Beaver, Beaver: Read All About It

Why the Beaver? Why not

Beaver hats were the most expensive and desired hats throughout Europe and around the world. By when the beaver became extinct in Europe and Russia However, with the discovery of North America, the fashionable beaver pelt attire came back and was better than ever. Beaver had been the primary economic86px-Photograph_of_Beaver_Pelt_-_NARA_-_2128191 unit since the mid-sixteenth century (Steele 115). Even Charles II wore the cavalier style of beaver hat (Steele 115). Even more astounding, 3.3 million hats were purchased each year in Europe, and beaver imports are responsible for more the half of Europe’s imports (Carlos 23;25). In order to produce this amount of beaver hats, over 200 manufacturing companies emerged in London. When beaver fur was rediscovered in America, the trade helped the Pilgrims buy food and pay off debts, so the beaver was essential to the start up of some of the first English settlers in America (Dolin, XV).

The + and – of the trade

Big_Bear_at_Fort_Pitt,_Saskatchewan,_in_1884
Indian’s trading beaver pelts with fur traders in America.

One of the positive effects of beaver trade between natives and Europeans was forged bonds and a more robust economy for both groups. (Brook 44). Indians would also receive protection from the companies with which they traded and many came together under the French to receive protection from a common enemy, the Iroquois (Francis 47). Companies would trade goods such as twine, knifes, cloth, and tobacco (Francis 49) in exchange for beaver pelts. These goods were considered common, but the trade of other goods such as guns and alcohol caused problems. By the time that the gun trade was shut down, however, it was too late and many tribes already had guns (Brook 40). Another major problem was the trade of alcohol, which Astor and The Hudson Bay Company often employed. The trade of “spirituous Liquor” was dismantled eventually for fear of distraction, even though the Indians did not actually alcohol on hunting trips (Francis 128). Although the distinction of boundaries in the country greatly increased the profit of the American Fur Company, as discussed on the last page, it fundamentally altered the lives of the indigenous peoples of North America. The Indians could no longer barter for better prices because the American Fur Company had no competition and could buy the pelts for lower prices while selling their goods for higher prices (Dolin 277).  The trade did benefit both sides, but the benefits were extremely weighted towards the fur companies.


So what exactly did the trade consist of and how is the beaver hat made?


Suggested Readings:

  • 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.
  • Francis, Daniel, and Toby Elaine Morantz. 1983;1982;. Partners in Furs: A History of the Fur Trade in Eastern James Bay 1600-1870. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
  • Steele, Valerie, ed. Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2005.