blunt wooden instrument the moisture of the pelt is worked out and it is drawn carefully to and fro over a straight, dull-edged knife to remove any superfluous flesh and unevenness. Special grease is then rubbed in and the skin placed in a machine which softly and continuously beats in the softening mixture, after which it is put into a slowly revolving drum, fitted with wooden paddles, partly filled with various kinds of fine hard sawdust according to the nature of the furs dealt with. This process with a moderate degree of heat thoroughly cleans it of external greasy matter, II and all that is necessary before manufacturing is to gently tap the fur upon a leather cushion stuffed with horsehair with smooth canes of a flexibility suited to the strength of the fur. After dressing most skins alter in shape and decrease in size. With regard to the merits of European dressing, it may be fairly taken that English, German and French dressers have specialities of excellence. In England, for instance, the dressing of sables, martens, foxes, otters, seals, bears, lions, tigers and leopards is first rate; while with skunk, mink, musquash, chinchillas, beavers, lambs and squirrels, the Germans show better results, particularly in the last. The pelt after the German dressing is dry, soft and white, which is due to a finishing process where meal is used, thus they compare favourably with the moister and consequently heavier English finish. In France they do well with cheaper skins, such as musquash, rabbit and hare, which they dye in addition to dressing. Russian dressing is seldom reliable; not only is there an unpleasant odour, but in damp weather the pelts often become clammy, which is due to the saline matter in the dressing mixture. Chinese dressing is white and supple, but contains much powder; which is disagree-able and difficult to get rid of, and in many instances the skin is rendered so thin that the roots of the fur are weakened, which means that it is liable to shed itself freely, when subject to ordinary friction in handling or wearing. American and Canadian dressing is gradually improving, but hitherto their results have been inferior to the older European methods. In the case of seal and beaver skins the process is a much more difficult one, as the water or hard top hairs have to be removed by hand after the pelt has been carefully rendered moist and warm. With seal skins the process is longer than with any other fur preparation and the series of processes engage many specialists, each man being constantly kept upon one section of the work. The skins arrive simply salted. Af ter being purchased at the auction sales they are washed, then stretched upon a hoop, when all blubber and unnecessary flesh is removed, and the pelt is reduced to an equal thickness, but not so thin as it is finally rendered. Subsequently the hard top hairs are taken out as in the case of otters and beavers and the whole thoroughly cleaned in the revolving drums. The close underwool, which is of a slightly wavy nature and mostly of a pale drab colour, is then dyed by repeated applications of a rich dark brown colour, one coat after another, each being allowed to thoroughly dry before the next is put on, till the effect is almost a lustrous black on the top. The whole is again put through the cleaning process and evenly reduced in thickness by revolving emery wheels, and eventually finished off in the palest buff colour. The English dye for seals is to-day undoubtedly the best; its constituents are more or less of a trade secret, but the principal ingredients comprise gall nuts, copper dust, camphor and antimony, and it would appear after years of careful watching that the atmosphere and particularly the water of London are partly responsible for good and lasting results. The Paris dyers do excellent work in this direction, but the colour is not so durable, probably owing to a less pure water. In America of late, strides have been made in seal dyeing, but preference is still given to London work. In Paris, too, they obtain beautiful results in the " topping " or colouring Russian sables and the Germans are particularly successful in dyeing Persian lambs black and foxes in all blue, grey, black and smoke colours and in the insertion of white hairs in imitation of the real silver fox. Small quantities of good beaver are dyed in Russia occasionally, and white hairs put in so well that an effect similar to sea otter is obtained. The process of inserting white hairs is called in the trade " pointing," and is either done by stitching them in with a needle or by adhesive caoutchouc. The Viennese are successful in dyeing marmot well, and their cleverness in colouring it with a series of stripes to represent the natural markings of sable which has been done after the garments have been made, so as to obtain symmetry of lines, has secured for them a large trade among the dealers of cheap furs in England and the continent. Manufacturing Methods and Specialities.