Animals dependent upon Surroundings
Several useful furs were described in the last article, and here mention will be made of some more of the cheaper furs.
Skunk: a Very Practical Fur
The skunk is a small American quadruped, allied to the otter and weasel, which is found chiefly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Americans call it the black marten. Its fur is black, soft, thick, and glossy, and of a natural darkness that needs no dyeing. It looks well, wears well, and has immense durability. In former days the pungent odour which clung to the skins was a decided drawback to their use, but modern methods of cleaning have removed this disadvantage.
Skunk may be termed the fur of the moment. A few years ago its price was low, and the skins easily obtained; but it came into vogue in Paris, and is now used not only for stoles and muffs, but as a trimming for coats and cloaks and for day and evening dresses. The skins are worth from 30s. to £4. or more apiece, and a stole of the best skunk would cost 35 or upwards, and a good muff about £15. The hard-wearing qualities of skunk commend it to the economist. Since skunk has risen in price the fur has been imitated by means of dyed opossum, but as the latter is less fine and glossy, the fraud is easily detected.
The Fur of the Squirrel
Squirrel fur is much in demand in England, but our home-bred squirrels are usually red, and are seldom used by foreigners. Squirrels vary in colour. It is a curious fact that they are greyer in shade when found towards the east, and redder when they come from the west. But in the North of England the squirrel assumes a grey coat in winter, as it does in Russia, and white specimens are sometimes found. A white squirrel was once captured in Norfolk, and a pied variety was also found in the same county.
Grey squirrels are the most fashionable, and these come chiefly from the Continent, especially Russia, and from Siberia and America. The best skins are those from Siberia, which fetch from two to three shillings apiece. The choicest of these are dressed and sorted at Weissenfels, in Germany
Like all other furs, squirrel has of late gone up in value. A stole made from good Russian squirrel would now cost £20, and a muff to match, 15. A stole made of the finest skins was recently priced at 36, but that particular fur had great beauty of colour and texture. Articles made of this fur can, of course, be bought at a much cheaper rate, but it must be admitted that squirrel is by no means a durable fur.
Baum Marten and Stone Marten
Baum marten and stone marten are furs of some importance. The baum marten is said still to exist in the British Isles, and has been found in Wales, North Devon, and Cumberland; but the principal supply is drawn from Russia, Norway, Italy, and Switzerland. The finest skins come from Norway, and this fur is rich and valuable, and dark brown in colour. It used to be known as "French sable," and was much in vogue in the time of the Georges. The tails of baum marten are used in the same way as sable tails, and are sometimes employed to imitate the genuine article. They look well and wear well, but are coarser and rougher than real sable, and the deception can be easily detected.
The animal itself is from one to two feet in length, and its colour varies from darkest brown to pale sandy in some of the poorer specimens. A stole of the best baum marten would cost about 50, and a big muff 25, but the purchase would be a sound one, as the fur is light in weight and has great durability.
Stone marten is found in most European countries, and also in India and Central Asia. The Asiatic skins are the softest, finest, and most valuable. The underfur is almost white, but the tips resemble sable in colour. Stone marten wears fairly well, and looks well, but the tails are not so good as those of the baum marten, and the skins have to be worked in a special manner to obviate the marks caused by the many joinings. The animal has a tail six inches long, is over two feet in length, and in colour much resembles the baum marten. Its name is derived from its fancy for rocky habitations.
A stole of stone marten would cost about £40, and a muff 20.
Great improvements have of late been made in the dressing and dyeing of stone marten, and it can now be dyed to imitate Russian
Dress sable, which the best skins closely resemble. In this case a large muff might cost £35, and the stole from 40 to 50.
Fisher fur has of late become popular. This creature is the largest of the marten tribe, is two to three feet long, and has a tail from eleven to nineteen inches in length. It comes from North America and Canada, where it ranges from New Brunswick to British Columbia.
Fisher fur has always been much worn by Russians, but a year or two ago it became popular in Paris, and the price went up in proportion. A stole of good fur would cost about 30, and a muff £10. Fisher, like skunk and the two other martens, combines reasonable price with handsome appearance.
Nutria is a fur of the beaver kind, cheap, useful, and durable. The nutria comes from South America, and is found in Brazil and the Argentine Republic. It is from nine to ten inches in length, eats no animal food, but lives entirely on roots and herbs. It can be easily tamed, and breeds well in captivity in England. Its fur is of a warm, golden shade, rather like natural sealskin, but is often dyed to a dark brown colour. In this case it may lend itself to fraud, as it sometimes poses as mink, or if silvered and "unhaired," can be made to imitate beaver. However, the real fur is useful for small articles, such as hats, caps, muffs, and neckties, but does less well for large garments, as the tiny skins have to be cross-joined, which spoils the effect. However, it makes a good lining fur, as it is lighter in weight and less costly than beaver, and has almost as good an appearance.
Wolverine is found in the northern latitudes-of Europe, Asia, and America. It comes from Norway and Russia, and is plentiful in Labrador. The skins are from three to four feet in length, and the fur is of a dark brown colour.
A becoming wrap in otter and skunk. Skunk is at present much in vogue. It needs no dyeing, and is of great durability
It is marked in a peculiar manner. There is a patch of dark fur right in the centre of the back, which furriers call the "saddle." Round this mark there comes a band of lighter fur, and then another dark ring, but not so dark as the "saddle." This latter is as dark and rich as fine sable tail, and is cut out and used for the same purposes. It fetches a high price. The other dark circle comes next in quality. When the "saddle" has been removed, and the furrier desires to use the whole skin for rug purposes, he often fills up the gap by a bit of bear skin. These skins make excellent rugs and wrappers.
Like the mole, the wolverine is a voracious creature, and often preys on large animals, such as the reindeer. By the way, it is a curious fact that the colour of animals lightens the nearer they live to the Poles, and also that nearer the Poles they are found, their sizes gradually become larger. This latter peculiarity may perhaps be accounted for by the fact that the weakly ones die off, and the survivors have to travel over larger tracks of land than those living further south, and thus develop more bone and muscle.
The Price of Opossum
Opossum, which was mentioned in Part 5 in the article on chinchilla, is now very much in demand; the price has accordingly risen, and modern methods of dressing have done much to improve its texture. The cheaper opossum is of a brownish shade, but the best skins are of a soft grey colour. The cheap skins cost seven or eight shillings each, but the finer sort run to twelve or fourteen shillings a piece. Some of the great London furriers can show exquisite skins of the best opossum. Such skins as these, as grey furs, rank second only to chinchilla.