For North American fur trappers and farmers, there have been so many dramatic changes in the fur auction scene in…
For North American fur trappers and farmers, there have been so many dramatic changes in the fur auction scene in the last few years that we thought it was time to make sure everyone is up to speed, in particular people not directly involved in the fur trade. So this lesson in recent history will now appear both on the Truth About Fur website and also that of our parent organisation, the Fur Institute of Canada. In time, hopefully, it will also filter down to non-industry information sources, many of which are now horribly outdated.
In very general terms, not much has changed. Most of Canada's farmed and wild fur, and most farmed fur from the US, is still sold at public auction, while most wild fur from the US is bought from trappers by local or travelling individuals, who then sell direct to foreign buyers. Smaller auctions do play a role in the US though, such as those held by some state trappers' associations.
Where there has been dramatic change is in the faces of the players.
Rewind Just Five Years
Until very recently, North America had three fur 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 fur 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 "Blackglama", the most recognizable fur label in the world.
Then the seemingly stable fur auction scene began to change, and fast!
The first shock came in 2018, when 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).
Then 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, and gained a whole new one!
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. 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.
Chances are you know this stuff already, but a lot of people outside of the fur trade don't, and the sources they rely on for information can be completely out of date. Take Wikipedia, for example. This is a wildly popular information source for millions of users, yet as of October 2023 it still states that NAFA is the largest fur auction house in North America.
SEE ALSO: After years of crises it's clear: Fur auctions are the only way to ensure fair prices. By Mark Downey, Fur Harvesters Auction, for Truth About Fur, Feb. 26, 2021.