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The Story Of Furs

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Fur-bearing animals of many varieties, both domesticated and wild, and from many countries, supply the fur so largely used today for trimming and garments. Though in general the animals are trapped and hunted, within recent years farms for the breeding of fur-bearing animals have been developed. In either case the mature animals should be killed when the weather is coldest as then the fur is longest and thickest, or the skin is said to be in prime condition.

The transformation of raw pelts into fur suitable for a garment or piece of trimming is termed dressing; it consists of many important processes. The first is that of scraping the surplus fat from the pelts with a dull-edged knife. This is followed by wetting the pelts with water and softening them in a kicker machine under moving wooden blocks. The skins are scoured and the fur cleaned in slowly revolving drums containing sawdust which, with all adhering dirt and fat, is re-moved in a quickly revolving cage of wire netting. After a few minutes in this cage the pelts are ready for the fleshing operation, which consists of removing the remaining flesh membrane by means of a sharp knife.

Fur pelts are dressed in a manner similar to that used for the tanning of leather, the alum and chrome processes being most commonly employed today although animal oils, such as whale oil and neat's-foot oil, and various vegetable oils and fats are used to some extent, as are the formaldehyde and salt-acid tans. The tanning substance is usually brushed on the flesh side and allowed to remain until complete tannage has taken place. In order to increase the softness and flexibility of the pelts, oils are rubbed into the flesh and the pelt is then stretched and tacked to a board for drying. Excess oils and grease are removed by a second drumming in sawdust, and caging.

Many furs are ready for the manufacturer after they have been dressed, as briefly outlined above; others must be subjected to further processes to improve their general appearance, to emphasize certain characteristics, or to simulate more expensive furs. Among these processes are unhairing or plucking,. pointing, dyeing, and stenciling.

Dyeing. The dyeing of furs is an intricate process requiring a very considerable knowledge of dyes and the chemical and physical differences of various skins. Great care must be used to have the temperature of the dyestuff such that it will not shrivel the skin. Two methods of dyeing are employed: (I) dipping, or complete saturation of the pelt in the dye solution; and (2) brushing a paste substance containing the dye on the fur, and after the paste is completely dry beating or whip-ping it out of the fur.

With some furs only top blending or tipping is necessary. For pale-colored furs the dye is brushed with a goose feather, after the application of the proper mordant, over the top of the fur. This process is used to bring out the beauty of the fur by giving it a darker shade, and in mink to match the skins. Occasionally inexpensive, pale mink pelts are blended to make them resemble the darker, finer mink. Blending is used on such furs as marten, mink, fitch, fisher, sable, otter, beaver, and muskrat. Blended furs are likely to fade unevenly.

In the preparation of white furs, bleaching with hydrogen peroxide or sulphurous acid is essential to remove stains and any cream or yellow streaks. Ermine, white fox, kid, and lamb skins are subjected to bleaching.

After they have been dyed, fur pelts are washed, dried, drummed in sawdust, screened, and whipped before they are ready for the manufacturer, who fashions them into coats, capes, neckpieces, muffs, and trimming.

Plucking. The coarse top or guard hairs of such furs as beaver, nutria, seal, and otter, which detract from the beauty of the soft, fine, body fur, are plucked out by hand or cut close to the skin by the rotating blades of an ingenious machine.

Pointing. This process consists of adding hairs to a fur to simulate a more expensive one. This is practiced for pointed fox, which is either a red or a white fox dyed black, to make it resemble the more expensive and desirable silver fox. Inferior natural silver fox skins may also be made to appear like first-class ones by means of pointing. In this process the end of a white badger hair is dipped into cement, then carefully inserted into the fur as near the skin as possible. These inserted hairs are generally securely held and do not drop out when the fur is cleaned or subjected to hard wear.

Shearing. In order to bring out the moire or wavy effect of the wool or hair of some pelts the tips of the hairs are sheared off. American broadtail, the pelt of South American lamb, is treated in this manner, as is beaver-dyed coney to imitate the fur of natural beaver.


Badger. Most of the badgers used for fur purposes, chiefly trimmings and pointing, come from Canada and the United States. The better fur is creamy white in color with silver-tipped guard hairs; the inferior quality has reddish under fur and dark top hair, and is obtained from China and Japan. This is a long-haired fur of considerable durability.

