Resilient Fur Trade Always Comes Back

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During the past month, I have visited with numerous fur buyers, several trappers and a few of the receiving agents for the auction houses. It’s difficult to sum up their reaction to the current market situation in one word. But, if it was to be only one word it would be: Fear.

Uncertainty and instability spawn fear. For this reason, prices being paid in the country have been all over the board. Generally, low averages are being reported from all regions. This is certainly understandable considering the total lack of firm information available regarding the market.

For those who harbored fears of flooding the market this season due to reports of high prices last season, forget it. One trip to the local fur buyer dreaming of $40 raccoons turned-out to be a reality lesson.

Few of the active buyers are interested in investing more than they can afford to either lose or wait a protracted length of time before finding a willing buyer.

Three major international auctions in Europe during mid-December will have the full attention of all of those involved in the fur trade.

The first offering of the season will be a Dec. 11 sale of wild caught and ranch sable and ranch mink in St. Petersburg, Russia. In the past, this Soyuzpushnina auction has enjoyed good attendance as buyers clamor for the sable to feed the expanding luxury markets. Recent Russian ranch mink sales have been disappointing. But the lack of clearance was not due to demand for mink. It’s reported that price limits and low quality is responsible for this lack of movement.

Next comes the Dec. 14 and 15 offering of fresh ranch mink at the Copenhagen Fur Center. This will be followed by the Dec. 19 through 22 Finish Auction of ranch mink in Helsinki.
While it might appear somewhat strange, the results from these early ranch sales will set the tone for country fur buying activity from Maine to Alaska.

The reasons are threefold: Buyers attending these sales will have more insider information on the current and anticipated retail sales than anyone in the trade. They have firm information regarding their customers’ wants and needs. If they don’t have such information, they won’t be there. The number of buyers in attendance will be critical information.

Should buyer attendance be down by 50 percent or more, that’s clear indication of trouble ahead.

Clearance will also be critical information. Should they attend and not buy, possibly due to price constants, the unsold goods will be carried over, which typically results in lower prices later. Reasonably good clearance will indicate clear skies ahead. The fur market lives on.
While certainly a consideration, prices paid will be another element, but prices are expected to be lower. Just how much lower before auction officials withdraw the offering is a critical unknown. Considering the soaring value of the U.S. dollar against most currencies, a 15 percent to 20 percent decline over late spring levels would certainly be reasonable.

However, some key elements determining the future of our wild fur markets are known.
Weather in Russia and Eastern Europe has been milder than normal. Early winter temperatures in Moscow and St. Petersburg have remained in the high 20s to mid-30s throughout most of November and early December. We’re all aware of the impact a mild winter has on fur sales.
North China, on the other hand, has experienced a typical cold, windy early winter.
Luxury sales continue to plummet. High-end jeweler Tiffany’s and modestly priced jewelers, such as Zale and Signet report dismal retail activity.

India, where the bulk of the world’s diamonds are polished, has suspended all importation of stones for one month in hopes the market will absorb existing inventories.

But, the luxury trade does not impact the movement of all wild furs to the same degree as it might have on the ranch mink and sable markets.

Don Rumford, with Fur Harvesters Auction, points out that our markets are much broader and deeper than during the 1987 crash. So true. At the time of that downturn, we were almost entirely dependent on high-end luxury markets. Today, it is more often the common laborer on the streets in Moscow or Beijing, with a little newfound wealth, buying a fur hat or stole from an open-air vendor. That’s a far cry from the “Snow Bunnies” of the ’80s decked out in a luxurious red fox ski parka.

“Those that are shopping might not buy a full length mink. But, they can buy a nice cloth coat with fur trim,” Rumford said.

Many of our wild furs are certainly a low-cost alternative to mink or sable.

Our fur markets have seen turbulent times in the past. We have endured everything from political unrest, fear of travel due to disease epidemics, highly volatile currency exchange rates, soaring interest rates, fur dressing plant strikes and the unfounded emotional attacks. But, the fur trade always comes back.

Nearly two centuries ago, the fur trade was said to be over. It was finished. Silk from the Orient destroyed the beaver markets. Companies from the West Coast to the East Coast went bankrupt. St. Louis was on the verge of economic collapse. Fortunes were lost.

