Grandma’s Vintage Fur: Is It Valuable? Is It Ethical? How Do I Sell It?

Now for a much more seasonal post: vintage fur. UPDATE! After oodles of queries I have created a new post, Selling Grandma’s Vintage Fur. This includes a vintage fur price range list for the winter of 2012/2013. You may find answers to fur price questions. I have also created, in January 2015, a second post, Furs You Can’t Sell: what to do with vintage endangered fur pieces.

Vintage fur calls for one's most demented smile. Moment of madness captured by Digitalpix.

Another image courtesy of Digitalpix!

I am dealing with a spate of questions from people about vintage furs. I love both taxidermy and vintage clothing – the stuffed dead animals in my retroish living room make me a go-to person for this.

I know that fur is not a neutral topic! People have strong feelings about it! One time, my fur-clad stepmother had paint thrown on her by anti-fur protestors outside a New York furrier. But, still, the old furs endure, and they are emerging from closets as my friends’ grandmothers pass away, and what do you do with them?

I’ve put together some vintage fur basics, compiled from what I have seen online, what I have seen selling and not selling at vintage clothing stores around the world, and the furs I’ve had through my hands lately.

Lots of information behind the cut about what makes a vintage fur valuable, how to keep your fur, ways to recycle it, and how to sell it.

What makes a vintage fur valuable? A good rule of thumb is that attractive = valuable. All the following qualities add to a vintage fur’s value:

  • It has a furrier’s label in it.
  • The fur’s lining is intact, unstained, unfaded, no holes or only very small ones.
  • If the lining is embroidered, monogrammed, or has pockets = more valuable.
  • Fur is not torn, or tears are repairable. Tears usually happen where two pelts are sewn together.
  • Fur is thick and lush, not balding or mangy-feeling.
  • Fur is not faded. Back in the day furriers were able to dye faded/discoloured spots to match the rest of the fur. But this skill is very hard to find now.
  • Fur garment has held its shape well.

Fur types that are more valuable overall: mink, sable, fox, chinchilla; furs that are very light in color (white, champagne) or very dark (dark brown, black). Persian lamb also has good resale value, as does beaver in good condition. Larger pieces, stoles, wraps, boas, and coats. Vintage wool coats with fur collars do quite well, too.

Fur types that aren’t as valuable: rabbit (also known as “coney”), squirrel, nutria, opossum, raccoon/tanuki, mouton (lamb shaved to look like beaver), coyote. Medium browns and greys. Smaller pieces, such as collars, cuffs, hats, and strung-together mink pelts with the head and feet on.

Furs that may have environmental/endangered restrictions on selling: big cat furs, beaver, seal, wolf, and monkey or gorilla.

Fur muffs are an exception to small pieces not reselling so well; a muff in good condition, especially an Edwardian or Victorian one, can command a startling price. If I inherited a muff I’d keep it as a collector’s piece for sure. Especially a beaver muff. “And this is my beaver muff!”

More fur facts:

  • Rabbit fur and opossum fur, particularly popular during the 1970s, aren’t very durable, so wear with care.
  • Vintage fur stoles don’t fit everyone automatically – they are sized!
  • To repair furs (reconnect pelts, reattach loosened lining, replace fur hooks) use a leather needle (i.e., a special needle made to sew through leather) and waxed thread. I reattached a lining to my one-pelt neckpiece, Minky, using a leather needle. Leather needles are designed to pierce skin, so they will go through your thumb perfectly. Ow! Use a thimble, and sew with care – small stitches, and avoid catching the fur hairs in your sewing.
  • Fur coats and stoles aren’t just fur and a lining. There is padding, felt backing, and sometimes even buckram to strengthen and shape the garment between the fur and the lining. This is important when you are thinking about redying a fur, especially in NZ where leather processing plants will happily toss your fur into the dye vat. Caveat emptor!
  • Ethical new fur? Go for  opossum in NZ and  nutria in the US. These are pest mammals turned into furs.
  • A quality fake fur has some value as a vintage piece. All the rules for real fur apply re: lining, appearance, etc. My stepmother adored fur, but, knowing that young people today aren’t crazy about it, she gave me a synthetic fur coat. That’s another story. A pimptastic one.
  • This guy’s story is a capsule of the history of being a furrier in NZ.

Things to do with Grandma’s fur if you don’t want to wear the full coat/stole and you feel bad about throwing it out (animals died for it!):

  • Have a teddy bear made out of it.
  • Have it “shorn” to freshen and lighten the look.
  • Have cushions made out of it.
  • Have it cut down to a scarf.
  • Line a pet bed with it. (My mother did this for a beloved dog.)
  • Dress up your dressmaker’s form when not in use.

Any vintage fur reworking isn’t cheap, by the way – $50 to $250 for smaller pieces, and more than that to have a coat restyled. It takes specialist sewing machines and experience, hence the cost.

If you want to keep and wear vintage fur, store it in a cool, dark, dry place (a drawer is great) and check it regularly against moths, mildew, etc. Avoid wearing furs in the rain – cold snowy weather is ideal for furs. The best fur color for you is one that provides contrast to your hair. Here is someone stylin’ in Grandma’s coat at Absolutely Mrs. K. – note the high contrast between her platinum hair and the red-brown coat. I’ve seen several brunette women looking great in pale grey stoles.

What if you want to sell it? Wait a second! I encourage you to think twice about letting go of a vintage fur. You may move to Sweden, your taste may change, and vintage things are getting rarer and rarer. If, due to ethics or storage space, you are committed to selling, here’s my advice.

Furs seduce the buyer with the feel and fit as much as with the eye. If Grandma left you a very valuable fur, like a full-length black mink coat, you can talk to a furrier about reselling it through them. To sell most average vintage furs for the best price, I recommend placing furs on consignment at a vintage clothing store that sells furs, instead of putting them on TradeMe or eBay. Don’t take them in for consignment in spring or summer, take them in autumn – winter is also OK.

Who buys vintage fur, anyway? Costumers/cosplayers, costume rental places, and vintage lovers. Glamour photographers are getting more interested in having a fur or two around as well, for models/customers to wear in pinup shoots. So, another resale option is to check prices online, then ask your vintage-lovin’ friends if they are interested. That way, your vintage-lovin’ friend gets a fur, you get some money, and you know Grandma’s stole went to a good home.

My personal stand on the ethics of fur is that I will wear vintage from nonendangered animals (mink, fox, mouton) and I will wear NZ ecopossum fur. Living in NZ, I don’t see people dripping in sables on a regular basis – it’s just not done here. Nor is it cold enough to wear fur like I once did – when I lived in the US, I was very fond of bundling up in those big heavy 1940s mouton coats against the Northeastern winter chill.  In temperate NZ, sometimes, I wear a mink scarf (recycled from a vintage stole), or a silly little one-pelt sable neckpiece, complete with eyes and nose, that I call “Minky.”

More vintage fur thinky thoughts:

The Vintage Fur Debate – Telegraph article, TimeOut article (activist vs. vintage emporium owner!)

Posh Girl Vintage has a message to overzealous activists.

Questions about selling your fur? See this follow-up post, Selling Grandma’s Vintage Fur. This is designed ot answer your fur selling questions and has a sample price list of different fur pieces and types.