How to Identify Vintage Mink, Fox, Rabbit, Beaver & Raccoon Furs

November 8th, 2011
davy crockett racoon hat


vintage fur collage

 

Hello and happy Tuesday, vintage lovers!!!

As I begin to learn more specifics on the vintage styles which we know and love, I’m often found in a conundrum of educational pursuits.

Today’s post is an example: One of the season’s hottest modern trends is that of fur. We saw it all over the runways in a variety of styles, from Rachel Zoe vests to full-on fur coats, gloves, earmuffs, scarfs and everything in between.

I consider myself nothing more or less than an animal of this earth. And as an animal, I feel it’s very important to respect the rights of all other brother & sister animals.

That’s why I want to start today’s post — which is an exploration and education on identifying 5 of the most common vintage furs used to create warm outerwear garments — with the declaration that I will never buy new fur or leather products.

However, I will also declare that I will buy vintage fur or leather products as a sustainable option to use the resources which are pre-existing. As another alternative, I can also decide NOT to wear these garments to perpetuate the popularity of new production of fur & leather goods by choosing to utilize them in various ways as outlined in this blog post I wrote last January on How to Recycle Vintage Fur.

I believe that we each have a right to our own opinions, no matter the subject matter. I respect anyone’s similar or differing opinion, and welcome further suggestions on how best to tackle this ethical fashion conundrum in the comments.

So, vintage lovers! For the sake of today’s post, I hope that you leave with a greater understanding of vintage fur as a whole, which will fuel your OWN opinions and decisions on how to engage with these styles and trends this winter.

Keep reading after the jump to learn how to identify vintage mink, fox, rabbit, beaver & raccoon — and to understand just how the fur industry has influenced fashion yesterday through today.

Whether you’re a vintage fur wearer or not, I hope that today’s post provides further insight into how to identify fashion furs and some knowledge on why different furs were popular at certain points in our fashion history.

What I love most about vintage fashion is the glimpse into our society’s history it offers. While the times they may be changing — and less and less “new fur” is encouraged to be made and bought — the vintage fur industry remains, and it’s with the best knowledge that we can make the right style decision for us.

Thanks to everyone for reading today’s post and hopefully, providing their own vintage fur knowledge in the comments below!

Or feel free to Tweet, FacebookInstagram or subscribe to my newsletter

xx, SD

WINTER 2011-2012 OUTERWEAR FUR TREND

the season of fur winter 2011

Before launching into identifying vintage furs of mink, fox, rabbit, beaver and raccoon 101, I must point out that fur is a big trend for winter 2011-2012. The runways set the stage for trends and mainstream ready-to-wear designers take note.

The evidence of this cold weather season’s fur trend is apparent on the cover of the Bloomingdale’s catalog cover above, which I received in my mailbox just yesterday.

BASIC FUR TERMINOLOGY

When we speak of fur, four key words are used to describe how the fur piece is constructed.

UNDERCOAT: This is where you find the denser/thicker hair near the skin of the animal

GUARD HAIRS: These are the shinier, more delicate hairs which lay over the undercoat. They are more aesthetically pleasing while the undercoat is the practical warmth layer.

PILE: The “pile” is used to describe the direction of the hair growth, i.e. “the pile grows inward from the tail or outward from the top of the belly to the bottom of the torso.”

PELT: The literal skin of the animal, and the phrase used to describe the number of animals needed to create one fur garment. “This fur coat required 10 pelts of a fox,” for example.

OTHER RESOURCES: You can learn more about different types of fur and how to identify it by checking out the Ebay Guide to Vintage Fur & the Vintage Fashion Guild Guide to Fur.

1.) MINK

vintage mink fur

THE ANIMAL: Wild or ranched mink, a type of weasel which can swim at free will (referred to as “semi aquatic”) and is most commonly found in North America and countries of Siberia, China and Japan.

HOW TO IDENTIFY: Mink fur is flat and short and because the animal itself is tiny (imagine no larger than a common squirrel), the pelts are long and narrow when construed together to form the garment. The look of a mink piece is described as being almost “shiny and wet.” This makes sense since the animal can swim, so it’s almost as if the hair is like aquatic skin.