Today, we harvest more beaver than during the height of the “Mountain Man Era.”
The current downturn is different, but each one before was also different. This time, we are confronted with global economy instability with the associated credit crisis. This too will pass.


BEAVER: This labor-intensive article will likely see one of the shortest harvests in many years. Auction houses report a few inquiries about large, heavy beaver. That’s somewhat encouraging. Everything depends on the retail sales activity of fur items during the next three months. China, Russia and Eastern Europe will be critical. With that in mind, don’t expect to see any significant push by buyers to put early collections together.

MUSKRAT: Buyers appear willing to speculate on the limited numbers they are seeing. A few collections of northern finished XLs have hit highs of $3 to $3.50, but most averages are below $2. This might be the season’s “sleeper.” Should ranch mink prices hold or only decline 20 percent to 30 percent at the early auctions, muskrat could see some interesting late season activity.

WILD MINK: Don’t expect a lot of interest in this article. Current buyers are taking goods in the $8 to $10 range for the best from the northern regions, far less in the South. Most are being taken in conjunction with muskrat trapping. This is a good candidate for the freezer. Typically, this is an article that is best sold early. That is most likely not the case this season.

RACCOON: Early snows across the Midwest reduced the harvest somewhat. The lower prevailing prices also served to dampen enthusiasm of those “chasing the market.” Scattered reports out of regions 10 and 12 have highs hitting $20 to $22, but averages remain below $10 for the most part. Small sizes are seeing offers of $1, or being told there is no market. Country buyers are reporting seeing few, if any, finished pelts. In fact, a great deal of the buying has been on the carcass, serving only to further reduce averages. There is no truly established market and that is likely to remain the case until much later in the season … possibly spring or early summer.

OTTER: Just as this market was beginning to develop, the downturn hit. Now, it would most likely be wise to hold due to the uncertainty. How long? That remains to be seen. Darks were getting some attention on last season’s international auctions. Consumer acceptance was becoming evident. This is an incredibly durable fur with leather nearly equal to seal. Hats and coats constructed from otter will last a lifetime. There has to be a viable market out there and one of these days it will open up.

RED FOX: Most buying has been based solely on speculation, and that has been cheap. Scattered reports from regions 1 and 2 have the very best “cherry reds” at a tops of $20, however, most offers have been in the range of $10 to $12. Flatter goods, off color — frosty rumps — and smalls are being turned away. If a firm market does develop, it will be much later in the season.

GRAY FOX: Unsold goods from last season, the unsettled nature of the overall fur market and disappointing news regarding the Russian economy has led to buyers being reluctant to speculate too deeply into this article. Most trading has been in range of $14 to $18. This is understandably only a guess at resale value, in that until the fresh goods and the carryovers are sold will any firm information be available. Retail activity, once known, could have a significant impact. If sales are good, this could be less than half value. However, if Russian fur sales are as dismal as much of the current retail activity, an $18 offer might be a winner.

COYOTE: Trappers and fur hunters are reporting some difficulty in finding willing buyers for the early season goods. This is understandable, in that a number of buyers are still holding collections from previous seasons. Until these goods are sold, at wherever the price, there is no established market. Trim goods have flooded the marketplace for several years. This season’s crop of ranch fox produced in the Scandinavian countries is reported to be more than 25 percent smaller than last year’s. This might give some limited relief later in the year to the beleaguered coyote market. Worldwide retail activity will hold the key.

BOBCAT/LYNX-CAT/LYNX: Western buyers can get an enormous amount of cash tied up in a collection rather quickly. With the world’s economy in a tailspin and the luxury markets in chaos, most buyers are expected to take a wait-and-see approach before committing to the investment. Heavy, early snows have hampered trapping activity in regions 9 and 10. This will reduce the harvest somewhat.

Retail activity in the major luxury trade centers will be watched closely. Should the raw goods sold last season that are now finished coats in front of shoppers continue to sell even at a much slower pace, then replacement inventories will be in order. It also should be pointed out that retail furriers are offering steep discounts on existing inventories in an effort to lure shoppers. That alone will result in lower raw skin prices paid to the producers. Pelts of southern goods, flats, weak bellies and small sizes will find few willing buyers. This would be a good years to explore the taxidermy trade.

MARTEN: Reports from Alaska indicate excellent trapping conditions. Early freeze-up and favorable snow cover have allowed trappers access to productive areas. On Dec. 11, there will be an auction of Russian wild caught and ranched sable in St. Petersburg. While you cannot compare our marten with the Russian counterpart, this sale will give the fur trade its first indication of the condition of the luxury markets.

