Lamb. Broadtail Skunk. Moleskin. Mink
One's sympathies are with the average woman, who has her place in the world, a pretty face, a taste for luxury, and a dismal lack of the one thing needful. Previous articles have shown that to acquire the six precious furs costs hundreds of pounds. But the poorer woman has at her hand some useful substitutes, such as bear, beaver, crimmer, fisher, goat, genet, mink, marten, moleskin, musquash, nutria, Persian lamb, skunk, squirrel, and wolverine.
Bear fur is most becoming. Soft, dark fur adds to a woman's beauty, and there is a certain type of face, handsome and hard-featured, that looks its best when softened by what may be termed a ragged fur, such as the best brown bear, skunk, or even goat, whether known as Thibet or Mongolian.
Bear fur is in three different colours brown, black, and white. The brown bear inhabits Russia, the Caucasus, part of Norway, and Upper Hungary. Its fur is thick, long, and glossy, heavy in weight, but of immense durability. Cub skins are highly prized on account of their softness and tine texture, but their small size makes the skins more expensive. A good bear skin costs £10, and one of the best quality might be £15. A stole of the best fur is worth about £16, and a muff about £7. But at one furrier's I saw a big muff, like a soft, black pillow, made of two cub skins of great beauty. This muff was priced at £12.
If the fur were not of such good quality, a small stole might be £5 and a muff 3. Brown bear varies in colour from almost black to fawn and cinnamon. The lighter shade of cinnamon, known as Isabella bear, is expensive, but seems now out of favour. A good skin costs £15, and one of these, mounted on fawn cloth, makes a handsome carriage rug, worth about £18.
Black bears come from Canada, and quite 25,000 skins are annually supplied by British North America. They are nearly black in their natural state, but are dyed to make the colour more uniform. This fur is also thick and glossy, but has a certain harshness. A good many skins are bought for military purposes, and are used for the headgear of Guardsmen in the British Army. Black bears are large in size, so one skin
Dress makes two caps and a good skin costs from 14 to 16. Hence the familiar busby is worth about £8.
Bear fur is also used for the collars and linings of the Russian "shubes," or sledge-coats. Coachmen's capes are now out-of-date, but these used to be made from the common and coarser bearskins. The white Polar bear is found all over the Arctic regions, but the finest skins come from Greenland. And these retain their whiteness, because, after flaying, the natives drag them through the snow, which prevents the oil from turning them yellow. Some of these bears are 12 feet in length, but their young are no bigger than rabbits.
Beavers were known to the ancients, and in the fourth century the fur of the beaver, or Pontic dog, as it was called, seems to have been in great demand. The beaver has a way of disappearing from countries where it has once flourished. For instance, it used to be found in England, and is now extinct; but Lord Bute has introduced beavers with a measure of success into the Isle of Rothesay in Scotland. They are now only really at home in Russia, Poland, Siberia, and North America. The best come from Canada; and it is worthy of note that the Dominion of Canada chose the beaver for its coat-of-arms, and that in old days beaver skins passed as currency in British Northamerica. This rodent is allied to the squirrel, and has a flat tail about ten inches in length. It is about a foot in height, and ten inches in length. Beavers, like seals, have acute senses and a high order of intelligence. They seem to be endowed with reasoning power rather than with instinct, and can adapt their actions to varying conditions. Beaver architecture, as well as human, has its history. Beavers can fell trees and dam streams, and a beaver lodge is a marvellous construction Some of their dams are said to be a thousand years old.
Beaver fur is much lighter in weight than bear, but like bear has immense durability. Its price is rather high, and a long coat of the best beaver would cost from 40 to 80.
A large, long stole would be about 25, and a big muff £16. But cheaper goods can be procured, and a small stole and muff might cost10 or £12. In old days beaver was much in demand for the making of hats, gloves, purses, and other articles: Chaucer speaks of a beaver hat in 1386, and in the time of Queen Elizabeth these hats became common, and the fashion continued for nearly three centuries. The beaver skins were usually dyed black, and formed the headgear of the upper classes in Great Britain. In fact, in 1638, an Act of Parliament prohibited the use of any other material for hat-making, and this contributed to the diminution of the number of beavers in North America. An encyclopaedia, which shall be nameless, says that "there is no longer such a thing as a genuine beaver hat." But this is a mistake, as white beaver hats are still worn by the servants of Lord Lonsdale and Sir Edwin Durning-lawrence.
Beaver fur has much in its favour, but it is flat and of a dull colour, and perhaps more useful than either smart or becoming. Bear and beaver are like nothing but themselves, and their fur need not fear imitation.
