Fur coats and accessories have hit an unprecedented resurgence in popularity just in the past 10 years. Though mink, fox, and rabbit are more traditionally used in women’s fashion, other fur types include beaver, chinchilla, coyote, fisher, lynx, marten, muskrat, nutria, opossum, racoon, sable, tanuki, weasel, ermine and, though not commonly thought of in this way, lamb. The question is: What’s the best way to distinguish between the wide array of furs?
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Look at the color. Animals native to warmer climates tend to have fur that is more brightly or brown-ish colored. Animals in colder climates tend to be black or gray. Sometimes aquatic animals can be an aberration. You may find various types and colors of the same animal.
Determine fur length. Beaver, fox, American marten, raccoon and tanuki tend to have long fur. Mink, opossum, rabbit and weasel are typically mid-to-short in fur length.
Feel fur for density and thickness. Furs that tend to be more dense and/or thick are coyote, fisher, mink, opossum, raccoon, chinchilla and weasel.
Determine whether the fur is more soft or coarse. Denseness in fur does not necessarily indicate softness. Mink is a good example. It’s one of the softest furs but can be quite dense. Lamb is the most distinctive as it doesn’t resemble any other kind in texture.
Determine clothing type. Coyote, opossum and lamb are used commonly for men’s jackets, while nutria and weasel are used in coat liners, robes or capes. Women’s fur coats are typically mink, chinchilla or fox. Rabbit fur, though common in coats, is also used in casual wear.
Determine accessory type. Though fox is a popular fur for coats, it is more often fashioned for collars, cuffs, wraps and stoles. Similarly, lamb, being more distinctive when not used for men’s coats, is typically used for many kinds of smaller accessories.
Look for where the fur is from or has been produced. Nutria can be farmed in the Czech Republic and Russia. Chinchilla can be raised in the Americas or Europe, but are usually from South America. Fisher, fox, lynx, and muskrat are typical of furs from North America. Tanuki are from Japan, while sable are native to Russia.
If color is difficult to determine, use the following as a general guide: coyote (tan, cream, or gray), fisher (dark brown or black), fox (red, crystal blue, gray, white, or silver), lynx (white with beige or cream), marten (a cousin of the sable, blue-brown, dark brown, some with golden variations). Some others include opossum (yellow gray or brown), sable (a cousin of the marten, silver, brown, or golden), tanuki (amber brown with dark brown accents) and weasel (generally gray, with ermine being the winter version, distinguished by its white color with black tips).
References and ResourcesFur Council of Canada: Fur Types: Choosing Your Fur
Fur Information Council of America: FICA-Fur information Council of America
Estate Furs: Used furs, vintage furs, used mink fur coats, vintage fur coats