FISHER: This high-value item is directly tied to the luxury markets. Used primarily as trim on expensive cloth and leather coats, fisher has retained the image of status. The limited number harvested in North America usually generates stiff competition between garment makers using this article. These specialty fashion houses supply merchandise to high-end department stores and exclusive furriers. Winter retail sales will hold the key to future trading of fisher in the country. Look for a late market.


BEAVER: Highs of $16 to $18 for prime finished blankets; averages low.
MUSKRAT: Highs of $2.50 to $3, averages in the range of $1.75 for finished collections.
WILD MINK: Top males trading at $10. Overall running around $8.
RED FOX: Highs of $16 to $18, XL heavy goods, cherry reds have seen $20, but few make the grade.
RACCOON: XXXL, XXL and XL Is and IIs highs in the range of $12 to $14, wet goods, tops $10. Averages running in the range of $8. Color and size major grade factor.
COYOTE: Heavy XLs high of $14 to $16, may not hold. Unfinished difficult to sell.
OTTER: Most collections expected to trade in the range of $30 to $35 for XL straight hair, dark, good winters. All buying based on speculation.
FISHER: High of $35 to be expected until firm information. All buying based on speculation .
MARTIN: Top of $20. Stronger market may develop later.
GRAY FOX: Average in the range of $20. This is the preferred section of grays due to size.
BOBCAT: Tops reported $40 to $50. Market unsettled.

BEAVER: Blankets and larger at $16 to $18 for finished fully prime goods.
MUSKRAT: Market in the range of $2 to $2.50 for falls, good winters may see $3 to $3.50.
WILD MINK: Males at highs of $8 to $10, with females $6 to $8.
RED FOX: Preferred section XLs early trading at $15 to $18 tops. Most trading in the range of $10 to $12 due to frosty rumps.
GRAY FOX: Early prices hit highs of $16 to $18. Consider holding.
RACCOON: XXXL, XXL and XLs, Is and IIs, highs running in the range of $14 to $16. Color and size will be grading point. Most trading to date has been in wet skins averages around $7 to $8.
COYOTE: Most of XL heavy goods high a tops of $12 to $14.
OTTER: XLs at $30 to $35.
BOBCAT: Tops running in the range of $35 to $40, size and wide bellies a factor.
FISHER: Females at $35. Males at $30, may improve later.
MARTEN: Tops of $20 expected on early trading. Late market may develop.

BEAVER: Finished blankets at highs of $8 to $10 tops. Wet goods difficult to move. Southern section much cheaper.
MUSKRAT: XLs at $1.50 tops southern section with $2 highs in the northern section of this region.
WILD MINK: Males at $6 to $8; females highs of $4.
RED FOX: The best are going for around $12 to $14.
GRAY FOX: Most sales in the range of $14 to $16.
RACCOON: XXXL, XXL and XL Is and IIs northern section coat types $6 to $8 tops for finished goods. Semi-heavies from higher elevations higher, $8 to $10 for finished goods. Averages low. Smalls difficult to sell. Look for meat market.
BOBCAT: Large goods in the range of $20 tops. Tight grade.
OTTER: Most is in the range of $18 to $20 for the best. All buying based on speculation.
OPOSSUM: The Jumbos and XLs pales hit $1.50 to $2. Blacks no market.
BEAVER: Better goods $6 to $8 tops for finished blankets, most a lot cheaper. This is primarily a hatter beaver.
MUSKRAT: Trading puts XL in range of $1.
WILD MINK: Prices in range of $6 for males and females at $3.
RED FOX: These short nap goods at $6 to $8.
GRAY FOX: Most trading presently in the range of $12 to $14.
RACCOON: The best XXXL, XXL and XL A/B Is and IIs coat types at $5.50 to $6 for finished goods. Meat market said to be $4 to $5 per carcass.
COYOTE: Limited activity.
OTTER: Trading at $25 to $30.
BOBCAT: Top offers in the range of $15 to $18; larger goods with wide, spotted bellies, thin bellies hard to sell. Talk to local taxidermist.
OPOSSUM: Jumbos and XLs at $1.50 for the best silvers.
NUTRIA: 26 inch and up finished at $1.50.

