Thursday, 18 September 2008


Beavers were nearly hunted to extinction in Europe during the 16th century for their wool which was used in the manufacture of fine hats. Once the Americas were found, beaver skin was so prized that it was imported for the felt hat industry. Especially prized were beaver skins which had been worn, either by native American Indians or by early settlers, as it was found that once worn the fur itself would felt more easily. Those of us who were brought up with cowboy films probably all have an image of Billy Crockett and his beaver hat with the strange tail hanging down the back!

Here is a translation of what Plinius Secundus had to say about beavers in his book "The Historie of the World. Book VIII" written in 1601

"The Bievers in Pontus gueld themselves, when they see how neere they are driven, and bee in danger of the hunters: as knowing full well, that chased they bee for their genetoires: and these their stones, Physicians call Castoreum. And otherwise, this is a daungerous and terrible beast with his teeth. For verily, hee will bite downe the trees growing by the river sides, as if they were cut with an axe. Looke where he catcheth hold of a man once, he never leaveth nor letteth loose untill hee have knapped the bones in sunder, and heard it cracke againe. Tailed hee is like a fish, otherwise he resembleth the otter. Both those beasts live in the water altogether, and carrie an haire softer than any plume or downe of feathers."

Master Pinchbeck can remember working with Beiver at his fathers workshop in London!

It looks like Beaver were also hunted for their genitals and they would bite them off rather than let the hunter have them! I like Pliny's description of the beast and how strong and ferocious it was deemed to be. They are a great talking point - even though the likely hood of actually getting hold of a beaver skin these days, let alone using it for felting is very slim!
p.s. just checked out "castoreum" and it seems that these are glands used in perfumery and for various remedies, the wearer will be irresistible!

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