There are many different fur types, hides, and exotic skins in the world. Many look alike so it’s very important to read the descriptions in order to distinguish the differences.
The single most distinguishing feature of alligator leather is the umbilical scar. The alligator is the only crocodilian that has this feature. Designers will often put this section of the leather prominently on their products to make the authenticity of the leather evident. As many as three may be used in making a purse. The umbilical scar is an elongated star shape with a webbing pattern in it. Finding this mark on leather identifies it as genuine alligator. The belly scales of the alligator and crocodile are smooth and pliable. The alligator has a slightly less even pattern than the crocodile with some irregularities appearing in the scales.
American and baum marten
A close cousin to Russian sable, American marten has long silky hair and varies from dark brown to golden in color. Baum is softer, silkier and shinier than American and Stone, the finest variety, has a bluish-brown coat and pale underfur.
There are more than 90 species of Antelope from Africa, Asia, and America combined. The skin of Antelope is soft, supple, and pliable however the hair feels flat and stiff. Coloration varies from light brown to gray with white, dark brown or near black markings. Antelope is used to make coats, jackets, vests, belts, bags, and other garment related accessories. It’s not a durable fur as the fur rubs off easily when forced in the wrong direction but leather edging, trim, piping, prongs and/or metal feet are often added to areas that may come in contact with surfaces, and it’s a more affordable fur that may be a better choice for casual wear.
Badger fur is long haired. It is usually left in it’s natural length with the exception of the grotzen hairs which are long mane like guard hairs that run down the center of the back which are plucked. Coloration varies from region to region with Canadian Badger having gray guardhair and pale white underfur, US Badger having gray guardhair and creamy underfur, and Asiatic Badger having grey guardhair and yellowish-brown underfur. The best Badger has a natural silvery tint. North American Badger is softer and fuller than other Badger. Badger is very durable and can last years when properly cared for. It is heavy though so it is often leathered(a process where leather strips are added in between) which makes it much lighter but also less durable.
Bassarisk is a mammal found in the Southwestern United States and in Mexico. It has two layers of fur with the top layer being medium in length and the underfur being shorter. Coloration is light brown to yellowish brown with a lesser amount of gray or grayish white. The best Bassarisk has strong yellow tones. Not to be confused with ringtail possum, Bassarisk has trade names like ringtail, ringtailed cat, and miner’s cat because of the rings it has around it’s long bushy tail. It used to be called Rock Sable as well until the Products Fur Labeling act went into affect in 1952. It is neither a cat or a sable but is in the raccoon family. Bassarisk is used both in it’s natural length or plucked. The best Bassarisk has strong yellow tones. Sometimes Bassarisk is bleached or dyed. It is not the most durable fur but it can last a long time with proper care.
Bears have two layers of fur. Their underfur and guardhair. Their underfur is very soft and their guardhair is thick and coarse. They use their underfur for insulation and their guardhair for protection and to repel water. When they get wet they shake the water off of their guardhair and their guardhair also protects them from getting to their skin. Bears also use their guardhair to communicate and raise their neck and back guardhair when they are angry. Bear fur comes in many different colors such as black, brown, cinnamon, brown, and white. All American black bears have been listed in Appendix II of CITES. This listing stipulates that documentation of legal harvest is necessary for the import and export of body parts in order to prevent these from being confused as parts from illegally obtained bears. This listing was not designed to protect American black bears, but rather other species of threatened bears, particularly the Asiatic black bear, whose parts might otherwise be sold under the guise of being from American black bear.
Beaver fur is used in it’s natural length, plucked, or sheared.
Natural Beaver has a long shiny wirey top layer of guardhair and a thick softer layer of underfur. The coloration is brown, light brown, a combination of dark brown with lighter shades of brown on the sides, or silvery. The fur is very durable and makes great casual wear for both men and women.
Sheared Beaver is plucked and sheared to a soft, velvety pile. Natural coloration is the same as mentioned above. Sheared Beaver is also dyed a variety of colors. Sometimes the natural brown is dyed darker in the center with the lighter shades of brown being further lightened or bleached and sometimes the fur is dyed other fun colors, sometimes including colorful stenciled designs within the fur. The fur mats mats over time from moisture in the air and from getting wet.
