NOTE: This post was updated on 3/3/17 to include a link to the “Can I Sell It? Factsheet, A Guide to Plant and Wildlife Protection Laws” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In some cases, even the “100 years = an Antique” rule does not apply.
Selling vintage furs may be more complicated than you think.
A long-established vintage clothing store in San Francisco was raided in 2016 and about 150 items made from species that are now on the endangered species list, but which were not classified as “endangered” before 1973, were taken. Read the article here.
In a follow-up article on March 26, 2017, the San Francisco Chronicle gave the store-owner’s side of the story. “Investigators from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted … a raid on Feb. 25, 2016.” Store owner Cicely Ann Hansen, 68, owner of the Haight Street vintage clothing store Decades of Fashion since 2005, told reporters that she believed it was legal to sell the clothes if they had been made before 1972. “The Endangered Species Act took effect in 1973, so at the time those clothes were made, the animals were not technically ‘endangered,’ as that classification did not yet exist.” Hansen has been charged with nine misdemeanor counts of illegal possession for sale of an endangered species, according to the San Francisco district attorney’s office.
Hansen says she stored much of her personal collection in the basement of the store, and those furs were confiscated, too. Apparently the folks from the Wildlife departments and the SF District Attorney did not accept Hansen’s protest that those items were not for sale, and that the furs she does sell were taken from animals that were killed long before they were declared endangered. (At some point, will the defense call in other fashion historians to date the vintage furs?) Hansen pointed out that furs make up “a tiny portion — 1 percent — of the store’s business, and she would not have risked the store and the livelihood of her nine employees had she known the laws changed.”
I’m not in favor of wearing fur or feathers from protected species (or from animals raised for slaughter,) but furs and feathers were fashion staples in less enlightened eras. Many aspects of history are disturbing, including fashion history.
Sellers of vintage clothing will need to follow this case through the courts. Will feathered Edwardian hats — which led to the founding of the Audubon Society — be next? Edited 3/30/17: Yes. From the “Can I Sell It?” U.S. government Factsheet:
“Taxidermied migratory birds or migratory bird feathers and parts:With some limited exceptions, sale of any type prohibited regardless of age of the specimen. (Exceptionsinvolve limited purchase and sale of certain captive-reared and sport-taken migratory waterfowl.)Examples: Victorian songbird collections, vintage women’s hats, and feather boas”
“Grizzly bear, jaguar, or other U.S. species listed as endangered or threatened:No interstate or international sale of any type regardless of age, without a permit. Sale within a State allowed unless prohibited under State lawExamples: Taxidermied specimens, rugs, clothing, and other fur articles.”
There is an interesting chapter on furs, feathers, and the founding of the Audubon society in A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character and the Promise of America, by Jenna Weissman Joselit.
If you are a vintage clothing seller, please read the comments below. If you are not in the United States, or buy and sell internationally, you should find out more about the CITES treaty. See comments below.