--photo courtesy of Maurice Thompson
H.M. Thompson (right) and O.C. Dickson are surrounded by 15,000 possum pelts.
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nly a few people have ever seen a prime, cured possum (opossum) pelt, but everyone is familiar with the beautiful garments they produced for the ladies. Pictured above is a room full of possum pelts – 15,000 of them belonging to H.M. Thompson (my father) of Searcy and O.C. Dickson of Heber Springs, a produce dealer and buyer for The Thompson Company.
Early in the 1931 trapping season, these men decided to pool their entire receipts of possum, instead of selling weekly with other furs, and to hold an auction at season’s end. Buyers from big fur companies in New York, Chicago and St. Louis spent several days going through the pelts. Finally, they were sold to the New York buyer for $1.10 each. The owners had an average cost of $1 each in the fur. They expected the sale to bring $1.25 or $1.30. However, February was unusually warm, causing the fur markets to take a big drop.
All furs were high in price during the Depression years, in contrast to most other commodities. I recall in 1935 The Thompson Company paying $1 to $1.50 for large prime possum, $10 to $15 for well-stretched prime coon (raccoon), and $8 to $10 for female mink or up to $25 for large bore mink. Example of values: one male mink could bring as much as two weeks’ work at 25 cents per hour, which was the pay scale at that time. Not only did many professional trappers prosper, but also most farm boys had their own “trap line” which they ran daily. They had their own stretching boards, which was a source of great pride. The boards were carefully cut, shaved and sanded, in different sizes to fit the animal skin.
A quality, full-length mink coat (wild mink) that most ladies dreamed of wearing, cost $5,000 and up. It took as many as 100 female pelts to make.
The fur business as we knew it then began to decline at the end of World War II. The world’s finest furriers were German Jews. Sadly, we know the rest of that story. Synthetic fur began to appear on the scene, then ranch mink farms and animal rights groups making their case. Styles began to change.
I continued buying fur for The Thompson Company until the 1950s. Today, furs that once brought much-needed income to White County people lie along our highways as “road kill.”