Birds of Paradise
Birds of Paradise are beautiful birds. Female Birds of Paradise are more dull in color blending in more with their surroundings while males have a bright plumage of yellow, blue, scarlet, and green colors. Males often have vibrant feathered ruffs or amazingly elongated feathers, which are known as wires or streamers. Some species have enormous head plumes or other distinctive ornaments, such as breast shields or head fans. Birds of paradise are found in New Guinea and surrounding islands. The manucodes and riflebirds species also dwell in Australia. Birds of paradise are so attractive that their appearance once made them the target of skin hunters, who decimated some species. Hunting to provide for the millinery trade was extensive in the late 19th and early 20th century, but today the birds are legally protected from being hunted.
American Bison is also known as American Buffalo. The fur is shaggy, long, dark brown in winter coat, and lighter brown in the summer. The term Buffalo is sometimes considered to be a misnomer for this animal, as it is only distantly related to either of the two true buffalo, the Asian Water Buffalo and the African Buffalo. The Wild Water Buffalo is considered to be a different species, has a brownish-gray coat and is on the endangered list.
Burunduki is a small chipmunk that inhabits Northern Asia, Eastern and Central Europe. The fur is short and coarse. Coloration is brownish gray, with a yellow and/or whitish tint, and stripes that run down the head, back, and sides. The pelts are small and sewn together into plates to make garments. Burunduki does not offer much warmth and does not have enough durability to wear well as coats. The fur is occasionally used to make shorter jackets but is more often used to make linings, handbags, skirts, matching accessories, and trim.
Calf hair comes from young domesticated cows. The hair is short, sleek, and may be used in natural solid or spotted colors, ranging from brown to black or tan and white. Calfskin may also be dyed or stenciled in imitation of other furs. Calfskin is very soft however the short hair rubs off so the edges of coats and accessories are usually trimmed in leather.
The Cheetah is the fastest land mammal in the world. Most wild cheetahs are found in eastern and southwestern Africa. Cheetahs have coarse, short fur and are tan with round black spots. There are no spots on its white underside, but the tail has spots, which merge to form four to six dark rings at the end. Cheetahs are a threatened species and less than 12,400 of these big cats remain.
Originally from South America, but now farm-raised in both North and South America and in Europe, Chinchillas have extremely soft, dense fur with each follicle having approximately 60 fine hairs growing from it. Color varies but Chinchillas typically have a bluish, pearl or gray upper coat with black tips on the hairs and a yellowish white underbelly.
Chinese Leopard Cat
Chinese Leopard Cat, also known in the fur trade as Lipi Cat, is one of several subspecies of the small Asian Leopard Cat found across eastern and southern Asia, but the only one that is traded internationally. While most Leopard Cats are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the Chinese Leopard Cat is on Appendix II. The main threat to all Leopard Cat populations has been encroachment on their habitat by human development.
Casual observers have been known to confuse Leopard Cats with domesticated cats. However, the Leopard Cat actually has a much longer body, a distinctively thick and soft pelt, and far more striking coloring and markings.
As the name implies, these markings resemble the Leopard, and include rosetted and random spots, bands running from the forehead to the back of the neck, and a white underbelly with black or dark brown spots. Leopard Cats are found in a wide variety of habitats, from deserts to dense forests, and their markings and background color vary accordingly. The Chinese Leopard Cat, found primarily in China’s Yunnan Province, tends to have a richer, bolder pattern than other subspecies, adding to its commercial value, on a golden background.
The African civet is the largest African member of the Viverridae family, which includes genets, civets and linsangs. The African civet has a wide head with a pointy muzzle, small eyes, and small rounded ears. It has a racoon-like appearance with a black streak across the face and white on the forehead and along the sides of the muzzle. The legs, paws, and upper side of the bushy tail tend to be black, and five incomplete white rings wrap around the tail, which point towards the tip. Prominent white streaks edged in black extend from the African civet’s shoulders to behind the ears. The fur can range from white to pale yellow and rusty-brown. Interestingly, no two African civets are the same, as each has a unique coat pattern of dark brown or black spots and splodges. The irregular coat markings are most prominent along the back and hindquarters providing excellent camouflage in forests as well as more exposed habitats. The African civet is famous for the secretions from its perianal gland, known as civetone, which are traditionally used as an ingredient in perfume production.
