From pretty much the beginning of human existence, we have been wearing fur to stay warm. The museum has a fairly large collection of items made with fur, from coats and stoles to muffs and fur-lined boots. Some pieces were made for functionality, like the coat and mittens Ross Marvin wore on his first Arctic expedition, while others were obviously made only for fashion, like this hat decorated with ermine tails.
|Hat decorated with ermine tails and veil, 1950|
|Voided velvet cape with fur trim, 1880|
|Fur-lined carriage boots, 1890s|
|Woman wearing a wide fur stole, 1860s|
The “modern fur coat,” with fur worn on the outside rather than as a lining, first appeared in the mid-19th century but did not gain popularity until the early 20th century. In the 1920s, people wore large, full fur coats to stay warm while traveling in open motorcars. Similarly, college men wore raccoon coats while attending football games. By the middle of the century, new techniques of processing and dying furs made it possible for more people than ever before to own fur coats.
The museum has collected many pieces of fur, not only because they are examples of historic fashion but also because of the stories they tell. The coat pictured below was made by Jesse Green Furrier, Elmira. The donor told the story of how his wife took pelts that were trapped-locally to Jesse Green to have them made into a coat. He remembered her traveling several times to Elmira for fittings while it was being made. Then she came home with the truly one-of-a-kind, hand-made fur coat.
One other fur in our collection has a very interesting story that I just learned several weeks ago. This fur pelt brings us back to arctic explorer, Ross Marvin. The museum has many of his items including clothing and personal souvenirs from his voyage. Among his things is what I assumed to be a wolf’s pelt, as there was little documentation in our records. A short time ago, Kelli came across a 1931 Elmira Star-Gazette article about Marvin’s collection with a list of items. On that list was “one Eskimo dog skin (taken from a dog eaten by Marvin on his first expedition to keep from starving.)”