Many ancient Mediterranean cultures including the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans attached great ceremonial importance to animal skins and furs. Furs were worn as a symbol of power and status, as well as protection in battle.
In Northern Europe, fur was always coveted as the first choice in outerwear to keep warm in winter, and hunters would routinely make the fur of their quarry into clothing. It wasn’t until the 10th century that fur truly began to become a fashion or status symbol. During the 11th and 12th centuries hats made from beaver felt became fashionable, developing into a trend for fur caps, gloves and muffs. This lead to the first European guilds of furriers. It is well known that Kings and nobles throughout Europe wore fine furs to denote their status and wealth and that furs such as white ermine were worn only by royalty and nobility. There were laws that forbade commoners from wearing certain types of fur.
In the 17th Century the fur trade really began to reach a much broader section of the population and the demand for fur encouraged many Europeans to set sail for the new colonies of North America. In 1670, King Charles II of England granted a royal charter to his cousin Prince Rupert and other investors for the lands and seas around Hudson Bay, essentially to give them trading rights to all the furs coming from Canada. By the 19th Century the Hudson Bay Company was one of the most powerful organisations in North America, controlling much of Canada. In the 19th Century, fur became the height of fashion; beaver hats for men and coats, shawls, gloves, hats and muffs were a la mode.
It was in the early 19th century that experiments were being made to farm fur animals, namely mink. Mink was found to be an extremely suitable farm species and farms across America were created. Farmers selectively bred the animals each generation to create the farmed American mink species that is now farmed throughout Europe. These animals are very different now from their original wild antecedents and fur farming has become a mainstay of agriculture in Scandinavia, Baltic states, Middle, Eastern and in Southern Europe.