Memorabilia Page 1

Great Canadian Beavers

Great Canadian Beaver, Eh! - 1800-2000

Itching for Beaver?

So you have developed a sudden passion for beaver! You are not alone...

At any one moment there is someone - apparently a lot more than one, across Canada - mulling over the possibility of buying a beaver they've taken a sudden fancy to. In fact the latest research suggests that beaver fever seems to be spreading across the nation.

We advise you to proceed with caution lest you waste your money by impulse buying a cheapie beaver which will leave you with nothing but eternal self-regret down the road.

We provide a few cautionaries to those contemplating going on a beaver hunt...

Inform yourself about the possible consequences of what you’re going after. Remember, there are as many myths about Canadian beaver (LAT. castor canadienne) as there are about Canada in general.

For example, it is commonly believed that Canadian beaver can only be found in wilderness areas, or wildlife preserves.

This is patently not true! In fact you can find castor canadienne in virtually any village, town, or city, across Canada. Most beaver hunters consider themselves fortunate that they are widely spread in most places, especially in the big cities.

In fact the hard truth is that you'll probably find the best beaver in downtown Toronto...

But not surprisingly it is also the most expensive there. Cheap beaver can be more easily had in Winnipeg, Regina, or Calgary, though in our experience, the quality there hardly warrants the expense of a trip. Unless you have better reasons for going there, like perhaps, to buy drugs, or maybe a watch from a street peddler, or to urinate in a park.

Wherever you finally do chose to shell out for beaver don't expect a bargain when making a deal. It has always been true, in Canadian history, that the best beaver commands the top dollar. This is still so today especially in the big cities.

So be prepared to pay; it is most inappropriate to be seen playing hardball in bargaining with a lady who is offering you a nice one for a fair price. Remember, the beaver seller has to make a living too.

Also, avoid going for a "cheapie" beaver as this often leads to not a little disappointment as well as being a waste of money. The old saw that "any old beaver will do" is not the best guideline to follow, at the best of times, unless, of course, you're really desperate...

Even then, we urge caution. We advise you to think of the consequences of a bad buy; why not wait for a better beaver. It may cost a bit more but it might be worth the wait. You may thank your lucky stars, down the road, for thinking twice before jumping in too fast on a beaver that is just not up to scratch....

Remember too, that living in Canada means you are never far from a beaver. So turning down a questionable bargain basement beaver today is no big loss; tomorrow you might find a high quality one you might like even better, and one laden with a lot less attendant self-regret.

In spite of what you may think initially, with experience you will discover that not all beaver is equally desirable. It is beginners, the uninitiated, who, because they are less discriminating, are more likely to come down with a bad case, of beaver fever.

So you should always resist any sudden urge, however strong, to leap in on all fours, as it were, if you spot a beaver which you've taken a sudden fancy to; impulse buying will certainly never get you the best beaver.

Instead, what often results, it that you may subsequently only be filled with self loathing, when you reach home and discover what you've really picked up, in a careless moment of wild abandon...

So if you find yourself coming down with a bad case, and you feel yourself overcome with a sudden urge to bag a beaver, we suggest, in future, you get a grip on yourself, instead.

Another myth that is commonly repeated is that castor canadienne is shy, and retiring.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Beaver can be readily had by anyone who knows the right place to look and uses the right technique to acquire this occasionally furtive prey for their private pleasure.

But you can waste a lot of time looking for beaver in the wrong places. After all they're small and hard to spot most days, and often discretely tucked away. So a direct, common sense approach is always preferred when on a beaver hunt.

What usually works best is just walking up to the counter and simply asking! "Madam, do you have a beaver I could look at?" usually gets quick results.

But be sure to ask politely or she may not be inclined to show it to you. In fact because I've been gracious, I've been privileged to see a wonderful assortment of beaver over the years, some of which I've collected, happily fondled for awhile, and then passed on to others so they could enjoy them too.

In fact, we are happy to report, sharing a beaver is an experience more and more people are pursuing with good results.

It is a fact, no matter how much you may like a beaver, initially, what you may find - the trend is definitely in this direction - is that you'll want to give it up, sooner or later, and let someone else get pleasure from it. Beaver, like so much else in life, ends up being passed around. Just like the old song says, "A woman goes from man to man, but a beaver goes from hand to hand."