Persian lamb is a fur prodceed from sheep found in Persia, and the best skins come from Bokhara. Persian sheep are said to be. the most ancient breed of sheep in the world, and this fur is far older than is usually imagined. Some miniver robes of the fifteenth century were carefully examined, and they leave no doubt that the dark fur on them is Persian lamb and not ermine tails. The natural colour of the skin is rusty black, but it is dyed a dense black before use, and this is done either in Canada or Germany. The water of English rivers does not seem suitable for the purpose.
The wool of the full-grown sheep is coarse and dense, but, unlike its parent, the skin of the Persian lamb is very soft and curly in the extreme. And this curl is artificially preserved by at once wrapping the skin up in a covering to keep it from contact with the air. These skins are not sold in a raw state in England, but are taken once a year to the fair at Nijni Novgorod by the Tartar owners. They are then sold to Leipsic merchants, who are most skilful dyers and cleaners. Indeed, it can be said that Leipsic supplies the whole world with Persian lamb, which is often, but wrongly, known as astrachan.
Persian lamb has high favour in England, and may be well called the fur of utility. It is most durable, and suits the needs of the woman who walks instead of drives, as it does not spoil with rain, and is by no means aggressive. It must not be reckoned cheap, as a good coat of Persian lamb would cost from £50 to £120. The skins cost from about £1 10S. to £3, and upwards. The fur called caracul is a commoner and cheaper variety. It has no curl, and its hair is longer and more fluffy, but it is lighter than Persian lamb - a decided point in its favour. A caracul coat can be bought for £15, and stoles and muffs in proportion. Broadtail - correctly known as breitz-schwanz - is one of the finest furs in the world and of a satin-like softness. The skin is thin and fine, and the fur has no curl, but a waved line on its surface, which reminds one of silk moire. But breitzschwanz has a gruesome history. It is the coat of the young, unborn lamb, and tender-hearted women often avoid this fur, and in any case its present price is almost prohibitive. The skins are tiny, and each skin is worth from £3 to £6. Some years ago a woman had a coat and short skirt of broadtail fur, which was priced at £500, and at the present time such a get-up would cost perhaps £1,000.
Now to return to the cheaper varieties. Moleskin is, to my mind, one of the most charming furs in existence. It has delicate shades of colour, is soft and downy and most becoming. In fact, it adds more to a woman's looks than do many of its costlier rivals. Also it is light in weight - to a delicate woman no small advantage. The mole is perhaps too plentiful in Great
Britain, but, oddly enough, is not found in Ireland, and not often in Scotland, except in the Isle of Mull. Scotch moles, however, supply the best moleskin. This fur has one fault. Like most dainty things, it is by no means durable. But the price is moderate. A long coat of the best moleskin would cost from £30 to £40, a good stole might be £15, and a big muff can be secured for £4. Ermine is the only fur that goes well with moleskin. An ermine tie helps the effect, and an ermine muff completes the costume.
The mole lives near water. It has a plump body, with a velvet-like coat, and soft fur of a greyish brown colour. Its length is about six inches, and its tiny tail only half an inch long, and it owns stout limbs, and a pointed muzzle. It has no visible ears, and its eyes are so minute as to be easily over looked. The mole is a voracious creature, has an unquenchable thirst, and what may be termed a "rage of hunger." It eats no vegetables, but preys on mice, small birds, and tiny animals. Its cleverly designed subterranean labyrinths, with their passages and galleries, are a familiar - for the farmer a too familiar - feature in our fields. Part of the mole's object in constructing them is the pursuit of the earthworms, on which he loves to prey.
The mink is a species of marten that occurs in Canada and in most parts of North America, but the best skins come from York River in the Hudson Bay Territory. It is an amphibious creature, and feeds chiefly on fish, frogs, and mussels. Its body measures from 12 to 18 inches in length, exclusive of the tail, which is long and bushy. Its hair is fine and soft and of a chestnut brown colour, which varies from a pale shade to the dark hue of the finest sable. The skins most in demand are those that are almost black in colour. Mink skins run from £1 to £6 apiece. They are of small size, and a coat of good mink would cost from £180 to £250 according to length and quality. A stole might be about £36, and a big muff from £14 to £20.
Mink ranks with bear and beaver as one of the best wearing furs in existence. In this it comes before either sable or sealskin, and is second only to sea-otter. Mink fur was at one time so much in request that an attempt was made to establish "minkeries" for the purpose of breeding the animal. But as in the case of sable, it was found that the fur of the mink then so deteriorated as to be almost worthless. Mink of a dark shade is sometimes passed off as Russian sable. But this fraud can easily be detected, as the fur is shorter than sable and much more fluffy. Mention will be made of other cheap furs in a future article.