BEAVER: Finished blankets and fully prime XLs $6 to $8. Most used as hatters.
MUSKRAT: Prices, tops at $1 to $1.50.
WILD MINK: Trading to be in the range of $6 to $8 for males; half for females.
RED FOX: Goods from the Eastern section trading at $8 to $10; Western goods $12 for the best.
GRAY FOX: Prices in the range of $15 to $16. Silky westerns slightly higher around $18.
RACCOON: Coat types XXXL, XXL and XL Is and IIs bright (Northeastern section types) $6 to $8; finished. High country and Oklahoma/Texas Panhandle semi-heavies at $10. Check out the meat market in your area — usually fish markets; carcass prices said to be around $4.
COYOTE: Eastern finished $8 to $10 for the best, Westerns at $12 to $14 for those with clear, wide, white bellies. Many will not find a market.
OTTER: Trading at $18 to $22, all based on speculation.
BOBCAT: Eastern types at a tops of $20, with most cheaper, while the westerns with wide clear bellies and nice spots are expected to average in the range of $35 to $40. New Mexico lower elevations types at $40 and higher. High country (Panhandle Texas/Oklahoma) types at $50 to $60, some higher. Market unsettled.
NUTRIA: 26 inches and up at $1.50.
RINGTAIL: Expect a top of $3 to $4.

BEAVER: Finished blankets and XLs in the range of $14 to $16 for Northern heavy goods.
RED FOX: Tops at $12 to $14.
GRAY FOX: Best around $16 to $18. Market could develop late.
KIT FOX: Tops of $8 to $10. Talk to taxidermist.
RACCOON: Trading activity puts XXXL, XXL and XL Is and IIs in the range of $10 to $12 for finished goods.
COYOTE: High country (Rimrock) goods at $14 to $16 for the best with clear bellies. Thin bellies difficult to sell.
BOBCAT: High country and well marked desert goods at $70 to $80 with a high of $110 on selects. Coastal red types at $40 to $50.
RINGTAIL: Tops at $4.
SKUNK: Tops running around $4. Craft market said to be weak.

REGION 7 (7a)
BEAVER: Heavy blankets with full covering of guard hair at around $16 to $18.
CASTOR: $15 per pound for full, plump, well glazed.
MUSKRAT: Tops XL top $2 to $2.50.
WILD MINK: Highs $10 to $12, extra large boars higher, females slightly better than half.
RED FOX: XL heavy goods top of $16 to $18.
RACCOON: XXXL, XXL and XL Is and IIs at $10 to $12. Averages around $7.50, with smalls and damaged out.
COYOTE: Eastern heavy goods from the high country at $18 to $20 for the best. Very tight grade, with most cheap. May be difficult to market considering carryover.
OTTER: Fully prime, unsinged, at $35 to $40; tighter grade as size matters.
MARTEN: Top price of $20 to $24.
BOBCAT/LYNX-CAT: High Country, eastern XXL selects at $100 to $125 tops. Some super selects, well spotted, pale, wide bellies at $200; few will see this. The red goods from 7(a) at $35 to $40 tops, most lower, tighter grade.
SKUNK: Highs of $4 to $6 reported. Craft market said to be weak.

BEAVER: $25 to $30 tops for heavy blankets with full covering of guard hair.
WILD MINK: Tundra types trading at $18 to $20.
RED FOX: Top levels at $20.
SILVERS: Tops of $30.
CROSS FOX: Highs of $35, most around $25.
ARCTIC FOX: Tops of $20 to $25 for clear unstained goods.
COYOTE: Top offers in the $25 range, some heavy pales at $35.
OTTER: Expect to see a high of $40 to $50 for the best blacks.
LYNX: Expect a tops of $100 to $125 for the selects, “blue back” at $200. Leave feet intact. Market unsettled.
MARTEN: Top offers presently to be around $50 to $60; size a factor.
WOLVERINE: Tops at $350, leave feet intact. Most around $200 to $250.
TIMBER WOLF: The best pale blues and whites at a tops of $400 with XL grays at $350. Top prices only if feet are left intact. Trophy market unknown.


