History of Fur From Ancient Times To The Present Day In Slavic Countries

Large part of Slavic population in Europe lives in cold areas especially Russians, Belorussians and Poles in European North, but also other Slavs live in cold mountainous areas of Balkans, Carpathians and Silesia. This is why various fur clothing products have been made in history of these lands. The long harsh winters of the Baltic sea for Poles or even harsher winters of Russian Siberia are the times of a year when you wouldn’t like to be under-dressed. For example if you ask any tourist how was their time in Russia, one of the things they will certainly mention is the deep freeze.

This is why Slavic people have mastered the ways to protect against the cold: warm house, a hot meal, and of course good fur. Fur in ancient time was more valuable than money itself, just look at Croatian national currency “Kuna”. Kuna is a animal belonging to Marten branch of animals and it was valuable because of its fur. Most trade was made with fur, so taking that name for their currency can reflect how important fur trading was in the old times. In early Russia fur was also used for everything, from paying goods to paying taxes.

Interesting fact is that until our modern times 20% of national Russian income to their national treasury was made of fur trade. Their treasury accepted furs of fox, beaver, sable, kuny and other types of fur up to 1739. It was a real business back in those times that had a deep organizational level that also even intertwined with local Churches. Each parish would secure a certain amount of fur hunters that would operate on its territory and furs would be gathered there in its treasury. With time the need for furs was getting larger so people started to hunt weasels, foxes, beavers and since XVI even wolves and polar bears. The most expensive ones were those of Polar bears, mostly because it was so difficult to obtain them. When merchants would evaluate furs that were brought to them by hunters a lot of things would be taken into account. For example, the season when the animal was killed is very important, if it was killed in beginning of the winter it would be the most highly priced.

Also furs hair was well inspected, things like is it sufficient thick? Its length? or does it shine well? In Novgorod area during the XIV century it was strictly forbidden to do summer hunting for fur-bearing animals, it was considered a waste as animals fur is worst during summer do to their shedding. Any deficiency in the hair was considered a defect, because of which the fur price would be significantly reduced, but the master-hunters could catch the animal so deftly that the wound marks do not leave any traces of damage on skins.

The fur products weren’t there only because of their “heating” function, it was also a sign of prosperity to its owner. Poor people usually wouldn’t have money for a nice fur coat, and this is a thing that even today can be seen to a certain point.

For others fur had a unusual another role: fur served as a talisman against evil forces; apparently fur transferred properties of the beast on his own skin. The main thing is to believe that it helps: the rest will follow. Isn’t it common in movies or video games to see some rugged warriors with animal furs over them as a trophy of their kill and a talisman of their strengths?

Fur in old times had a sky-high price, some say that during XIV-XVI centuries you could buy 6000 chickens or 1200 pounds of wheat for one fashionable healthy fur coat. It was such a successful trade that having a nice fur coat in those times was like having a BMW car today, in other words a matter of prestige.

All these magnificent products were decorated by hand and kept within the family as a relic, inherited from knee to knee. However, average man was not that rich so usually average or poor people walked in sheep skin, especially common in mountainous populations of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovakia.

One of the most expansive furs (besides the Polar bears) was that of black and polar foxes. It was valued above all others, so Ukrainian traders were very focused on them and later would sell them on Lviv markets for sky-high prices.

In Siberia, well there it was another story. There was so much animals and fur, people would exchange few skins for just a good iron pot so as you can see the price and value of a fur also would vary on the location where it was sold.

Some animals because of the blooming fur trade were even almost extinct, like the European bison in Poland and Belarus. This was a reason why countries started to place limits for hunters per year, to keep the animals numbers in somewhat healthy numbers but that was too late for bisons.

In USSR fur was still one of the top three export products, how many of you have at least one fur product from Russia? Probably if you are European, you have at least one in your family.