Beaver. Canada, Labrador, Alaska, and the United States furnish this strong, short-haired brown fur that has such excellent wearing qualities in both coats and trimmings. The guard hairs are plucked from all beavers; some skins are sheared to make them less bulky. The hair of sheared beaver does not mat or curl ; the unsheared variety does, but it may be easily restored to its original appearance by electrifying. Beaver is never dyed and holds its color well, the darker furs being considered most desirable.

Broadtail. See Lamb.

Caracul. See Lamb.

Chipmunk. This small rodent furnishes a short-haired brown and yellow fur with light and dark stripes down the center back. It is used chiefly for trimmings, only occasionally for short coats, as it is not a serviceable or warmth-giving fur. The Russian chipmunk, known as Burunduki, is used more generally than the American rodent.

Chinchilla. One of the most expensive as well as the least serviceable of furs comes from the region of the Andes Mountains in South America. Chinchilla fur is blue-gray along the back, shading to cream or light gray underneath, and averages in length about r %z inches. Gray squirrel and rabbit are dyed and sheared to imitate chinchilla.

Civet Cat. The member of the skunk family with white stripes in its black coat, and obtained chiefly from the states in the Mississippi Valley, is designated by-- the trade name of civet cat. Southern China furnishes the true species of civet. Long guard hairs protect a wooly type of fur that renders fair service when used in coats and as trimming.

Coney. See Rabbit.

Ermine. This small member of the weasel family, found in northern Europe, Asia, and America, provides one of the most luxurious and perishable of furs. The best ermine is caught in the winter when its coat is white, the color changing to gray in the summer. White pelts slightly tinged with yellow are bleached ; those not suitable for bleaching are dyed a beige or cocoa color to resemble the natural color of ermine during the summer months. The fur known as "summer ermine" is from the brown weasel obtained in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

In some species of ermine only the tip of the tail is black; in others, the tip half of the tail is that color. The finest ermine is obtained in Siberia and has a fine, crisp under fur that is the same length as the silky guard hairs.

Fisher. This is a long-haired fur with rough guard hair and is obtained from the large marten found in Canada. The serviceability of fisher, used chiefly for neckpieces, is rated high.

Fitch. A fur with good wearing qualities, used more for trimming than for coats, is obtained from a species of ferret common to Europe and Asia, the most popular at present being found in Russia and China. This is a white or pale yellow silky fur with a dark line of guard hairs down the back. A darker fitch is found in Europe, particularly in Germany. Fitch is very frequently dyed to simulate the more costly sable.

Fox. This fur is used in greater amount than any other, except possibly rabbit, as the supply is both abundant and varied. In addition to the soft, flattering quality of its long hair, fox is very durable. The better qualities come from countries with a cold climate.

Black fox, of the red fox species, has a blue-black silky fur. If silver guard hairs are present it is known as silver fox and considered valuable, its worth being determined by the quality of the fur and the abundance and spotting of the silver guard hairs. Silver fox is frequently imitated by inserting the white hairs of badger into the fur of red fox that has been dyed black. See p. 214.

The blue fox has a bluish brown color and is found in Alaska, north-ern Europe, and Asia. Cross fox is black fox with a reddish tinge to its hairs, and a dark cross marking on the shoulder. It results from the crossing of the silver with the red fox. It is rarely 4,y,eA.

Gray fox, almost always dyed to simulate silver fox, is a native of North America and characterized by its rather coarse, grayish fur fiber liberally sprinkled with silvery guard hairs. This is considered a very durable as well as inexpensive fur for trimming.

Red fox, found in practically all parts of the world, is the most abundant of the fox family. The color of the red fox varies from a pale yellow to a rich yellow red. It is very commonly dyed, however, to simulate the choice fox furs.

White fox, from Russia, North America, and Greenland, has a bushy fur with an abundance of guard hairs that give it a silky texture.

Kit fox has a yellow-tinged fur fiber protected by white guard hairs, is of small size, and is native to North America, Russia, and Siberia. It is a rather perishable fur.

Galyak. This name, of Russian origin, is applied to the pelts of extremely young lambs and kids with their very short fur fiber just beginning to develop and slight moire patterns. It is an extremely perishable fur as the short fur fibers rub off.