Oddly enough, just as a wider assortment of beaver is becoming more readily accessible, than ever before, on the market place, there is a movement afoot to turn back the pages of history, by some, who contend that some beaver is more desirable than others. They seek to weed out the admittedly somewhat mutant sub genus castor canadienne easii in favour of an earlier strain which is looked on, in some quarters, as a much more preferable sub genus, castor canadienne semper decorum.

But it appears, according to the latest research, that this could be a losing cause.

Left, all found during a beaver hunt, of course...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Honestly now, can you possibly imagine a nicer beaver sitting on top of this choice piece of historic Canadiana?

Oddly enough this beaver was found in downtown Toronto, reputed, by those who should know, as the place to find the best beaver in Canada.

Considered by many in the trade as a thunder mug.

Canada was built on the beaver - rather the chase after the beaver, with men traditionally sparing no time, money, or effort to bag as many as they possibly could. They were insatiable; no one seemingly, could ever get enough!

Today, this part of Canada's heritage continues on without much apparent abatement in most parts of the country.

Chamber Pot, c 1880
Orig. ceramic - Size - 31 cm
Found - Toronto, ON

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Cast Iron Decoration, Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada, c 1875
Orig. iron - Size - 40 cm, wt 4kg
Found - Simcoe, ON
This magnificent painted and very heavy piece of 19th century metal Canadiana was probably a stove or heavy machinery decoration from the Noxon foundry and fabricating plant in Ingersoll, Ontario.

The Noxon family, descendants of United Empire Loyalist stock, started a foundry making stoves and plows in Ingersoll, in 1855. Within a few years Noxon Brothers Manufacturing Company - under James, Samuel, Stephen, Freeman, and Thomas Noxon - had buildings covering five acres that employed some 120 people, making the finest stoves, plows, mowers, power feed cutters, broadcast reapers, and cultivators money could buy. If a horse could pull it, the Noxons built it. Their Hoosier grain drill was the talk of the International Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. They used the best timber and the best iron to make the best machinery, turning out nothing cheap or frail.

Left the proper technique for examining a beaver to see if you might be interested.

Right, close-ups of what a really top notch beaver looks like. Nice, fine, silky hair, growing luxuriously in a thick patch, almost like a bush...

If you can get your hands on one like that, we say go for it...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Beaver Wall Plaque, Eastern Townships, PQ - 1894
Orig. walnut carving - Size - 41 cm
Found - Simcoe, ON

This amazing hand carved decorative walnut beaver and foliage came out of the Eastern Townships of Quebec and is adorned with a mysterious sequence of letters, dots, and numbers: 1894.FR.2.MS.2.J.B.B.AR.GE. We welcome ideas...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Miscellaneous 19th Century Canadian Decorator Beavers (from the Marjorie Larmon Collection)
A 69 cm formed sheet metal beaver, looking really ugly, the morning after a bad date, from Essex Co. Ontario.
An 84 cm moulded sheet metal weather vane beaver, from Quebec, munching on a stick.
A 41 cm detailed cast iron beaver and maple leaves.
A 23 cm cast iron beaver with maple leafs.
A 51 cm bull bodied, carved and painted beaver from Quebec.

Great Canadian Ceramics with Beavers - 1856-1900

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Pitcher, Patriotic Pattern, by Edward Walley, c 1856-1865
Orig. ironstone - Size - 28 cm
Found - Simcoe, ON

This magnificently historical Canadian table service was produced by Edward Walley, of Cobridge, Staffordshire, to appeal to the French Canadians who were bursting with nationalist patriotism in the 1830s and 40s. Its emphasis on "Our Institutions! Our language and our Laws," largely printed in French, would have restricted its marketability among English Canadians. The motto was adopted, at the time, by the fiercely tribal members of the St. Jean Baptiste Society of Quebec.

Labor Omni Vincit, meaning Labour Conquers Everything, is today the motto of the American Federation of Labour, among others. In the early 19th century it blended religious, educational, and nationalist sentiments for French Canadians in Quebec.

This is probably the first appearance of a beaver on Canadian tableware - c 1856.