Leather from full-grown cows that is used for shoes, jackets, boots, handbags, wallets, and other accessories. It’s tough and durable and can have a smooth or rough finish.
This wily North American critter has a long hardy fur, is often pale gray or tan in color with thick, paler underfur, and makes durable and warm coats for both men and women.
The most distinguishing feature of crocodile leather is the integumentary sensory organ pore. Crocodiles have a sensory hair on each scale that is used to feel their environment. After the skin is tanned the hair is gone but the pore in each scale remains. Close examination of the product will reveal these pores.
Deer have short-furred coats. Colors range from reddish brown to gray on the upper surface and usually white below. Markings that appear on certain deer are appear on the face, throat, and tail. Young deer are covered with white spots that disappear, in most species, when a new coat of fur is grown. Deer fur is brittle and falls off easily however the skins make a strong, soft leather called buckskin. The skins are used to make handbags, wallets, jackets, coats, and shoes. The hoofs and horns are used for ornamental purposes, especially the antlers of the roe deer, which are utilized for making umbrella handles, and for similar purposes; elk horn is often employed in making knife handles. In China, a medicine is made from stag horn.
Eel skin leather is highly prized. It is very smooth and exceptionally strong. However, it does not come from eels. It comes from the Pacific Hagfish, a jawless fish which is also known as the Slime Eel.
An elephant’s skin is generally very tough. Although tough, an elephant’s skin is very sensitive. Without moisture an elephant’s skin suffers serious damage. Elephants typically have grey skin, but African elephants look brown or reddish after wallowing in coloured mud. Asian elephants have some patches of depigmentation, particularly on the forehead and ears and the areas around them. African elephants are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, while the Asian elephant is classified as endangered. One of the biggest threats to elephant populations is the ivory trade, as the animals are hunted for their ivory tusks. Other threats to wild elephants include habitat destruction and conflicts with local people.
Ermine is actually a weasel. In summer, it is a brownish gray, but as winter comes, it changes to a snowy white that again changes, in spring, to a shade of yellow. The most prized Ermine pelts are the white furred pelts trapped during mid winter. Ermine is warm and will last many years, since it is too dressy for everyday wear. It requires good care and should be kept out of sunlight, which may turn it yellow. The best ermine is from the former Soviet Union.
Fisher is a marten, the American cousin of the Russian sable, the most sought-after being the fisher from the western US and Canada. The fur ranges from brown to black. The females, which are smaller than the males, have softer and silkier pelts. The fur is very durable and is used for coats, little furs, and scarves. In coats it may be let out, like mink. The best fisher is a chocolate brown in color and sometimes has a frosted-like appearance.
Fitch comes in several natural colors. White fitch, which is native to Siberia, has distinctive flank markings. It’s the best fitch and is expensive. Fitch also comes from Germany, Austria, and Poland. This fitch is dark in color, with the best Polish fitch having distinctive stripes. Paradise or yellow fitch comes from Mongolia. Although fitch used to be dyed to resemble mink and sable, as the price has gone up, it has become valued for itself, with the best Russian white fitch becoming more expensive than mink. It has long guard hairs and woolly, compact underfur. In dark fitch, the underfur is lighter in color than the dark guard hairs. Fitch can be worked many ways, both let out or in chevron and other designs for coats and jackets. It is less durable than mink, but it will wear well with care
Fox, which comes in many natural colors, is found all over the world. Because of its long hair and distinctive coloring, its popularity depends on fashion, especially in the US. Fox is easy to ranch and was ranched extensively in the US at the height of its popularity. As its popularity waned, however, American fox farmers turned to raising mink, with the result that almost all fox today comes from ranches in Scandinavia (especially Norway), other European countries, and Russia, where it has always been fashionable. The ranching made possible the development of mutations such as silver and platina fox, that are variations of the natural colors.
Fox wears well, although it needs regular cleaning and care to keep the fur fluffy and the skins soft and supple. The price depends on the popularity, but red (the most common) fox is the least expensive, with platina and white the most expensive. Clarity of color is important in fox, as is the fullness and density of the underfur and soft sleekness of the guard hairs. Fox is also dyed high-fashion colors.
Blue fox: Blue fox is ranched extensively in Scandinavia. The color ranges from a blue brown to a real blue, as well as white with blue highlights.