—In the olden timesthe Skinners' Company of the city of London was an association of furriers and skin dressers established under royal charter granted by Edward III. At that period the chief concern of the body was to prevent buyers from being imposed upon by sellers who were much given to offering old furs as new; a century later the Skinners' Company received other charters empowering them to inspect not only warehouses and open markets, but workrooms. In 1667 they were given power to scrutinize the preparing of rabbit or cony wool for the wool trade and the registration of the then customary seven years' apprenticeship. To-day all these privileges and powers are in abeyance, and the interest that they took in the fur trade has been gradually transferred to the leather-dressing craft. The work done by English furriers was generally good, but since about 1865 has considerably improved on account of the influx of German workmen, who have long been celebrated for excellent fur work, being in their own country obliged to satisfy officially appointed experts and to obtain a certificate of capacity before they can be there employed. The French influence upon the trade has been, and still is, primarily one of style and combination of colour, bad judgment in which will mar the beauty of the most valuable furs. It is a recognized law among high-class furriers that furs should be simply arranged, that is, that an article should consist of one fur or of two furs of a suitable contrast, to which lace may be in some cases added with advantage. As illustrative of this, it may be explained that any brown tone of fur such as sable, marten, mink, black marten, beaver, nutria, &c., will go well upon black or very dark-brown furs, while those of a white or grey nature, such as ermine, white lamb, chinchilla, blue fox, silver fox, opossum, grey squirrel, grey lamb, will set well upon seal or black furs, as Persian lamb, broadtail, astrachan, caracul lamb, &c. White is also permissible upon some light browns and greys, but brown motley colours and greys should never be in contrast. One neutralizes the other and the effect is bad. The qualities, too have to be considered—the fulness of one, the flatness of the other, or the coarseness or fineness of the furs. The introduction of a third fur in the same garment or indiscriminate selection of colours of silk linings, braids, buttons, &c., often spoils an otherwise good article. With regard to the natural colours of furs, the browns that command the highest prices are those that are of a bluish rather than a reddish tendency. With greys it is those that are bluish, not yellow, and with white those that are purest, and with black the most dense, that are most esteemed and that are the rarest. Perhaps for ingenuity and the latest methods of manipulating skins in the manufacturing of furs the Americans lead the way, but as fur cutters are more or less of a roving and cosmopolitan character the larger fur businesses in London, Berlin, Vienna, St Petersburg, Paris and New York are guided by the same thorough and comparatively advanced principles. During the period just mentioned the tailors' methods of scientific pattern cutting have been adopted by the leading furriers in place of the old chance methods of fur cutters, so that to-day a fur garment may be as accurately and gracefully fitted as plush or velvet, and with all good houses a material pattern is fitted and approved before the skins are cut. Through the advent of German and American fur sewing-machines since about 1890 fur work has been done better and cheaper. There are, however, certain parts of a garment, such as the putting in of sleeves and placing on of collars, &c., that can only be sewn by hand. For straight seams the machines are excellent, making as neat a seam as is found in glove work, unless, of course, the pelts are especially heavy, such as bears and sheep rugs. A very great feature of German and Russian work is the fur linings called rotondes, sacques or plates, which are made for their home use and exportation chiefly to Great Britain, America and France. In Weissenfels, near Leipzig, the dressing of Russian grey squirrel and the making it into linings is a gigantic industry, and is the principal support of the place. After the dressing process the backs of the squirrels are made up separately from the under and thinner white and grey parts, the first being known as