BEAVER: Finished blankets and larger fully covered with guard hair at $20 to $25 some selects may see better. Pale straight hair preferred.
Select plump CASTOR at $16 to $18 a pound.
MUSKRAT: Prices of $2.50 to $3, for good winters, but averages will be low, under $2.
MINK: Top in the range of $12 to $14; some will see slightly more. Slightly better than half for females.
RED FOX: Highs of $18 to $20, averages expected to run in the range of $14 to $15.
GRAY FOX: Highs of $20 to $22, carryover has market unsettled.
RACCOON: Expect the best finished XXXL, XXL and XL Is and IIs at $16 to $18 for bright color and large sizes. Averages around $8.50. Off colors and small size will be very cheap.
COYOTE: The best high country goods are trading at $22 to $24, some selects at $28 to $30. Ordinary goods and commercial types at $14 to $16. Wide, clear fully furred bellies needed to hit highs. Expect the market to be more selective this season. The large carryover has dampened market. The shorter ranch fox crop might help … later.
BOBCAT/LYNX-CAT: Fully prime top high country types should see highs of $175 to $200.
OTTER: High of $30 to $35 expected. Size and color a factor, darks preferred.

BEAVER: Shearable blankets and larger Northern section goods at $20 to $22. Southern section $14 to $16 for finished blankets. Market unsettled.
MUSKRAT: XL at $2 to $2.50, some buyers paying $3, but averages under $2 are common.
WILD MINK: Males in the range of $10 to $12, females $6 to $8.
RED FOX: Top XLs, heavy goods hit $18 to $20. Between $14 and $16 Southern section for the best. Darker reds preferred.
GRAY FOX: Expect to see most offers in the range of $20 to $22 for top end goods. Most around $16 to $18.
RACCOON: The best XXXL, XXL and XL Is and IIs finished goods at $14 to $16. Northern heavies have hit $20, but averages low, around $10. Poor colors and small sizes will encounter deep discounts.
COYOTE: Clean plains types eastern CO and western KS/NB at $18 to $20 if bellies wide, clear and white.
BOBCAT-LYNX-CAT: $65 to $75 for the best from the Northern section; some select pales at $80 or more. Look for a tight grade. Expect to see a wide range of prices.

BEAVER: Northern section blankets at tops of $18 to $22, with southern section goods at $10 to $14 if large, super clean and fully furred and well finished. Most will be hatters.
MUSKRAT: Prices for good winters are expected to top at $2 to $2.50; some well-handled XL collections of good winters slightly higher.
WILD MINK: XL males at a tops of $8 to $10, females slightly better than half.
RED FOX: XLs in the range of $14 to $16 for most.
GRAY FOX: Top prices in the range of $16 to $18 for Southern sections. Northern goods at $20 to $22. Buyers will be speculating and cautious.
RACCOON: Lite semi-heavies XXXL, XXL, and XL Is and IIs from Southern section expected to be trading at $8 to $10 tops. Northern section semi-heavies at $12 to $14 tops for finished pelts. Wet averages running around $8. Discount $3 to $4 for wet goods. Off colors and small sizes will see deep discounts. Buying selective.
COYOTE: The best trading at $10 and $12; and then only if bellies are clear white and fully furred. A few Northern section may see $15, but they will be rare. Very tight grade, market flooded with low-grade carryovers.
OTTER: OK/AR/MO type pales at highs of $20 to $25. Expect a tough grade. Some darks may see $30.
BOBCAT: Tops at $20 to $30 depending on bellies. Some selects at $45 Northern sections wide clear, well spotted bellies add dollars. Don’t expect market to be established until late January of February.

BEAVER: Blankets, once fully prime, select goods at $24 to $28.
CASTOR $14 to $15 per pound for properly handled, plump. Shells cheap.
MUSKRAT: Presently top XLs trading at $2.50 to $3.
WILD MINK: Expect to see top offers of $12 to $14, most around $10. Females slightly better than half.
RED FOX: Heavy fully prime XL goods are trading at $16 to $18. Dark, cherry reds preferred, should be higher. Frosty rumps and pales discounted.
GRAY FOX: Highs of $20 to $22 expected.
RACCOON: XXXL and XXL Is and IIs at $20 to $22; finished goods. Averages running slightly over $10. This is most sought after region, but expect a tight grade as to color and size.
COYOTE: A tops of $18 to $22 if bellies wide and clear; most cheap.
FISHER: Highs of $30 to $35. Females preferred.
OTTER: Tops believed to be around $40 for straight hair, darks.

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