Fur and Feathers


Kay Fisher takes a fond look at Blossom the Opossum, a stuffed opossum Fisher said was a gift from the Hale family years ago. Fisher is the director and curator of the Clinton County History Center, where you can visit Blossom at an exhibit titled “Furs and Feathers: A Culture of Fashion.” The history center is located at 149 E. Locust St. in Wilmington.

“Hudson Bay Sable” or plain old ermine? Curator Kay Fisher puts on a wrap made from three ermine skins at the Clinton County History Center.

WILMINGTON – Kay Fisher said fashion in the late 19th century was responsible for the near extinction of the Egret population.

“They just about wiped out Egrets,” Fisher said.

The Clinton County History Center’s newest exhibit, “Furs and Feathers: A Culture of Fashion,” displays historic clothes made from real animal furs, including monkey, raccoon and marten, as well as hats made from a variety of birds and bird feathers.

According to Fisher, fashion at the turn of the 19th century emphasized these furs and feathers for a variety of reasons.

Fur provided warmth, distinguished the aristocracy from common man, gave evidence of success and symbolized luxury, glamor and sexuality.

While feathers had no practical use, they were used as adornments for hats and clothes. Sometimes, entire birds were attached to ladies’ hats.

Fisher said a Manhattan ornithologist is said to have visited a New York City women’s fashion district in 1886, identifying the wings, heads, tails or entire bodies of three Bluebirds, two Red-Headed Woodpeckers, nine Baltimore Orioles, five Bluejays, 21 Common Terns, a Saw-Whet Owl and a Prairie Hen.

According to Fisher, in the space of two afternoons, he counted 174 birds representing 40 species.

There were no laws to protect America’s bird population until the Lacey Act of 1900.

Fisher highlighted the marketing of fur clothing at that time, showing a list comparing the sale names of furs with the animals from which they were made.

“Alaskan Sable” was another name for raccoon fur, and rabbit fur was sold as “Austrian Seal,” “Ermiline,” “Erminette,” “French Beaver,” “French Seal,” Marmotine,” “Polar Seal,” “Seal-Dyed Coney” and “Squirreline.”

The Federal Trade Commission of the United States formulated rules in 1938 dictating furs must be tagged with their actual names.

Fisher told the News Journal the history center is open Wednesday through Friday from 1 to 4 p.m. Groups of eight or more people can make special tour arrangements.

Admission is $5 for non-members, and those 14 and under are admitted for free.

The history center is located at 149 E. Locust St. in Wilmington. It can be reached by calling 937-382-4684.

Reach David Wright at 937-556-5770, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.