Fur History

The last few Hometown History columns have highlighted some of the various businesses that have been in Jamestown and occupied certain buildings. A faithful reader called a few days ago and suggested another business that was in Jamestown. Since we try to feature something from the collection of the Fenton History Center, the collection was checked for an item from the suggested business. We have an item connected to three different companies that were the same type of business.

The business predates the settlement of Jamestown. Fur was a commodity that was an important part of early settlement in this country. Elmer Freeman was a hatter in early Jamestown and dealt in furs. An early ad in the Jamestown Journal placed on July 12, 1826 states that he “has commenced the hat-making business” with the added information that “hatting &shipping furs & lamb’s wool will be received in payment and a generous price given.”  We do not have one of his hats in the collection. Jumping ahead 50 years, clothing merchants are listed in the city directory under the category of Hats, caps & furs. Two people are listed under Hides and Skins and the same two plus 2 others are listed under Leather and findings. Mrs. Thomas Langford was a repairer of furs.

The city directories for the first two decades of the 20th century have a few furriers listed. Furriers deal with furs in one way or another so exactly what these people were doing is not clear. They could have been buying, tanning, selling, and/or making items from furs.  In 1920, Saxe Bros Co. is listed as “Ladies Ready to Wear clothing”, with Samuel Saxe as the manager. It is not until 1934 that the Saxe Fur Shop (Samuel Saxe) is listed. Along with that listing is Harry R. Saxton, furs, and Ella A. Dawson, furrier. In 1936 Jack Haber in the alphabetical listing has “furs” as his occupation. The next year the Jamestown Fur Company has begun with Philip Haber as the secretary. By 1940 other Habers are involved with Jack Haber as the manager.  Other fur dealers and furriers are listed that year including Landy Bros., Lucie’s, Jas. H. Robinson, and Saxe Furrier. Lucie’s sold Women’s and Misses coats, suits, dresses, furs and fur coats.  In 1971, the Fur Dealers and Furriers listed in Jamestown included only Jamestown Fur Company and Landy Fur Company. The last city directory listing for any fur company was Jamestown Fur Company in 1980.

Not only did our faithful reader suggest this business, but he had a story connected to the Jamestown Fur Company. In 1960, our reader was trapping muskrat, as did many young men and boys in that time period. He decided that his wife should have a muskrat coat so he contacted Jack Haber of the Jamestown Fur Company. Mr. Haber said that he could certainly produce a muskrat coat for her. He could take care of tanning the skins and that for the ¾ length coat that she wanted he would need 40 skins. The 40 skins were delivered and Mr. Haber produced a beautiful coat complete with lining and the owner’s initials embroidered inside. The cost was $75.00. We don’t know what the coat would have cost if the 40 skins had not been supplied by the husband.

Over time fur has gone out of favor as a material for clothing. For centuries fur was the material that could keep people warm and the fur trade helped to explore and settle this country. Today technology has created substitutes for fur. This evolution and change in the business is definitely reflected in the business community of Jamestown.

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