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Russian fur had had a long history even before it became an essential part of the world fur market. The ancient Russians used furs in the household - as warm clothing in the cold wintertime and as soft bedding. Fur was an important part of economic activities: pelts of sable, marten, beaver and other fur-bearing animals acted as a currency. One could pay with fur for any kind of goods, education or church service. Pelts were levied as sales duties and customs duties, fines and tributes. There are well known occurrences in Russian history, when valuable furs served as an adjusted form of tribute collected from the population. So, for example, in 883 the conqueror "Veschij" Oleg (Oleg the Oracular) levied duties on the drevlyane people of one "black marten" per household.

The other significant use of fur in Russia was as a gift. Princes and barons gave valuable furs as rewards for "good deeds". Fur has always been a good present. On solemn and celebratory days the members of the prince families, priests, noble guests and ambassadors of foreign states were given fur coats and fur hats as presents. The value of the fur was so high, that merchants and noblemen passed on furs as inheritance from one generation to another. Fur was one of the most important parts of the dowry for rich brides.

In the 10th -11th centuries for Russians fur became an important element of trade with neighboring countries. And at the same time, not only merchants were selling furs, but also boyars and princes. In this period Kievan Russia was actively trading furs with countries in the East and Byzantium. In the next two centuries merchants also built trade routes to the countries of Western Europe. The majority of goods in the middle age were martens, beavers, wolfs, foxes, squirrels, hares and most of these animals were being sold for their fur and were brought from the territories, which belong nowadays to Ukraine and Belarus. In the 14th century import furs became foreign furs, because Belarusian and Ukrainian lands had come into the body of the Polish state, which afterwards joined The Great Lithuanian Principality.

In the 15th-16th centuries the import furs completely pushed out local goods. This was caused by the fact that the local forests had become "scanty" - "the animals are worse than before", as it was written in a manuscript of that time. At that time the gathering of duties was replaced everywhere by monetary tax, however the names of the furs remained in the titles of the taxes - squirrels, martens and beavers.

In the 15th -17th centuries Russian fur, which was brought from Moscovia, became popular as "Moscow fur" in Moldavia, Valachia and on the Balkan Peninsula, in Turkey, Italy and in The Netherlands thanks to Ukrainian and Polish merchants. The taming of Siberia, which was fabulously rich in valuable kinds of fur-bearing animals, contributed to the fame of the fur empire. The joining of this "sable paradise" to Russia helped to strengthen the position of Moscovia in the world fur markets in the 17th century and to make "soft lumber" a Russian trade mark - Russia itself now being the biggest fur-supplier. The Russian government held this position right up until the end of the 19th century, when The USA and Canada joined it in the world fur market.

Curious facts:

  • The third daughter of Jaroslav "the Wise", Anna married the king of France Henry I, who sent ambassadors to Kievan Russia because of her. The generosity of Jaroslav "the Wise", who gave fur garments to the foreigners and sent a few loads of valuable pelts as a dowry to Henry I, played not the last role.

  • In the 16th century in Tobolsk black fox was more valuable than sable. The black fox, which was brought to Tobolsk from another Siberian town was valued for its price, which was determined by how much money could be put inside the pelt garment. The white fox (Arctic fox) was also very valuable.

  • In 15th -16th centuries export fur trading was not cheap for Russian merchants - one of the policies of the polish government, which was protecting the rights of its merchantry, was that fur-trading had to be conducted on the territory of Rech Pospolitaya, which caused many problems. Along the entire route the Russian merchants paid different kinds of taxes - for crossing the border, for crossing bridges and futhermore they had to pay to the land-owners for passing through their property. Those merchants, who tried to transport the fur illegally, risked it falling into the hands of robbers.

  • In 1654 newborn Tsarevich Aleksey Alekseevich was given a pelt of white fox as a present from Ilimsk. When Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich entrusted merchants to put a price on the animal, those witnessed in writing, that "they couldn"t announce the price", because they had never seen the animal before.

  • In 1592, the Orthodox Church community from Lvov sent an emissary to the Russian Tsar Fedor Ioannovich with a petition to help to reconstruct the burnt-out Uspenskaya church. The citizens of Lvov were given five two scores of sable and five twoscores of marten. On the money they made from their sale the members of the Lvov community made "The Tsar gates" for the church and the rest of the money was spent on the purchase a printing house owned by the first printer, Ivan Fedorov, and for the resumption of Cyrillic book printing in Lvov.

  • In the 14th -17th centuries the Ukrainian merchants, which came to Russia for big parcels of fur goods, often became victims of cheating. The Russian merchants, who saw the foreign merchants great interest in arctic fox, often gave them hare instead.

  • There often deployed hostility between the representatives of noblemen because for a long time furs had been gotten mostly by hunting. So, even in the 12th century in the first code of laws, "Russkaya pravda", there were paragraphs, which concerned hunting. Afterwards, hunting became not only a craft, which provided an income, but also an entertainment of high society. Vladimir Monomakh compared hunting events to acts of bravery in war.

  • In 1689, a merchant from Lvov, Yri Bragnovich, bought 488 sables at the market. Besides these, he bought sable back and belly furs, ten two scores of stoat, 20 wolf pelts, 6 black wolf pelts, 26 white hare pelts, and 12 wolf belly pelts. After having paid all the taxes and sold all his goods he"d brought with him, the merchant was left with a profit of 4296 polish zlotys, which is an enormous sum of money. In comparison, the work of a high-class craftsman was worth 3 to 6 zlotys a week and a hired-hand was paid 6 to 8 grosz. For a long time the native inhabitants of Siberia and The Far East did not consider sable to be valuable. The inhabitants of Kamchatka, for example, gave as many sables for an iron kettle, as could sit in the kettle.

  • In the 17th century the kalan was discovered, which is also known as the sea otter or a sea beaver. For many years it was one of the treasures of Kamchatka, The Comandor and Aleut islands - because it"s fur was more valuable than any of a land animal. That"s why The Bering Sea was also called The Beaver Sea on some maps.


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