This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Ostrich Feathers. The fine feathers of the ostrich, long known and used as ornaments. The bird is a native of Africa, but is now partially domesticated also in Southern California. Our supply comes mainly from Tripoli, in the vicinity of which city are many farms wholly devoted to the rearing of the birds for their feathers. At the plucking season the birds are collected from distant parts of the farm and driven into the plucking-kraal, where they are so closely crowded together that even the most savage bird has not room to make himself disagreeable. The outlet of the pluck-ing-kraal is through the plucking-box, into which, one by one, the birds are driven to be denuded of their plumes. This box holds the bird so tightly that he cannot kick or turn round. A few rapid snips from the shears of the two operators, one standing on either side of the box, soon divest the bird of his magnificent white feathers. They are cut before the quills are quite "ripe," or ready to fall out, so that the tips may be perfect and not draggled or destroyed. The feathers on the upper part, extremities, back, wings, and tail of the ostrich are the most valuable, the long white feathers on the wing fetching the highest price, either dyed or in their natural color. The wing feathers are chiefly employed for head-dresses. The male birds are the black ones with white feathers in the wing and tail; the female is drab. The feathers on both are equally valuable, as they are mostly dyed before being put on the market. The only feathers sold with their natural colors are the white and the black-and-white found on the male. There are no long black plumes on the birds; these being made by dyeing the white ones. Good ostrich "plumes" sell for $8 to $10 a piece and even more for some fancy grades. All of the ostrich plumes of commerce are really double plumes, made by uniting two of the natural feathers. The stems are pared down and the two are sewed together, back to back. The heavy double plumes are then dyed in any and all colors - appropriate and outlandish, even yellow, lilac and green - to suit the taste of the feminine public. It is safe to predict that ostrich feathers will always remain in fashion. They are now and always have been used to a very large extent as part of dress of the upper classes in all European countries. The three white ostrich plumes have formed the well-known badge of the princes of Wales for the last 500 years. Ostrich feather dealing has become a recognized and established trade in the London and New York markets, the imports coming from Tripoli, Magadar, Aleppo, Alexandria and the Cape of Good Hope, while California also contributes to the supply.
A full-grown ostrich weighs about 300 pounds, and when stretching its neck stands over 8 feet from the ground. They are first plucked at the age of 6 to 8 months, and again 6 to 9 months later, and at every succeeding 9 months. The chicken feathers, that is, the first plucking - known as spa-donas," are of little value, usually only about $8 to $15 per bird. The second plucking, at the age of from 18 to 15 months, is of more value, from $25 to $40 per bird, and from 6 to 9 months later the third plucking is ready. The bird has now matured and really fine feathers are grown, and from this and all succeeding pluckings are realized from $75 to $150. In each wing over the protector or floss feathers, there grow to maturity in 8 months 26 long white plumes. In the black male these are pure white, but the female adds slight shadings of ecru or gray. The sweep of short feathers above the splendid fan of white is plucked for tips, and each wing furnishes 75 of these. The tail feathers are toned into a deep old ivory, and 65 of these are of commercial use. The length of time between each plucking, the weight of the feathers, and the richness of their plumage depends partly upon what care is taken not to extract feathers too early, but more especially upon the quality of the pasturage. If an ostrich has always a plentiful supply of food the feathers will grow and ripen quicker, and may be plucked every 7 months. [See Feathers]