Goat. The fur of goats varies considerably in length and texture with the type of breed. Chinese goat hair is long and silky, varying in color from white, light tan, or gray to occasionally a dark brown. This fur is sometimes dyed black to imitate natural monkey fur. The Mongolian goat possesses a soft, silky fur fiber with coarse guard hairs that are pulled out of the pelt. Another name for this fur is inouflon.

Hudson Seal. This is a trade term for plucked, northern' muskrat skins that have been dyed and sheared to resemble Alaskan sealskin. Muskrats from the northern sections of the United States are considered best for Hudson seal, and if good, well-furred pelts are used coats and trimming of this fur give good service.

Jaguar. This spotted cat from South America has a short fur of deeper yellow than that of the leopard, with large black spots surrounded by narrow black rings. Coats of jaguar fur are decided luxuries as the flat, short fur is very brittle and breaks off easily.

Kidskin. The young goats of Siberia, India, Africa, and China pro-vide a pliable pelt with lustrous, short, all guard hair. The best pelts have a moire pattern. Kidskin is frequently dyed black to imitate lamb caracul, which it closely resembles. Chinese kidskins are more pliable and thickly furred than those from India and Africa and clo not tend to shed so much as these other pelts. The fur of kidskin rubs off along the edges when used in coats and trimmings.

Kolinsky. One species of the weasel of China and Siberia furnishes a silky fur, with good wearing qualities, whose natural yellow color with guard hairs of brown is dyed to resemble sable.

Krimmer. See Lamb.

Lamb. Lambs of many varieties and from many parts of the world provide what is considered on the whole a type of fur that wears well. The terms used to indicate lamb pelts are numerous, among the better-known ones being krimmer, broadtail, caracul, and Persian lamb.

Broadtail is the name given to the pelts of very young Persian lambs. These pelts are characterized by a flat moire-like pattern. American broadtail is derived from the Lincoln Iamb of South America whose wool is sheared to bring out the moire design. Broadtail is a very short-haired fur of great beauty but low durability as the skins are very tender and light in weight. It is dyed black, gray, or tan.

Caracul is a lamb pelt with a wavy, flat, open curl. China and Russia provide most of this fur, the astrakhan sheep producing a silky, lustrous pelt. Good caracul has a tight, firm curl and considerable luster, and it renders fair service. Caracul kidskin, from China, has the appearance of caracul lamb but is not a serviceable fur. Like broadtail, caracul is dyed black, brown, tan, and gray. The leg pieces and paws of caracul are used to make coats that are attractive but lack durability.

Krimmer. Cross-bred lambs of Persian type raised in the Ukraine, northern Russia, and Rumania produce the fur known as krimmer. The pelt of krimmer is smaller than the true Persian lamb ; the hair is looser and the luster less pronounced. Krimmer is naturally black or gray in color and rarely dyed.

Persian Lamb. In many sections of Persia are reared the species of lamb with tight curls, although in the fur trade the variety from Russia, Afghanistan, and Southwest Africa are designated as Persian lamb furs. The natural color of Persian lamb is brown, gray, or black. Today, however, practically all Persian lamb is dyed black. The silkiness and luster of the hair as well as the tightness of its curl determine the quality of this type of fur.

Leopard. The best leopard skins come from Somaliland, Africa, but many are obtained in India and China. The light orange-colored, short, silky fur is marked with black rosette-type spots with tan centers. The hair tends to break off as well as shed. Leopard cats from South America, Asia, and Africa have a solid black spot rather than the broken type of the leopard. Leopard furs do not wear well.

Lynx. This long, silky fur resembles fox, is perishable, and comes from Canada, Russia, Alaska, and Siberia. Naturally gray or reddish yellow in color, lynx is frequently dyed black.

Marmot. This member of the squirrel family provides a well-wearing straight fur of silky texture, either blue or yellow in color, the blue being of better quality than the yellow. The marmots most used today come from Mongolia, Manchuria, and Russia, are inexpensive, and usually dyed to imitate mink.

Marten. There are many varieties of this branch of the weasel family. The fur, of medium length, is silky and varies in color from the pale or dark yellow of the Japanese marten to the dark gray of the stone marten. The baum marten has a reddish brown pelt that frequently is dyed or blended to simulate sable. The best American marten is dark brown with a full heavy coat. Marten is considered a durable, satisfactory fur for trimmings and neck scarfs.

