Why the Beaver and How to Catch the Critter
The beaver was ideal because of its double layer coat; the outside layer consisted of long stiff fur, while the under fur, which is used to make felt, is made up of short soft hair (Carlos 16). In order to catch the animals, the hunter would catch the beavers in nets and the beavers would drown, or they would cut a hole in the top of the beaver den and then spear them out. (Brockstoce 61;64-65).
The Mad Hatter Effect
For all of you that saw Alice In Wonderland and were confused by the mad hatter, I am here to shed some light on your query. During the felt making process, the hatter would soak the fur in mercury, a highly toxic substance to come in contact with on a daily basis. Since the beaver hats were the most popular and desired hats in all of Europe and worn by bother sexes, there was a lot of hats being made and therefore, a lot of crazy hat makers (Steele 76; Dolin 22; Carlos 15). Thus, mad hatters were real people!
How it’s Made
There were many different forms and types of beaver hats in Europe during the late 1700s to early 1800s. When buying a beaver pelt, a trader could purchase parchment, a beaver pelt that was dried in the sun, or a coat pelt, which Indians wore for a year so the keratin and barbs were worn down. (Carlos 20). The coat fur was ideal in general, but felt made of 4 parchments for every 1 coat was common because of its strong, smooth pliable, and waterproof nature (Carlos 20). The process of creating a coat pelt took a year, so other ways to get rid of the barbs and keratin, such as carotting, were created. Carotting had the same effect as an Indian wearing the pelt, but did not take nearly as long. It also helped lower the price of lower quality beaver pelts even further (Carlos 21). In its most simplistic form, felting the beaver consisted of the wool being combed off the pelt, so that it could later be used to form felt (Carlos 19).
Get Your Beaver On: Popularity and Pricing
Beaver hats were the most sought after and expensive hats throughout Europe (Dolin 22).There was a definite difference between high and low priced beaver hats. The “beaver” refers to the top-notch hats, while a “castor” refers to a hat of lower quality (Carlos 16). The important tariff of hats also contributed to the high price of the pelt and in the 1600s, beaver could cost the same as a 2 to 3 month salary (Carlos 19;23). The price of the beaver pelt varied throughout the years, but when bought in bulk in the upper 200s, a low quality pelt cost 9 shilling, a high quality pelt cost 11 shillings, and a baby beaver pelt cost 4.6 shillings (Carlos 32).
And On Wednesdays, We Wear Beaver!
So what exactly is popular beaver fashion?
- Brook, Timothy. 2008. Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Bloomsbury Press.
- Carlos, Ann M., and Frank D. Lewis. 2010. Commerce by a Frozen Sea: Native Americans and the European Fur Trade. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Dolin, Eric Jay. 2010. Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
- Steele, Valerie, ed. Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2005.