Secondary Source: Chapter 3

Excerpt from Adele Ogden, The California Sea Otter Trade, 1784–1848. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1941: 1, 5–6.

From island to island…moved the promishlennik, or fur trader, constraining the native hunter to pursue ruthlessly a creature whose fur proved to be more valuable in the China market than the finest fox, sable, or marten skins of Siberia. Thousands of otter pelts began to move annually toward Kiakhta, sole trade door legally open to the Russians on the Siberian-Chinese border.

Of great warmth and exceeding beauty, the sea otter fur was sought by Orientals for both practical and ornamental purposes. It became the royal fur of China. Otter-skin robes were the style of the day for Chinese mandarins. Ladies in high social standing wore otter capes, and some make belts or sashes of the fur, over which pearls were arranged. Tails were much esteemed for caps, mittens, and small trimmings. As the price ascended, the fur was used more commonly to weigh down and border rich silk gowns. By 1790 a sea otter skin commanded in the Chinese market a price of from eighty to one hundred and twenty dollars.

Last updated: November 21, 2016