Vintage Store Raided; Vintage Furs from Endangered Species Confiscated

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.

A model wears an exotic fur coat in this ad for Selby Arch Preserver shoes from Woman’s Home Companion, December 1936.

Models wearing clothes trimmed with fur, Woman’s Home Companion, March 1936. Ad for Arch Preserver shoes.

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.

Butterick patterns for hats and fur collars, Delineator, November 1934. Let’s hope the fur was dyed rabbit, and not a species that has since been declared endangered.

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. (Exceptions
involve limited purchase and sale of certain captive-reared and sport-taken migratory waterfowl.)
Examples: Victorian songbird collections, vintage women’s hats, and feather boas”
[Question: Does “examples” mean “you need to check”, or “Forbidden?”
“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 law
Examples: Taxidermied specimens, rugs, clothing, and other fur articles.”

Ads for Imperial fur coats, 1937; “seal dyed coney” meant that no seals were killed for these coats — but a great many rabbits (coney) were.

You could read about the fur coats being worn in Paris (left, Delineator, 1928) and buy a cheaper American fur coat from Sears Roebuck (1930). The Sears coat was made of muskrats.

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.



Filed under 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

7 responses to “Vintage Store Raided; Vintage Furs from Endangered Species Confiscated

  1. Missy

    Just how will “rescuing fur coats” save endangered animals?
    In fact, many animals used traditionally for furs are not endangered.
    What is endangered are our waterways — there is not a river or lake in N. America that does not contain synthetic fibre threads that have now entered our food chain. Essentially any animal that ingests water now swallows man-made fibers… The real threat to our environment is not natural based products but articles made from rayon and polyester fabrics.

    • I recommend the documentary The True Cost. It shows the mind-boggling impact of the fast clothing industry — from dyes and petrochemicals polluting our waters to the social impact of our purchasing habits. I can’t forget the sight of trash piles of non-degradable polyester clothing several stories high.

  2. Fascinating, as always. Recently I learned that if you want to get rid of grandma’s furs in a humane way, animal shelters are happy to take them. Real fur comforts new born animals.

  3. Oh my goodness! Thank you for this post. I work in Antique Alley in Las Vegas. While I don’t have vintage furs, I know some of the other shops have them. Buffalo Exchange, one of our shops, just ran a promotion to donate your furs and they would send them to a group who repurposed them into shelter animal beds but I don’t think even the group was thinking of the ramifications of this law.

    Does anyone have a definitive listing of this law? I found several articles that talk about seal, ocelot, monkey, etc. but not the This Is The Law.

  4. I was reading about the CITES treaty the other day, and I saw that feathers of migratory birds are included. They specifically mentioned women’s hats. I think that it’s sad that these pieces with so much history can’t be enjoyed, but instead must be destroyed as animal bedding or recycled in some way.

    • Thanks for giving me the name (CITES) of the international agreement, which led me to the US Endangered Species Act of 1973.
      Sadly, unless you are a lawyer, just reading parts of the Act will probably not answer your questions. More useful is the “Can I Sell It?” Factsheet. This paragraph may surprise you:
      “Taxidermied migratory birds or migratory
      bird feathers and parts:
      With some limited exceptions, sale
      of any type prohibited regardless
      of age of the specimen. (Exceptions
      involve limited purchase and sale of
      certain captive-reared and sport-taken
      migratory waterfowl.)
      Examples: Victorian songbird
      collections, vintage women’s hats, and
      feather boas”
      The second page of the Factsheet has contact information and phone numbers you can call. Note that you will also have to check state laws for information about possession and sale that are not interstate commerce.
      The Vintage Fashion Guild has a resource to help you identify furs and animal products, but I’m not in the Vintage Fashion business, so I hope the VFG or someone with a professional interest in what is and is not allowed will pursue this in a public forum.

  5. Pingback: Vintage Fur and Feather Update with Useful Links | witness2fashion

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