squirrel- ' back and the other as squirrel-lock linings. A few linings are made from entire skins and others are made from the quite white pieces, which in some instances are spotted with the black ear tips of the animals to resemble ermine. The smaller and uneven pieces of heads and legs are made up into linings, so there is absolutely no waste. Similar work is done in Russia on almost as extensive a scale, but neither the dressing nor the work is so good as the German. The majority of heads, gills or throats, sides or franks, paws and pieces of skins cut up in the fur workshops of Great Britain, America and France, weighing many tons, are chiefly exported to Leipzig, and made up in neighbouring countries and Greece, where labour can be obtained at an alarmingly low rate. Al-though the sewing, which is necessarily done by hand, the sections being of so unequal and tortuous a character, is rather roughly executed, the matching of colours and qualities is excellent. The enormous quantities of pieces admit of good selection and where odd colours prevail in a lining it is dyed. Many squirrel-lock linings are dyed blue and brown and used for the outside of cheap garments. They are of little weight, warm and effective, but not of great durability. The principal linings are as follows: Sable sides, sable heads and paws, sable gills, mink sides, heads and gills, marten sides, heads and gills, Persian lamb pieces and paws, caracul lamb pieces or paws, musquash sides and heads, nutria sides, genet pieces, raccoon sides or flanks, fox sides, kolinski whole skins, and small rodents as kaluga and hamster. The white stripes cut out of skunks are made into rugs. Another great source of inexpensive furs is China, and for many years past enormous quantities of dressed furs, many of which are made up in the form of linings and Chinese loose-shaped garments, have been imported by England, Germany and France for the lower class of business; the garments are only regarded as so much fur and are reworked. With, however, the exception of the best white Tibet lambs, the majority of Chinese furs can only be regarded as inferior material. While the work is often cleverly done as to matching and manipulation of the pelt which is very soft, there are great objections in the odour and the brittleness or weakness of the fur. One of the most remarkable results of the European intervention in the Boxer rising in China (tgoo) was the absurd price paid for so-called " loot " of furs, particularly in mandarins' coats of dyed and natural fox skins and pieces, and natural ermine, poor in quality and yellowish in colour; from three to ten times their value was paid for them when at the same time huge parcels of similar quality were warehoused in the London docks, because pure' asers could not be found for them. With regard to Japanese furs, there is little to commend them. The best are a species of raccoon usually sold as fox, and, being of close long quality of fur, they are serviceable for boas, collars, muffs and carriage aprons. The sables, martens, minks and otters are poor in quality, and all of a very yellow colour and they are generally dyed for the cheap trade. A small number of very pretty guanaco and vicuna carriage rugs are imported into Europe, and many come through travellers and private sources, but generally they are so badly dressed that they are quite brittle upon the leather side. Similar remarks are applicable to opossum rugs made in Australia. From South Africa a quantity of jackal, hyena, fox, leopard and sheep karosses, i.e. a peculiarly shaped rug or covering used by native chiefs, is privately brought over. The skins are invariably tanned and beautifully sewn, the furs are generally flat in quality and not very strong in the hair, and are retained' more as curiosities than for use as a warm covering. Hatters' Furs and Cloths and Shawls.—The hat trade is largely interested in the fur piece trade, the best felt hats being made from beaver and musquash wool and the cheaper sorts from nutria, hare and rabbit wools. For weaving, the most valuable pieces are mohair taken from the angora and vicuna. They are limited in quantity and costly, and the trade depends upon various sorts of other sheep and goat wools for the bulk of its productions Frauds and Imitations.