Top Lot is Hot
Who doesn’t like getting a certificate suitable for framing - even if you don’t frame it? It means you’ve accomplished something special.
Who doesn’t like putting something up for sale and then finding a buyer willing to pay full price or even more for the item? That’s even better, and that’s what I found in the large envelope I received recently from NAFA - the North American Fur Auction.
Though there aren’t many of us still active in Indiana or most of the rest of North America, there are still active trappers. Fur trappers - guys who don boots, gloves, warm clothes and slog around in swamps, marshes, in fields and forests setting various kinds of traps to catch and harvest fur bearing animals. The first Europeans to explore much of North America were fur trappers, and fur bearing animals, being a renewable resource continue to be harvested each year.
NAFA, a Canadian company, is a direct descendant of the Hudson Bay Company one of the oldest purveyors of raw furs on the continent. Though NAFA now uses computers, bar codes and other high tech conveniences to conduct business, the underlying premise of their business is unchanged. They collect furs from trappers and sell the furs to furriers. The furriers use the furs to make fur garments and each makes a bit of money along the way.
One of the first steps is experts at NAFA sort the pelts. All the raccoons go into one pile, all the mink into another and so on. Then each pile is further divided by size, quality of the fur, color variations and so on resulting in numerous piles, each pelt in each of the final piles being identical to all the other pelts in that particular pile. Finally, each pile of is divided into “lots” which may contain 100 or more pelts.
Several times each year NAFA conducts auctions attended by furriers from around the world. There are furriers in attendance from the USA and Canada, for sure, but they are outnumbered by far by fur-users from China, Korea, Russia, Greece and other countries. As at any auction, the buyers look over the merchandise (the lots of fur) for the products they need for their businesses. Some furriers specialize in garments made from a specific species such as beaver or mink. Others deal only in trim, making coats or jackets with fur collars or cuffs. Some make only high-fashion garments, others use the fur more for the warmth than the look.
They make their notes and the auction begins with the auctioneer quickly selling lot after lot. As the auction progresses, the needs of the buyers change. Some buyers fill their needs and drop out. Some buyers fall short of their needs and increase their bids hoping others will drop out. Some scoop up bargains, if there are any.
When the bidding is over, each lot, even if graded similarly may have a different price. One of those lots will have commanded the top price in that grade. That’s why I got the certificate suitable for framing. One of the raccoons I caught last year and sent to the auction was in the Top Lot for “Eastern Semi-Heavy Raccoon.” No other pile of Eastern Semi-Heavy Raccoons sold for more.
It’s not the first “Top Lot” certificate I’ve received over the years. This one was among the most disconcerting, however. Often, the Top Lots are because the animal caught was not only a prime specimen, it’s also a testament to how well the animal was handled during the skinning and preparation for shipping process. Often, if you compare the Top Lot prices paid to similar lots, the difference is two-fold or more. If most lots muskrats of a certain size and grade sell for $4.00 per pelt, a pelt in the Top Lot may be ten or twelve bucks.
My Top Lot raccoon sold for nine dollars! Several years ago, before the world-wide economic depression it would have sold for around 50 dollars. With most furs being sold to China, Russia and other countries with sputtering economies, there’s not much demand for expensive fur or fur-trimmed garments.
Luckily, most trappers these days, including myself don’t delude themselves they will earn a living, or even make a bit of extra cash for their effort and work. The challenge of catching the animals, the pride in handling the pelts, the experience of being a part of the great outdoors, carrying on a traditional American activity and interacting with nature is enough.
Nine dollars for a Top Lot or ninety makes no difference. I have the certificate suitable for framing!