Trappers Must Hang Together

It would be a fool’s error to speculate on specific prices for our wild furs here in the middle of summer. With that in mind, only general market observations as indications of what this season will hold are in order.

Results from the late spring auctions in North Bay and Toronto were hailed by some while jeered by others. Certainly, the international buyers in attendance were bargain hunting. But considering the nature of the collections, there were few real bargain to be found.

Auction officials dug-in their heels attempting to hold prices in line with earlier results. Estimated values are just that — estimates — but strong buyer resistance to these values were sufficient cause for withdrawing some lots. This is particularly true when it comes to the top lots.

Parker DozhierWildly fluctuating prices serve no one in the fur trade, except possibly the manufacturers who are simply attempting to “average down.” It can also be said that if the goods are sold too cheaply, the makers would be shooting themselves in the foot. The fastest way to cut production is to dramatically drop prices.

Prior to the wild fur offering in Toronto, nearly 1.5 million ranch mink went across the auction block. Not surprisingly, price advanced on most color phases with 100 percent of the offering selling.

One advancing price of note was the added interest in the pastel ranch mink. Is this an indication of a major shift in fashion? Time will tell. But, our spotted ’cat market is directly linked to dark mink trimmed with lynx-cat bellies; reportedly a hot retail item. Let’s hope this fashion trends continues for the sake of our ’cat markets.

Muskrat prices declined a bit, but considering most of the fall and good winter collections have already been sold, this likely reflects the “springy” nature of the offerings. Demand for muskrat appears to be building. Again, it was the Chinese makers who dominated the sale.

The raccoon offering, again, offered few surprises. The top lots of larger sizes and brighter colors were mainly unsold. No doubt, this reflects the uncertainty of what this season’s retail market, particularly in Russia, will hold.

Several other indicators serve to further cloud the market picture. The Euro continues it’s plunge against the U.S. dollar. This will likely result in European makers reassessing plans for the coming season.

Several articles of wild fur are seeing an increase of consumer acceptance. Users of these furs, such as otter, appear to be becoming a bit more comfortable with the item. As competition grows between makers, prices are slowly increasing. Hopefully, this will be the case this coming season.

Our spotted ’cats are expected to see another good season. But, country fur buyers will be keeping a sharp eye on retail activity and fashion trends. Any sign of weakness in these sectors would result in price adjustment.

Marten and fisher, while delivering less than the desired results on these recent offerings, are still expected to remain in favor with the upscale fashion houses.

Our domestic fur trade is a mere shadow of what it consisted of during the ’70s and early ’80s. Today, there are far fewer country fur traders, fewer trappers and fur hunters and significantly fewer marketing outlets available to producers.

Waiting on history

The stock market crash of October 1987 sent shockwaves throughout the financial world, consumer confidence evaporated and our fur trade collapsed. Within a year, wild fur prices dropped to rock bottom. And that’s if you could even find a willing buyer.

Our industry — the fur trade — appeared to be dying. Fur brokers, major country collectors, dressers, manufacturers and retail furriers locked their doors. Many for the last time. The international auction houses experienced a restructuring.

Times were bad, getting worse and the future appeared even bleaker.

There has been a wild fur boom flourishing for more than 10 years. It didn’t start that way, it was slow growing at first. Building off the alluring image of ranch mink, but the sameness of mink began to be noticed by consumers, especially, among the young, upwardly mobile crowd who wanted something different. The ranch mink markets led the way with strong prices for several years prior to the wild fur price surge.

“Not Your Grandmother’s Fur” rung true.

“Fun Furs” became a popular promotional slogan. Low cost blue fox jackets were marketed to kids as young as 10 or 12. The sky slopes of North America and Western Europe were awash with people sporting red fox, lynx-cat, raccoon, marten and fisher furs. These young consumers wanted something different, and they got it.

Germany was a major market for our raccoon and gray fox. Prices skyrocketed. Grays sold for more than $50 and bright coat-type raccoons sold for more than $40. Germany was thriving. But, that was about to change. The death of the fur trade came swiftly and swept the globe.

Then two very significant events occurred in 1989 that would change the course of history and pump new life into our fur trade. While certainly meaningful, the events seemed to have little, if any, impact on our beleaguered fur trade at the time.

In April 1989, thousands of students gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square protesting the communist party’s control of free markets and international trade. They simply wanted more freedom. The students knew what the Western world was like and they wanted a share.

The military was called in to quell the protesters. As it happened, one young man standing in front of a tank possibly did more to revive our fur trade than any single individual.
The leaders of communist China realized they had a tiger by the tail, but had no plan to deal with the teeth. Things had to change. And they did.

While the Soviet Union had been crumbling for several years, it was in the winter of 1989 that, again, a young man, this time with a sledge hammer in hand took the first swing at the Berlin Wall. Things were, in fact, changing.

These events, as unnoticed and as unlikely as they might appear, opened our fur markets to well more than a billion consumers.

Our markets in Western Europe and North America are a mere shadow of what they were 25 years ago. Our markets in China, Russia and Eastern Europe are growing with each passing year.

If history is to repeat itself, and it usually does, eventually a new era for the wild fur trade will emerge. The allure of ranch mink will fade, new and younger consumers will enter the marketplace, and be assured they will be looking for something different. They don’t want “Grandma’s Fur Coat.”

Our challenge is to hang together. We must preserve our skills, support our trade, and just wait. The market is coming back.

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