Fur is usually very light but still thick, and according to the Vintage Fashion Guild, dark mink is the most recognizable (see picture of wild mink above). Ranched mink are not born with dark fur coloring, so their fur is often dyed to different shades of browns and even white or a “silver blue” shade.

POPULAR VINTAGE STYLES: The definitive “mink coat.” While other animal fur is used for cold weather protective outer garments, the mink style is what I associate with Hollywood glamor and luxury.

My grandmother passed down her mink stole to me (worn below). The trend of mink began in the 20th century after mink was trapped for some time in large quantities. Beaver had been more popular previously, as you’ll learn why reading how to identify vintage beaver fur below.

It makes financial sense why mink is associated with such glitz & glam: Because the mink animal is so small, it requires dozens of them to make a coat or a stole. Thus the garment itself is more expensive than the same style made with a larger animal with larger pelts, like a fox.

Plus, mink fur is short and glossy, making mink the go-to animal for high-fashion pieces looking to radiate that luxurious shine.

VINTAGE MINK STOLE

2.) FOX

vintage fox fur

THE ANIMAL: There are 12 species of what we know as the “fox,” the most recognizable of such being the red fox (shown above) or gray fox, which are the indigenous species of fox in North America.

The US, Canada and Finland are the world’s leaders in production of fox fur, or essentially the creation of the “pelts” needed to make the garments as a whole.

POPULAR VINTAGE STYLES: Fox pelts complete with head and feet (see image below) were popular in the ’30s – ’50s.

Special note: While it is surely the creepiest, the easiest way to identify a type of fur is to take note of whether the garment contains the head or tail of its animal.

Mink stoles of the ’30s-’50s eras (on Etsy, seen sold often from the ’50s) were also often designed with heads and tails still intact, which I assume became trendy because it was much easier to use the entire animal versus just looping together smaller pelts.

I’d love to know why using animal heads/tails to design a fur garment because less popular after the ’50s. To my knowledge, PETA was founded as an organization in 1980, so there is less chance that this organization had influence of fur trends & styles prior to that.

large body fox fur

I also noticed — along with rabbit & beaver — that fox fur is a popular choice for hats, shown in the picture farther above. The hat above is fur from a white fox. I believe that because there are so many “natural color choices” of foxes, that dying fox fur is not as popular as dying mink fur.

HOW TO IDENTIFY: When you’re examining a piece sans head or feet, identifying whether the fur is fox or not depends mostly on touch.

The fur is much longer in comparison to other woodland creatures. It’s a soft fur that comes in a variety of colors depending on the type of fox species: beige, blue, brown, red, silver or white.

Wild red and gray fox are the least expensive of fur because they are indigenous to North America, so production remains local instead of outsourced thereby dropping the overall average cost a garment.

3.) RABBIT

vintage rabbit fur

THE ANIMAL: The rabbit, technically a “rodent” animal that is quite literally found all over the world in a variety of species, size, color and personality.

POPULAR VINTAGE STYLES: Rabbits are so plentiful and common that many rabbit pieces are less expensive than say, a mink or a beaver piece.

According to the Vintage Fashion Guild, rabbit furs were more often dyed prior to the 1970s. Because rabbits are one of the least expensive fur garments, the trend was to dye the rabbit fur to resemble a more expensive creature. Perhaps this is why with vintage furs, we so often see a rabbit piece dyed dark brown as if it were mink, beaver or fox.

HOW TO IDENTIFY: When petting a garment made from rabbit, it should feel like you are petting a domestic cat. Because the coloring of a rabbit garment could be just about anything — from white to black and any shade in between, thanks to popularity of dying rabbit fur — it’s most important to take note of the garment’s longer, denser hairs that are silky soft. You’ll want to rub the garment on your face, much like a cat would rub it’s body on you when wanting to be stroked!

Beginning in the 1970s — when a love and acceptance of all things “natural” began thanks to the peace, love & flower power generation — the natural colors of rabbit fur were embraced as a trend and less dying occurred.

Also, the demand for “higher quality fur” had lessened. Mink was the luxurious go-to fur of its day, so rabbit fur was dyed previously to the ’70s to resemble mink fur.

The rabbit vest you see pictured above is from the ’70s and not dyed. This grey-white coloring is very unique to the common species of North American rabbit, so it’s easier to identify more modern rabbit pieces based on color alone.