Mink. The pelts of this member of the weasel family are prized for their dark brown, silky texture and good wearing qualities. Eastern Canada and northeastern United States furnish pelts of very high quality, Japan and China producing furs of coarser quality and lighter color.

Mole. This extremely small animal has taupe-colored, fine short hair of silky, velvetlike texture of great beauty but exceedingly low durability. The moles furnishing the best skins are found in Scotland and the Netherlands.

Monkey. The long, black and very lustrous hair of the African monkey is used for trimming, occasionally for coats.

Moufon. See Goat.

Muskrat. This water rodent of North America has a dense, silky, very soft under fur with glossy, coarse guard hairs. The muskrats vary in color: some are brown, others black, the black being considered more desirable. Silver muskrat is a trade term applied to the strips of fur taken from the belly of the muskrat pelt where the hair is shorter and lighter in color than that on the back. Entire coats are made from these light-colored strips. The .muskrat, from New Jersey, Maryland, New York, and Maine, are dyed black to imitate Alaskan seal and called Hudson seal.

Nutria. Closely resembling beaver is the water rodent of South America known as nutria. The under fur of this animal is soft, dense, and brown with less luster than beaver and with a tendency to mat. The guard hairs are always removed. The wearability of nutria is good, but less than that of beaver.

Opossum. The variety of fur known as American opossum is from a marsupial animal native to the southern sections of the United States and to Argentina. The Australian opossum fur, from the marsupial of the phalanger species, is silkier, softer, and less fuzzy than the American type, and its color is a clearer gray. This is an inexpensive and excellent wearing fur.

Otter. The gray or dark brown, medium-length hair of the member of the weasel family known as otter, found along rivers and seacoasts, is excellent for coats subjected to hard wear. The silvery, stiff guard hairs are at times plucked from the pelt, which is then dyed to produce the effect of seal.

Pony. Pony skins, particularly those from Poland and Russia, give rather good service when made into coats. The short, coarse hair, gray, tan, brown, or black, has good luster and occasionally a moire pattern which is considered desirable.

Rabbit. These rodents from all parts of the world furnish peltries of exceedingly great numbers. The long hair is dyed, frequently sheared to imitate a great variety of costly furs, and known by such names as beaverette, lapin, squirrelette, as well as many others. As a whole the skins are rather tender and do not give more than fair service. French rabbit ranks high in quality, and is followed by Belgian and German in the order named.

Raccoon. This fur is used chiefly for sports coats, occasionally trimming, and is rated high in durability. The light brown or white under fur is wooly, the guard hairs silvery with dark tips. This animal is found in practically all parts of North America.

Sable. A species of weasel (marten) whose habitat is Canada and Siberia is known as sable, the variety coming from Siberia, Russian sable, being considered more desirable than that from the Hudson Bay region of North America inasmuch as the fur is finer, denser, and darker in color. Sables range in color from a light to a dark brown with a bluish cast, and have decided luster. The lighter-hued sables are blended to imitate those of darker hues. This is a costly fur only fairly good in wearing quality, and is commonly imitated by dyed hare, mar-mot, and fetch.

Skunk. This relative of the civet cat abounds in all sections of the United States, and furnishes a strong pelt with long, coarse, black hairs and stripes of white. The stripes are frequently removed by cutting the pelt or by dyeing the hair. Skunk is a well-wearing fur for coats as well as trimmings.

Squirrel. Lacking good wearing qualities, but excelling in beauty of texture and color, squirrel is a fur of considerable popularity. The back of this rodent furnishes the best fur and is usually separated from the belly section that is white in color and is known as squirrel lock, which is dyed, as are all streaked pelts, and used largely for coats, linings, and trimmings. The finer squirrel furs are steel or blue-gray in color, the less valuable ones possessing a reddish cast or streaks.

Wolf. Trimmings and scarfs are made from the long, coarse-haired pelts of wolf and are considered very desirable. They shed, however. Wolf is a comparatively inexpensive fur.

Wolverine. Blackish brown coloring characterizes the long, thick hair of the wolverine. The light-colored furs are dyed to resemble the more valuable dark brown furs. Wolverine fur rates high in wearing qualities and is moderate in price.

