The hunting of wild furs is still an important occupation in wilderness areas, notably in N Canada, Alaska, Mongolia, and Siberia. The finer wild furs come from northerly regions, where because of the climate the animals produce sleeker and better pelts. In the more populated and temperate regions of the world, however, only small pockets of territory retain enough wild animal life to be good for fur hunting. Because of this condition furs have always been luxury goods and were associated early with royalty and nobility (e.g., sable and ermine).
The fur trade has gone on since antiquity, but it reached its apogee in the organized exploitation of the wilderness of North America and Asia from the 17th to the early 19th cent. The staple fur of the great fur-trading days in North America was the beaver, though the fur seal was and is the object of highly lucrative fur hunts.
Many furs are also now grown extensively by fur farming, which has developed into a major industry in the United States and Canada in the 20th cent. The preparation and sale of fur remains a very considerable business. The dressing and dyeing and the matching and cutting of furs to make fine coats and other garments occupy the labors of a great many people concentrated in the few great fur markets of the world.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.