Angora is another style of rabbit fur with recent popularity made from the sheared fur of the angora species of rabbit, shown below.

We’ve all loved our “cashmere” sweaters, which are soft to the touch and made from wool. Angora is a similar touch and feel to cashmere, but you’ll know it’s angora because you’ll notice small threads of fur emerging from the garment material that can almost be “brushed” like fluffy, not-thick hair.

ANGORA RABBIT HAIR VINTAGE SWEATER

angora vintage sweater

 

4.) BEAVER

vintage beaver fur

THE ANIMAL: There are two distinct types of beaver: The Eurasian beaver (Europe) and the North American beaver (Canada/US/Northern Mexico).

The Eurasian beaver was literally hunted into extinction in Europe in the 17th century.  The rodent creature is just recently being introduced back into its indigenous European countries.

As for North America, the same population-decline of the beaver occurred because beaver trapping became so popular in the 1600s to mid 1800s. It literally became an industry of supply & demand, and major beaver trapping companies were born out of the trend to produce all-things-outerwear from this once plentiful creature. When the beaver was hunted into practical extinction in 17th century Europe, the French & British traveled to North America to set up fur trade there.

POPULAR VINTAGE STYLES: When beaver was such a sought after animal in the 1600s – 1800s, it was common for aristocrats to wear beaver “wool felt” hats. While the styles of hats changed over the course of 200 years, the tradition remained the same: Men were to wear a hat no matter the social situation — Always!

1920s BEAVER FUR FELT HAT

vintage beaver fur felt hat

Flash forward to the 20th century vintage pieces, and beaver appears to have been a more popular style for outerwear accessories than anything else. Doing a quick Etsy search of “beaver fur” still results in beaver coats, but also beaver earmuffs (see above), scarves and yes … the popular beaver hat!

(BRIEF) BEAVER TRADING HISTORY: Beyond just the socially popular beaver felt hat, beaver was commonly made to produce practical tools of warmth and stable structure, like blankets, bags and coats.

In 16th to 17th century North America, Beaver pelts were also used as a currency value, as in “this knife is worth 2 beaver pelts.” Beaver belts were traded by Native American Indians and once they arrived to set their own fur trade industry, the European white man used pelts as an option of currency too.

Because beavers were literally trapped into extinction in Europe due to the fact that they were the #1 choice for the day’s hat styles, explorers to North America — including even Lewis & Clark! — sought new land there because they also desired to find new options to increase the availability of fur.

And boy, did Beaver they find! That’s why the “beaver fur wars” of the mid 1600s were so important in territorial history: The Iroquois Indians wanted to maintain rights to land where Beavers lived. But of course, the newly arrived French wanted these lands too for their own financial gain.

The result? A bloody war over the desire to simply produce and trade Beaver pelts.

The history of the beaver trade doesn’t stop in the 1600s. The industry flourished until the 1840s, when hat styles began to change and a demand for beaver lessened.

Also, much like was experienced in Europe, beaver were being slowly trapped into a dwindling population. I used this Economic History of the Fur Trade as a resource for this (brief) round up, and in the article it explains that history has no true “population” to speak of for beavers prior to present day. But it’s assumed that as the price of Beaver pelts decreased, more and more were being trapped to make up for this lost income. Thus, more beavers were removed from their natural habitats.

HOW TO IDENTIFY: Beaver was so sought after as early as the 1600s because it quite literally is the sturdiest, warmest and most hard-wearing of all fur on this list. It makes sense that the beaver doesn’t hibernate: Its fur is thick and warm enough that it can survive literally living in freezing-cold water through the course of the winter.

When examining a fur garment, note how dense the warm the fur feels. You can see in the picture of beaver earmuffs above that the fur almost looks like a bear’s cold-bearing fur.

Beaver garments have less tendency to fall apart or shed. According to the Economic History of the Fur Trade, “Wool felt was used for over two centuries to make high-fashion hats. Felt is stronger than a woven material. It will not tear or unravel in a straight line; it is more resistant to water, and it will hold its shape even if it gets wet. These characteristics made felt the prime material for hatters especially when fashion called for hats with large brims. The highest quality hats would be made fully from beaver wool, whereas lower quality hats included inferior wool, such as rabbit.”