Cross fox: The name comes from the distinctive cruciform marking in the head and neck region of the fox. The color is basically red fox with yellow tints, while the cross is deeper in color with the red mixed with black. Some cross foxes are silver in color and are called silver cross fox.
Gray fox: Most gray fox is American, with the best pelts coming from the northern states. It is silver gray with a slight tinge of red.
Kitt fox or corsac: North American kitt foxes are gray fox. In addition, there is corsac, which comes from Siberia and other places in the former Soviet Union. In comparison to other foxes, it has little guard hair. What guard hair it does have is yellow with white tips, although the fur tends to be short and soft. Corsac fox is less well-wearing than most other foxes.
Platina fox: The platina color was originally bred in Norway. It is a much lighter platinum color than silver fox, and the whiteness may be enhanced by slight bleaching.
Red fox: Red fox is native to every continent with the exception of South America. The best red fox comes from northern climates and is deeply furred with silky, strong texture.
Silver fox: Silver fox is entirely ranched. The fur is blue black in color with a white tip on the tail. The best silver fox is a true silver color with a black stripe.
White fox: This fox has extremely thick underfur. There may be a slight blue shade along the back of the pelt. Like all white furs, it may require bleaching to preventing its turning yellow. It is less wearable than the more common kinds of foxes, although it is the ultimate in glamor.
Geoffroy’s Cat is often described as looking like a house cat with spots. It is a wild cat though and is quite a bit longer with longer legs. Depending on the region their color varies from a silver-gray to a yellowish-brown with a pattern of small, uniformly spaced, dark brown or black spots all over the body and two black streaks running down each of their cheeks. The underbelly is pale, being creamy or white in color. Geoffroy’s Cats were hunted extensively from the 1960s to the 1980s. Geoffroy’s Cat is now considered to be near threatened and international trade is now prohibited, except for non commercial purposes.
There are over 60s different types of Goat breeds. Goats are used for their milk, meat, hair, and skins over much of the world. Baby goats are called Kid Goats. They have shorter fur and very soft skin. Kidskin is most commonly used for leather goods and takes dye very well. Cashmere comes from any goat with a very fine, soft undercoat. This undercoat grows as the day shortens during winter. Cashmere is used in sweaters, jackets, robes, and more. It feels really soft, silky, and airy to the touch. Angora Goats produce a lustrous fiber known as Mohair. Mohair is very strong and often used in combination with other fibers and wools. It is commonly seen in coats, hats, socks, gloves, scarves, and other winter wear.
Jaguars are the largest of South America’s big cats and the third largest cats in the world. Their fur is usually orange or tan with large black spots called rosettes because they look like roses. The center of each rosettes has a black dot in it. Some Jaguars are very dark so the spots are hard to see but when it’s sunny or upon close inspection the spots are still present. At one time Jaguars were seen across the US to the Mexican Border but they are now confined to remote pockets of rainforest particularly in the moist Amazon Basin. They are considered endangered throughout most of their range and are listed by the IUCN Red List as an animal that is threatened in it’s surrounding environment.
There are multiple different types of Lamb. Some of them look quite similar while others look quite different.
Broadtail Lamb is the most exclusive and expensive type of Lamb. It’s hide is soft and thin and it’s fur is short, silky, semi flat, and wavy in texture with a moiré patterned appearance. Natural Broadtail is gray or brown.
American processed Broadtail Lamb has a thicker hide and longer fur. The fur is sheared near the skin to give it that distinctive moiré pattern. It is more durable than natural Broadtail, the shearing is close enough to the skin so curl is not present, and is a bit less expensive.
Broadtail is often dyed black as well as other fashionable colors, is used to make outerwear and high end clothing.
Persian, Astrakhan, and Karakul/Caracul Lamb are from parts of Russia, Persia(Iran), and surrounding countries. The wool consists of tightly coiled curls. Natural colors are brown, gray, and black. The black is often dyed to darked the pelt or hide.
Sheared lamb or sheepskin is called Mouton. It is a soft, thick, sheared fur that is straightened and treated to make it short, soft, and water repellent. It’s natural color is usually off-white but it is often dyed various shades of brown and black. In the past it was often dyed and treated to resemble Seal fur. It also looks very similar to Sheared Beaver.
