Fur auction houses
BUYING AND SELLING FUR PELTS
The selling landscape often changes for North American producers of raw fur, but for the last century it has usually involved consigning pelts to public auctions. Today, these auctions handle most of Canada’s farmed and wild fur, and most farmed fur from the US.
The exception is wild fur from the US, most of which is bought direct from trappers by local or travelling individuals, who then sell direct to foreign buyers. Smaller auctions do play a role though, such as those held by some state trappers’ associations.
When a farmer or trapper consigns their harvest to a public auction, they are ensured that the prices their pelts fetch reflect market supply and demand. They receive almost the full value paid for their furs, minus only a small commission to the auction’s organiser to cover the costs of promoting and holding the sale and other market-development activities.
But while the importance of auctions is a constant for the fur trade, the last few years have seen major changes in the players providing this service.
Until very recently, North America had three auction houses: North American Fur Auctions (NAFA) in Toronto, American Legend Cooperative (ALC) in Seattle, and Fur Harvesters Auction (FHA) in North Bay, Ontario.
The largest and oldest of these was NAFA, which was the successor to the auction businesses of Canada’s first corporation, Hudson’s Bay Company. NAFA handled some wild fur, but its focus was on farmed fur. Meanwhile, it was in direct competition for farmed mink with ALC, a cooperative owned by mink farmers, and owner of the “Blackglama” label, the most recognizable fur label in the world.
Then in 2018, ALC announced it was winding down. NAFA bought significant ALC assets, including the Blackglama label, while other significant assets went to the New York-based Tax family. With a long history of involvement in the fur trade, the Tax family then quickly used these assets to set up a new auction specifically for farmed mink, American Mink Exchange (AME).
But the very next year, in 2019, NAFA closed its own doors after filing for creditor protection. Within a very short space of time, North America had lost its two largest fur auctions.
So who are the main players today, and how have the wild and farmed fur offerings been divided up?
FHA continues to fill its role as the main seller of Canadian wild fur, and is the only auction house now doing so. It has always sold some farmed pelts, in particular fox, and now handles most of the fox pelts from across North America. But its offerings of farmed mink have remained comparatively small.
Rather, the bulk of North American farmed mink is now being auctioned either by AME (which also now holds the licence to the Blackglama label), or in Europe. But there’s been a dramatic development on that continent too.
When NAFA closed its doors, it was only to be expected that more North American farmed mink would head to Europe since it had the world’s largest fur auction house, Kopenhagen Fur of Denmark, and Saga Furs of Finland. But then came another upheaval.
Until 2020, Denmark was the world’s leading producer of farmed mink, and Kopenhagen Fur’s main role was to sell the produce of the Danish Fur Breeders’ Association. Then Covid-19 struck and the government gave the hugely controversial and illegal order to cull the country’s entire mink herd, claiming it was to protect public health. This was a crippling blow to mink farmers, and only a few have expressed interest in carrying on.
Inevitably, Kopenhagen Fur is now winding down. As of 2023, it still has millions of mink in storage, and will continue holding auctions through 2024, but this will probably conclude its offerings.
This leaves Saga Furs as the world’s largest fur auction house. Saga deals only in farmed furs, primarily mink, fox and finnraccoon, and following the demise of both NAFA and Kopenhagen Fur, has increasingly been handling North American farmed mink.