Selection of Furs. A great deal of experience is necessary for the wise selection of furs, ari experience which the average consumer usually lacks. For this reason the purchaser of furs should deal with a thoroughly reliable fur dealer who knows his merchandise and can give the customer truthful information about the type of fur, its origin, its quality, and whether it is natural in color, tipped, blended, dyed, or pointed. In the summer of 1938 the Federal Trade Commission issued rules governing the selling of furs. As a result every retail seller of furs should have definite information concerning his stock as received from the manufacturer, and should be able to pass on this information to his customers. Briefly, these Trade Practice Rules require that there be no misrepresentation of grade, quality, or geographic origin of a fur; that the real name of the fur form the last part of its description, and that cross-breed furs be so indicated; that furs which have been dyed, tipped, blended, or pointed be so described; that used, worn furs as well as those damaged in some way in the process of manufacturing be so designated on the label or in an advertisement. The rules further require that if a fur is made up of paws, plates, pieces, or tails, this information be given on the label. The Trade Commission has thus made it possible for the consumer as well as the dealer in furs to have some protection in what many furriers frankly describe as a "skin game."

When investing a considerable sum of money in a fur coat, it is wise to ask to be shown something of the underside of the fur to see the size of the pieces of fur used. Quality garments are not made up of very small, irregular pieces of fur. Mink, however, is an exception as it is necessary to cut the pelt into long and very narrow strips so that long, slender, uniform stripes form the pattern of the fur. This process of "dropping" mink is expensive because of the great amount of sewing that is necessary and is used only in expensive coats made of high-grade furs. Reputable dealers leave a portion of the coat lining unsewed so that the customer may see the underside of the fur.

In some types of fur coats, particularly Hudson seal-dyed muskrat, the leather is reinforced by sewing to it a cotton fabric ; this also tends to make the silk lining render better service as it protects the lining from the rubbing of the seams of the fur.

Care of Furs. Whatever the quality of a fur coat or neckpiece may be at the time of its purchase, intelligent care will increase its period of usefulness to the purchaser. As a cold climate is necessary to bring most furs to their prime condition and development, so is it necessary to their preservation. Heat dries the natural oil of the pelt as well as those worked into it during the dressing processes, causing the leather to crack and tear readily. For this reason furs should not be hung in warm cupboards or dried when wet in a warm room or near a radiator. When wet the fur should be combed lightly, shaken carefully, and dried slowly in a cool place where the air circulates freely.

Exposure to strong light will cause all furs, natural, dyed, or blended, to fade; consequently it is not advisable to hang a fur coat or neckpiece in the sunshine for any length of time.

As furs are particularly attractive to moths they should be protected from the ravages of these pests when not in constant use. Cold storage is advisable, as the temperature and humidity are kept at points favorable to the leather and unattractive to moths. If the fur garment is stored at home, it should be inspected frequently and kept in a moth-proof bag containing paradichlorbenzene crystals. Before it is put away for the summer the fur should be thoroughly cleaned by a reliable furrier who will remove all dirt and soil from the hairs with sawdust that will in no way remove the natural oils from the leather. A fur coat should not be dry cleaned like wool and other garments, as cleaning fluids remove the oils.

Furs that mat as a result of wetting or friction may be quickly re-stored by glazing or electrifying. In glazing the hair is first combed then brushed with water and pressed lightly with a warm iron to bring up the oils and luster. Usually a piece of brown wrapping paper is placed over the fur before the iron is applied.

Rips and tears in fur garments should be repaired immediately, preferably by a furrier who will reinforce or stay the seam or torn edges. Minor rips in scams may be repaired at home by overhanding the edges of the skins together, using very shallow stitches and cotton thread. Rips and tears may be quite generally avoided by purchasing fur coats that are sufficiently large, particularly through the hips and width of back, and unbuttoning the coat when the wearer is seated.

Worn spots occur as the result of friction from purses, gauntlet cuffs of gloves, heavy jewelry, and hat brims especially. Constant driving and riding in automobiles tend to cause fur to mat and rub off. Furriers generally advise purchasers to avoid stroking fur with the hand as the fur will absorb oil from the hand, and thereafter tend to collect dirt and dust.

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