While I can’t speak to it from experience, I would imagine that beaver garments may be easiest to find antique (100+ years old) just because they are simply that long lasting.

5.) RACCOON

vintage raccoon fur

THE ANIMAL: The raccoon is a nocturnal creature who lives throughout all of North America. In desert areas — think the American southwest — these night-loving creatures hang more around garbage cans of your home because there are less woodlands to make their home. You can’t mistake a raccoon for another creature thanks to its ringed tail and the black mask across its face.

And if you see a raccoon out during the day, run the other way! The animal is most likely infected with rabbis and a potential harm to humans.

POPULAR VINTAGE STYLES: Raccoon is made up of approximately 90% undercoat — which remember in the terminology above, is the fur which insulates the animal and is therefore the densest & warmest.

According to hunting stats kept on record, raccoon trapping for outdoor garment use reached an all time high in the ’70s when 5.2 million raccoons were caught in the hunting season of 1976-1977.

The reason for such hunting popularity of the ‘coon is most likely due to the fact that other animals used for warm outerwear — (cough cough) beaver — were still struggling to regain population after being over hunted for literally hundreds of years.

Raccoon was also popular in the ’20s & ’30s before the trend of “long haired fur” became less popular in the ’40s-’50s when the short haired mink reigned supreme & most stylish.

An interesting vintage trend to note is that when Walt Disney released the movie “Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier” in the ’50s that raccoon hats — complete with tails and all — became popular.

davy crockett movie poster

HOW TO IDENTIFY: Raccoon fur is a lot like fox fur — longer and soft to the touch —  but the coloring gives it a distinct difference from that of fox.

Based on my research raccoon fur was not a commonly dyed fur, so you’ll also know it’s raccoon because its body is a silver-gray coloring, while the tail has a brown base that’s easily identified thanks to black tiger-esque stripes.

The Davy Crockett ‘coon hat — while popular in the ’50s — was sold mostly using faux raccoon fur. I guess this was because the hat was mostly popular with young boys who may not have had the income to buy a bonafide coonskin hat.

VINTAGE COONSKIN HAT

davy crockett racoon hat

 

 

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78 Comments

  1. Ian says:

    Great site! Will bookmark it. I collect vintage fur coats, particularly beaver lamb (mouton).

  2. Honey says:

    I see a lot of people saying that they wouldn’t buy a new fur coat but vintage is okay…I’m sorry but what is the difference exactly??!!! If you think fur is cruel why buy a vintage fur coat?! The animals died in exactly the same way as the “new” ones. I think it’s kind of hypocrite thing to say.If you love fur so much just say so!

    I love fur and i don’t mind having a “new” or an “vintage” one.

    Anyway this is great article

  3. Ian says:

    Honey: For me, the vintage/new debate is not about perceived cruelty, it’s about style. I just prefer the style of vintage fur coats. If I saw a new fur coat whose style I liked (and which I could afford!) I’d certainly buy it.

  4. Margaret Ralph says:

    What is Musquash? and how to identify it? I have a light/mid brown vintage fur coat and I don’t think its mink – could it be Musquash?

  5. Mica says:

    With all this above discussion how are China going to learn to stop skinning animals alive for fur when they know fur is liked by many women still just for fashion/glamour? These animals sufffer and China are very cruel, if the animal was killed humany but they are not. The fur looks better on the animal. As for myself I have never worn fur and never would. I eat free/range eggs, organic milk and organic poultry but would not wear a leather jacket has thats going too far for. Cattle are meant for food and as long as they have a natural good life before. I support the British farmer and to buy good quality from the farmer as the animal as had a good life. It will never stop many people eat meat and farmers have a business to run to make a life for themselves and many farmers love their cattle. I wear leather shoes because I damn well have it arounnd my gear/stick in the car so I cant contradict myself by saying I dont wear it. Compassion in animal farming is a must but as for fur and that many animals die a horrible death mostly being alive is barbaric and wicked to inflict this pain on our friends. China skin dogs and cats too and it makes me feel sick what these un/compassionate people do to animals. Just greed and money so if they know lots of women love their fur, how are they going to learn to stop this barbaric trade? Vintage fur too, those animals suffered years ago . No animal should suffer in the hands of humans, they should not feel pain and fear. Too many greedy, selfish people on this earth.

