- Published: 31 March 2008
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Laura Compton, age 13, of DeKalb, Ill., for her question:
WHEN DID FUR FARMING START?
Fur farming, or the raising of certain furbearing animals in captivity under controlled conditions for the purpose of processing their skins for sale to manufacturers of fur garments, started in 1887 on Prince Edward island off the eastern coast of Canada.
From earliest times, fur has been a prized commodity. Exploration in the New World as early as 1530 made pelts available in large numbers. But it eventually took fur farming, rather than trapping, to refine the industry.
Thanks to fur farming, animals with unique characteristics of size, color or texture can pass those characteristics on to their offspring through controlled breeding. Fur farmers customarily crossbreed animals (mate different varieties from the same species) and inbreed animals (mate close relatives) to produce furs with desirable characteristics.
The silver fox, developed from the red fox, was the first fur so produced. Today so called mutation minks ranging from white to near black and from bluish to lavender and rose, each with exotic trade names, are raised on thousands of fur farms, as are chinchilla, nutria and fox.
The term "fur" refers to any animal skin or part that has hair, fleece or fur fibers attached, either in a raw or processed state. Skins of furbearing animals are also called peltries.
Trappers send peltries to local collecting stations or to dealers who send them on to receiving houses where they are prepared for auction. Fur farmed peltries are often disposed at collecting stations but, more commonly, the farmer is part of a farming cooperative group, such as the Great Lakes Mink Association or the Mutual Mink Breeders Association, representatives of which supervise the assembly and sale of peltries.
At fur auction houses the furs are sold to the highest bidders.
Since the mid 1970x, furs have been made in more varied, sporty and exotic ways as designers have created new, dramatic styles.
Cutting and shaping fur is important. Most animals have small skins that must be joined in various ways to create a garment. The skin on skin method joins the trimmed skin lengthwise to to other skins.
Furriers lengthen and narrow the small skins in more costly garments to eliminate these cross markings. Thus, a mink skin that is about six inches wide by about 16 inches long, after being "let out," can become approximately two inches wide and as much as 39 inches long.
Diagonal slices are cut on the skin side in widths ranging from about one half inch to about six tenths of an inch and are then realigned and stitched to produce an elongated peltry. The stitching of thousands of such seams in a garment compacts the fur, making it richer and fluffier, and enables the furrier to drape the fur in many flowing directions. After sections of the garment are sewn, they are dampened, nailed into permanent shape on large flat boards and left to dry. Thousands of tiny nails~are used to flatten the seams on let out garments.