Mongolian Lamb and Tibet Lamb both look and feel quite similar. The guardhair strands are long, silky, and wavy ranging from 3-5″ in length. It’s often used for coats, jackets, accessories, and pillows. Much like curly hair if it gets wet the guardhairs get frizzy. Mongolian and Tibet lamb is naturally off white, but is commonly bleached bright white, or dyed a variety of vibrant colors.
Shearling has sueded or leathered sheepskin on one side and the sheep’s sheared wool on the other. The sheared side is usually on the inside of collars, coats, outerwear garments, shoes, and handbags with the sueded or leathered portion showing on the outside.
Leopards are the smallest of the large cats. They look similar to jaguars and are covered with rose shaped black spots on their backs called rosettes. Unlike Jaguars though, the center of Leopards rosettes do not have a dot in the center. Leopards heads, chests, and throats are marked with small black spots. Leopard is endangered, is listed under IUCN’s Red list Appendix 1, and cannot be traded commercially.
Llamas are a variety of colors. Llama wool is lighter than sheep’s wool. It is soft, warm, and oil free. Llamas have two coats of hair; a fine downy shorter undercoat that provides warmth and a longer coat of guardhair that allows moisture and debris to be shed.
Wildly furry, lynx has an exaggerated edge to it and is indigenous to both North America and Russia. The whiter the fur, the higher its value.
The feathers of the Marabou Stork and Turkeys are both referred to as Marabou. The general term “marabou” signifies a fluffy decorative feather material. Marabou Stork feathers were formerly used in millinery and feather work. Today the fluffy feathers commonly dyed and used to make wraps, garments, boas, and accessories typically come from turkeys.
Margays are petite spotted cats. They are grayish-tan or cinnamon-tan with dark brown spots that form longitudinal rows. Their fur is soft and thick. Margays are endangered throughout their range, are listed as near threatened on IUCN’s Red list under Appendix 1, and cannot be traded commercially.
There are 14 different species of marmot. They are primarily found in North America and Eurasia but also inhabit other regions. Their fur feels slightly coarse and ranges in color from a frosted yellowish brown, light brown, reddish brown, black, or a grayish white. Marmot fur has also often been dyed with stripes being added to look like mink.
Mink has never been knocked off its pedestal as the all-time diva of furs. Soft and lightweight with lustrous guard hair and dense, soft undertur, it is primarily farm-raised. Female pelts are smaller in size and have a softer, silkier feel than the larger male pelts. Mink is available in a wide range of natural colors and may be sheared for a sporty, casual look. It is a very durable fur despite its luxurious look.
Muskrat is a North American wild fur that is popular for its natural color and can also be dyed rich jewel shades. New Jersey muskrat is lighter in weight with contrasting colors while Northern muskrat has longer guard hair and heavy, thick underfur and is often worked skin-on skin. Southern muskrat is flatter with little underfur and is usually pale in color.
Found mainly in Argentina and the Southern USA, it is also farmed in Poland and the Czech Republic. Similar to beaver, it is often sheared for a sporty, more lightweight feel. Because its underfur is very soft and plush and its fur can be dyed in a variety of shades, nutria is a popular fur for linings and trims.
Woolly and coarse, opossum is often used for liners and mens coats. The very different American variety has long silvery black-tipped guard hair with thick underfur while the New-Zealand variety has a short, dense plush-like fur in colors ranging from yellow-grey to natural brown.
Rabbit generally has medium length guard hair in a variety of natural colors and is often sheared or grooved. While not very durable, this is a very reasonably priced fur.
Long gray/black guard hair with silvery tips over a woolly, dense undertur makes it a very durable fur. Finn raccoon or Asiatic raccoon has long, thick tan guard hair with black tips and dense underfur.
Sable is a species of marten. Russian sable is the most prized fur in the world, renowned for its legendary silky quality, rarity and light weight. Barguzin sable is brown with silver tips and is the most expensive sable there is, especially when there is an abundance of silver hair. Canadian sable (brown or golden) is somewhat less expensive.
The Asiatic raccoon is native to Japan, Eastern Siberia, Manchuria, Vietnam and the Korean peninsula. They have very long guard hair and a full texture. The fur color is light amber brown with dark, distinctive markings. In Japan the Asiatic Racoon is known as Tanuki.