  6. Astra says:

    Mica,

    this topic is about recycling old furs, the animals died decades ago and it makes no sense to throw away perfectly usable fur. Fur is biodegradable, a new synthetic jacket is made from crude oil and takes 500 years to break down and isn’t as warm. How many years do you get out of a synthetic coat? They keep saying the oil is running out and the prices of it is climbing!

    As for how the animals died, do you really believe anyone in the business of killing animals is going to waste time, potentially damage the pelt and risk personal injury by skinning a live animal? The video you refer to was made by an animal rights group and the Chinese government has demanded they turn over all information so they can prosecute the ones that are in it. The animal rights group refuses to say who did it! If they really care, wouldn’t they want them jailed for this crime? Not if THEY made it themselves! Never blindly believe outrageous stories, research the topic and use logic.

    I like my vintage fur and will continue to wear it!

  7. DSomdahl says:

    I was given a black fur coat from a friend as a gift. She’s in her late 50’s and said it used to belong to her mom. There’s a tag inside below the collar that says the root store terre haute. I can find info on the store but not the furs they sold. It seems to be short haired, thick, sooooo soft, jet black, and about 4-5″ strips with a black silk liner that has what looks like maple leaf pattern on it. Can anyone tell me the age, type of fur, and perhaps value of this jacket/coat maybe?

  8. Sherry nour says:

    Hi , if I send you photo of the fur I have can u tell me what kind or u have to see it
    Email . Marty12348@msn.co
    Thx

  9. Mica says:

    Animals in China are electrocuted then skinned for their fur. Disgusting and barbaric suffering. The fear these animals have when it id their turn dragged out of their cage. This is done so the fur is not marked. Disgusting and sickening trade!! And you people are discussing how you love your hand me downs vintage fur! Ifyou want to wear fur then buy the natural way an alpacca fur . These animals died a natural death so no need to waste their coat although the people that look after the animals are still upset when they pass. Alpaccas are not farmed here in the UK for their fur but used for trekking and prople love having an hour with them .

  10. Marshelle says:

    Thanks for this wonderful article. I live in New Zealand and yesterday scored a fabulous fur coat which I now think may be mink. I have been trying to research it’s age but have come up empty. I don’t suppose any one knows anything about the Union Fur Co in Johannesburg, South Africa?

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  12. acne says:

    I’m curious to find out what blog platform you have been utilizing? I’m encountering some small security problems with my newest web site and I’d prefer to find something much more safeguarded. Do you have any suggestions?

  13. kretha mac says:

    I purchased a coat and am having difficultly identifying the maker tossed what kind of fur it may be. It is made in Vietnam. The label is M or W obbino. It is written scribbled. The coat is blond with a lot of light and dark pattern. Very curious. Thank you if you can help identify. It.

  14. Trinka says:

    After some “animal lovers” threw red paint on some ladies fur coats in Calif,(at some televised red carpet opening- late 70s?) it got raving, mixed reviews from across the nation. The red was used symbolically, for blood.
    Some SHARP detective documented, with pictures, most of the paint pouring perps. Several of them were pictured Wolfing down steaks, Wearing or purchasing leather coats, luggage, purses or shoes.
    I thot the best kicker of it all was — the picture of the one who Screamed the Loudest throwing the paint—
    She was filmed getting into a beautiful white Mercedes and driving away. The investigator had just filmed the sheer white interior, then backed away and filmed her return. The whole interior was SOLID white leather.

  15. Ella says:

    I recently bought a beautiful and soft black beaver stole/cape, and was wondering if anyone recognizes the name “Roberts, Fall River, MA”. It is in excellent condition except for one rip in the seam (easy fix) and minimal staining. The lining has tree branches embroidered in it. I’m guessing the era is 1930s through 1950s, but it is hard to tell. My mom and I also both have mink stoles from her grandmothers on both sides, but the one I inherited is slightly too big, as my great-grandmother was a slightly larger person. The beaver fits much better. I love being able to have this form of material family history! I love your site–great job!