—The opportunities for cheating in the fur trade are very considerable, and most serious frauds have been perpetrated in the selling of sables that have been coloured or " topped "; that is, just the tips of the hairs stained dark to represent more expensive skins. It is only by years of experience that some of these colourings can be detected. Where the skins are heavily dyed it is comparatively easy to see the difference between a natural and a dyed colour, as the underwool and top hair become almost alike and the leather is also dark, whereas in natural skins the base of the underwool is much paler than the top, or of a different colour, and the leather is white unless finished in a pale reddish tone as is sometimes the case when mahogany sawdust is used in the final cleaning. As has been explained, sable is a term applied for centuries past to the darker sorts of the Russian Siberian martens, and for years past the same term has been bestowed by the retail trade upon the American and Canadian martens. The baum and stone martens caught in France, the north of Turkey and Norway are of the same family, but coarser in underwool and the top hair is less in quantity and not so silky. The kolinski, or as it is sometimes styled Tatar sable, is the animal, the tail of which supplies hair for artists' brushes, This is also of the marten species and has been frequently offered, when dyed dark, as have baum and stone martens, as Russian sables. Hares, too, are dyed a sable colour and advertised as sable. The fur, apart from a clumsy appearance, is so brittle, however, as to be of scarcely a-ny service whatever. Among the principal imitations of other furs is musquash, out of which the top hair has been pulled and the undergrowth of wool clipped and dyed exactly the same colour as is used for seal, which is then offered as seal or red river seal. Its durability, however, is far less than that of seal. Rabbit is prepared and dyed and frequently offered as " electric sealskin." Nutria also is prepared to represent sealskin, and in its natural colour, after the long hairs are plucked out, it is sold as otter or beaver. The wool is, however, poor compared to the otter and beaver, and the pelt thin and in no way comparable to them in strength. White hares are frequently sold as white fox, but the fur is weak, brittle and exceedingly poor compared to fox and possesses no thick underwool. Foxes, too, and badger are dyed a brownish black, and white hairs inserted to imitate silver fox, but the white hairs are too coarse and the colour too dense to mislead any one who knows the real article. But if sold upon its own merits, pointed fox is a durable fur. Garments made of sealskin pieces and Persian lamb pieces are frequently sold as if they were made of solid skins, the term " pieces " being simply suppressed. The London Chamber of Commerce have issued to the British trade a notice that any misleading term in advertising and all attempts at deception are illegal, and offenders are liable under the Merchandise Marks Act 1887. The most usual misnaming of manufactured furs is as follow:—Musquash, pulled and dyed . Sold as seal. Nutria, pulled and dyed . Sold as seal. Nutria, pulled and natural . Sold as beaver. Rabbit, sheared and dyed . Sold as seal or electric seal. Otter, pulled and dyed. . Sold as seal. Marmot, dyed .. . Sold as mink or sable. Fitch, dyed . .. . Sold as sable. Rabbit, dyed .. . Sold as sable or French sable. Hare, dyed . Sold as sable, or fox, or lynx. Musquash, dyed . Sold as mink or sable. Wallaby, dyed .. . Sold as skunk. White Rabbit . . . Sold as ermine. White Rabbit, dyed . Sold as chinchilla. White Hare, dyed or natural . Sold as fox; foxaline, and other similar names. Goat, dyed Sold as bear, leopard, &c. Dyed manufactured articles of all kinds Sold as " natural." White hairs inserted in foxes and sables Sold as real or natural furs. Kids Sold as lamb or broadtails. American sable Sold as real Russian sable. Mink Sold as sable. T'la Preservation of Furs.—For many years raw sealskins have been preserved in cold storage, but it is only within a recent period, owing to the difficulty there was in obtaining the necessary perfectly dry atmosphere, that dressed and made-up furs have been preserved by freezing. Furs kept in such a condition are not only immune from the ravages of the larvae of moth, but all the natural oils in the pelt and fur are conserved, so that its colour and life are prolonged, and the natural deterioration is arrested. Sunlight has a tendency to bleach furs and to encourage the development of moth eggs, therefore continued exposure is to be avoided. When furs are wetted by rain they should be well shaken and allowed to dry in a current of air without exposure to sun or open fire. Where a freezing store for furs is not accessible, furs should be well shaken and afterwards packed in linen and kept in a perfectly cool dry place, and examined in the summer at periods of not less than five weeks. Naphthalene and the usual malodorous powders are not only very disagreeable, but quite useless. Any chemical that is strong enough to destroy