What happens at a fur auction?

Because of the extraordinary variety and quality of the furs on offer, North American auctions attract designers, manufacturers and brokers from around the world. Look around the auction room and you will see white-smocked buyers from all the European fashion centers and as far away as Russia, China and Korea. The work of the auction house began, however, long before auction day.

Fur pelt grading

The auction house receives furs from producers across the continent. There are many types, qualities and colors, even for furs from the same species of animal, depending upon the region where the fur was produced and many other factors. Fur designers and manufacturers, however, need furs of similar quality and color to produce their apparel or accessories. The first job of the auction house is therefore to inspect and sort the furs they receive into consistent groups. This work is done by experienced “graders” who sort the pelts into consistent bundles, or “lots” of similar type, size, color and quality. A graded “lot” will often include furs from several different producers.

Inspection

A few days before the auction sale begins, buyers are invited to inspect the furs. Samples from each consistently graded “lot” are examined by the buyers, who make notations in their personal copies of the auction “catalogue”. They are noting the colors and qualities that interest them, depending on what types of apparel, trim or accessories they are planning to make. These notes will assist them when it is time to “bid” for the furs they need.

The Auction Sale

When sale day finally arrives, the auction room is buzzing with excitement. In the front of the room is a raised platform where the auctioneer calls a lot numbers, one at a time. The bidding process is energetic and highly competitive, as buyers raise numbered ID cards to signal their bids to “spotters” positioned around the room. When the last bid has been signaled, the auctioneer’s hammer comes down on the table and the price is displayed on a large computer screens around the hall. Of particular interest is bidding for the “top lot” of each fur type. Auctions are conducted several times a year, primarily in the winter and spring when the new crop of furs becomes available.

Fair Trade

When the auction is completed, farmers and trappers receive the full value that was paid for their furs, minus a small fee charged by the auction house to cover the cost of running the sale.

The modern fur trade is therefore a true “fair trade” industry. Trappers and farmers deliver their furs to the auction house on a consignment basis. Each pelt is identified with a bar-coded computer tag, so that the producers can receive the price paid for their furs, even when they have been inter-sorted with others. When the sale is finished, the auction house deducts a small commission to cover the cost of receiving, grading and selling the fur and remits the rest directly to each trapper and farmer.

Innovation

The commission charged by the auction houses is also used to support various educational, promotional and market-development activities, including design centers and special workshops that encourage designers to work with fur in innovative ways. So while many basic fur-working techniques have been maintained and handed down through generations, the look and functionality of fur apparel, trim and accessories is always evolving.