  16. Cheryl says:

    GREAT ARTICLE! However, silly me am still a bit confused on what I have. I have four vintage furs that are unique. One is BonWit Teller and two are Davellin but one has no tag. Unfortunately, I don’t know what kind of furs they are! Where can I send pics to to get a confirmation? I hate to wear and someone ask what it is and I don’t know!
    (They were inherited.) Thank you SOO much!

  17. Nikki says:

    This is a great site and very well written descriptions! I can help anyone who has a fur that they are having a difficult time identifying. Please feel free to send pictures of the fur to nikki (at) coolcraniums.com.

  18. Arena says:

    I found at the G.W. a beautiful stole. No head or tail as a decider so I’m guessing from your description that it is probably fox. The pelts seem to be full length but only about 6″ wide. The inner lining is apart and it has a couple of pockets inside that are coming apart. I really don’t want to wear it since I have no idea where it’s BEEN! Other than being apart from the lining that is still with it it’s in beautiful shape. Also I really would NEVER have any place to wear it to, so my purchasing it was purely and act of preservation and maybe some $$$ for repairing it to original state and selling for a profit. I’m not to good at pictures to send but if it would help let me know. Thanks

  19. Matt Lowry says:

    I have what I believe to be a mink stole or wrap from the 30’s to 40’s. has three whole (heads and tails) linked together with tassels and a mouth minted clip on one head. I would be interested in selling it. Make is H. liebes. Please contact me back.

    Thank you.

    Matt Lowry
    913-602-9734

  20. ASIF SAEED says:

    Dear Sir,

    We are interested supply you used Fur Leather skins, Beaver / double face / Mink / rabbit fur coats and jackets. Do you interested do you have buyers for above items? please inform us.

    Kind regards,
    Asif Saeed

    NOVEL LEATHER INDUSTRIES
    KARACHI PAKISTAN
    asifsayd@gmail.com

  21. annie says:

    I have a 1930 mahogany x-long shoulder stole mink in excellent condition,how do i find out its value? Thanks!

  22. Jill Steinhauer says:

    I love this!! So much good info! At this moment I am writing an email with pictures to a local Furrier for possible pricing! I have 5 furs w/ different history’s. What’s a girl to do? Help me!!!

  23. Emily wang says:

    Dear friend,

    We are the supplier of rabbit fur,if you are interested in,you can contact us: lynna@inchgold.com

  24. Brenda Jones says:

    I have a man’s full length Racoon size 46 (Big and Tall) Dark Brown Long hair silver gray. The coat was bought at Dittrich’s Furs West Bloomfield MI. My husband passed a way and I have the coat in storage since then. It is in good condition. He bought the coat because he liked the way The Fonzie looked in the show HAPPY DAYS. I have the apprasial papers. Do u know any co-signment shops I can sell it ay?

  25. Chicken Katha says:

    I’m a chicken rescuer who doesn’t feel at all bad about owning the pelt of an animal that preys relentlessly on chickrns (and other birds.) I have here a stole that is such a neutral brown, it is almost gray. It seems to be comprised of pelts that are about 3 inches by <18 inches. There is a darker (soft) stripe down the middle of each pelt. Very old (1930s? 1940's?) with a tag, Margaret Roehler Furs. Any idea what I am looking at? I will take pictures tomorrow.

  26. Debra says:

    I have a mink stole that is a long rectangle in shape with pockets for hands to slide into. About a third do the way off of each end, there is a straight row with alternating little animal feet and long smooth tails attached with some type of crochet type thing in the end of the tails where attached. It is lined, though not silky lining. I can’t find one that has feet and tails sewn onto it like this one. Help …….please

  27. Shelley k Yarborough says:

    I have a mink and leather jacket amd 2 mink stoles that are at least 90 yrs old in good condition and were purchased at Goudchaux’s owned by Hans Sternberg. I would like to sell them. How would i go about doing that? My email is sky31092@yahoo.com or call or text 225 313 7317 THANK U

  28. Michelle Niedermeyer says:

    Im trying to sell my vintage long beaver fur coat from Sachs fine furs South Bend Indiana to help pay for my grandpas funeral. If interested please email me at Babygirlbevins71@gmail.com I can send you pictures. Thank you.

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