the life in a moth egg would also be sufficiently potent to injure the fur itself. In England moth life is practically continuous all the year round, that is, as regards those moths that attack furs, though the destructive element exists to a far greater extent during spring and summer. Comparative Durability of Various Furs and Weight of Unlined Skins per Square Foot. The following estimates of durability refer to the use of fur when made up " hair outside " in garments or stoles, not as a lining. The durability of fur used as linings. which is affected by other conditions, is set forth separately. Otter, with its water hairs removed, the strongest of furs for external use, is, in this table, taken as the standard at too and other furs marked accordingly: The Precious Furs. Points of ' Weight Durability. in oz. per sq. ft. Sable 6o 22 Seal 75 3 Fox, Silver or Black 40 3 White 20 3 Ermine 25 14 Chinchilla . 15 1z Sea-otter (for stoles or collars) too 44-, The Less Valuable Furs. Points of Weight Durability. in oz. per sq. ft. Sable " topped," i.e. top hairs coloured 55 22 tinted, i.e. fur all coloured, 50 22 Baum Marten, natural 65 2; tinted 45 24 Stone Marten 40 2; Nutria 27 34 Musquash, natural 37 34 water hairs removed, sheared 33 34 and seal finished. . Skunk 70 21—,-, Mink 70 3a Lynx, natural 25 2; tinted black 20 2q Marmot, tinted to 3 Fox, tinted black 25 3 blue 20 3 .. . . .. 37 3 Opossum Otter (with water hairs) too 4 (water hairs removed) . 95 3 s Beaver (water hairs cut level with fur) 90 4 (water hairs removed) . 85 3i c Moleskin . 7 14 Persian Lamb 65 34 Grey „ 30 3 Broadtail 15 2; Caracul Kid to 34 Lamb 15 34 Squirrel 25 1'-h Hare 5 ta Rabbit 5 24 ' Stout, old-fashioned boxcloth is almost the only cloth that (after a soft, heavy lining has been added to it) affords even two- Quantities of Fur needed, in Square Feet. The " Paris Model " figure is the basis of these estimates for ladies' garments, the standard measurements being height 5 ft. 6 in., waist 23 in., bust 38 in. Sq. Ft. (approximate). Straight stole a length (just below the waist line) . 24 Straight stole 4 length (just below the knee) . . 31 Stole, broad enough at the neck to cover the top of 5 arm length . . The same, full length (to hem of skirt) . . 6 Eton jacket, without collar . 13 Plain cape, 15 in. long . 62 Deep cape, 30 in. long . 15 Full cape with broad stole front, ; length . 15 Inverness cape (to knee) . . 25 Double-breasted, straight, semi-fitting coat, covering hips . . 16 Double-breasted sacque jacket, 36 in. long, full sleeves 20 Points of Weight Durability. in oz. per sq. ft. Otter (the water hairs removed) . . too 3; Beaver „ 90 3;a Mink 90 34 Sealskin 75 3 Raccoon 75 4z Persian lamb or astrachan . . 70 34 Sable 65 22 Musquash 55 3z Nutria 40 34 Grey Opossum 40 3 Wallaby 30 34 Squirrel 30 1 4 Hamster 15 t 4 Rabbit to 2q Durability and Weight of Linings for Ladies' Coats or Wraps. Sable gills, the strongest fur suited for ladies' linings, is taken as the standard. Points of Weight Durability. in oz. per sq. ft. Sable gills too 28 Sable 85 2Z Sable paws 64 t s Ermine 57 14 Squirrel back 50 1 4 Squirrel heads 36 22 Squirrel lock 21 1; Hamster 10 % Rabbit 7 14 24 Durability and Weight of Motoring Furs made up with Fur outside. Otter with the water hairs, the strongest fur suited for motoring garments, is taken as the standard. Points of Weight Durability. in oz. per sq. ft. Otter (with water hairs) too 4 Sealskin, marble. 8o 3 " Flair Sealskin " (tinted) with water 75 34 hairs (a special variety of seal) . 65 41 Raccoon 35 2A Russian Pony thirds as much protection against cold as does fur. It weighs 4.273 oz. per sq. ft. more than the heaviest of coat-furs, and is so rigid as to be uncomfortable, while the subtileness of fur makes it " kind " to the body. Same, 30 in. long . 18 Same, 22 in. long . 15 Long, full, shawl cape with points at back and front, well below knee. . . 15 Shorter shawl cape . . 16 Motoring or driving coat, a length. . 22 Motoring or driving coat, full length . 27 Weight and Durability of Furs for Men's Coat Linings. Otter with the water hairs removed, the strongest fur suited for linings, is here taken as the standard. Durability and Weight of Furs for Rugs and Foot-sacks. Points of inWoz.eightper Durability. sq. ft. Wolverine too 6 Bear (black or brown natural) 94 7 Bear (tinted black) 88 72 Beaver 88 4 Raccoon 77 42 Opossum 61 3 Wolf 50 62 Jackal 27 41 Australian Bear 16 6 Goat 11 4s Wolverine, the strongest fur suited for rugs and foot-sacks, is taken as the standard. For a rug about 20 to 25 sq. ft. of fur are needed, for a foot-sack 141. (W. S. P.)
End of Article: KOALA WOMBAT

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