The Walley service features an unappealing rodent squatting bloatedly on a maple tree branch, which, of course, never happened. Somebody forgot to tell the artists in England that beavers were not tree climbers like bears, or squirrels.

The mark used by Walley on the back of his wares is the generic one used on British manufactured pieces from 1842 to 1883, with a complicated system of letters and numerals representing dates when patents were issued to protect certain "shapes." These shapes were also used in cataloques to protect parian bust designs.

(Walley's Niagara shape was his designs of the table ware before he transferred on his beaver images.)

You can easily find printed out keys for the early registration codes by Googling.

In 1884 this cumbersome system was replaced with a simple listing of Registration Numbers, prefaced with RN and starting at 0 that year, and rising to the hundreds of thousands by World War I.

The key for these can also be found online. Any good antiquer carries a set of each printout in his pocket at all times, so without asking, he/she know instantly what year a ceramic item was - most likely - produced. RN 352,043 above on the bottom of the match striker, was issued in mid-1900.

Crockery - Various combination of minerals and colours of clays were used by potters to produce, either, china or earthenware, of different colours, density, weight, and translucency. The pieces featured here are referred to as ironstone, a relatively cheap, heavy, dense ware, often darkish in colour, but extremely strong, making it resistant to the clanging that broke so much dinnerware among the loutish classes.

Fine china, which was usually light in colour, thin, and so light in weight, often appeared translucent, was expensive, and was prized by discerning members of the gentile upper classes, like Lord and Lady Black, but not in places like the Silver Dollar Room of the Waverley Hotel in downtown Toronto, or in average homes, where the rowdy classes caused lots of breakage.

Both types could be transfer ware - as all these are - where the image - Lord Roberts on commemorative china ware above - is transferred by pressing a wet inked imprint via paper on to the earthenware before it is glazed and fired.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Francis T Thomas of Quebec started a china importing business in 1874. About 1880 he commissioned ivory toned table ware and toilet services, featuring views of Quebec taken from photographs, from the Britannia Pottery in Glasgow, Scotland. He would remain the only Canadian china merchant, in the 19th century, to commission china with Canadian topographical views. The views bore the names on the front, in two official languages.

The FT Thomas service was decorated by a border of maple leaves, shamrocks, roses and thistles, as well as a lurking beaver.

For some reason Francis introduced the world to his unique male view of the Canadian beaver as a nasty beastie. He - like many others - must have had a bad run in with one or two.

The FT Thomas beaver would as soon snap at you as let you stroke it...

Plate - "Quebec Views" Pattern, by FT Thomas, c 1880
Orig. earthenware plate - Size - 26 cm
Found - Simcoe, ON
Signed FT Thomas, Prov - Marjorie E Larmon Collection
Anyone who has experience stroking a Canadian beaver will tell you that they seldom bite; to the contrary, most seem to encourage you to keep on doing it, purring most appreciatively, provided, of course, that you approach it the right way. To be successful, the advance must be slow, careful, and, above all, sensitive. Else you might never get close. And even be snapped at... Obviously FT Thomas did not have the right technique...

So there it is, in a state of full arousal, looking most unsatisfied, gracing his table service for the ages. And giving most Canadian beavers an undeservedly bad rap as unapproachable, or uncooperative...

In the case of FT Thomas, his mark on the back, identifies him as the importer, not, as in the case of most other marks, as the maker of the potted piece.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Thomas Furnival's Maple Pattern is one the most famous earthenware designs produced for Canada during the 19th century.

This mark was used from 1884 till 1890; earthenware carrying the mark FURNIVALS alone or with the LTD. addition was produced from 1890-1913. Sometimes no mark was used. The most common colours were brown and green.

Teapot - "Maple" Pattern by T Furnival & Son, c 1884-1890
Orig. ironstone - Size - 20 cm
Found - Simcoe, ON
Marjorie E Larmon Collection

Thomas Furnival & Sons, of Cobridge, Staffordshire, England, started making pottery featuring Canadian themes that would appeal for the Canadian market, in the 1880s. Its Maple Pattern is famous for combining two emblems that, by the 1830s, were firmly entrenched among Canadians of both French, and British backgrounds, as best representing Canada: the beaver and the maple leaf.

The Furnival beaver - a heads up, alert beaver, compared to the sulker on Thomas earthenware - is more suitably perched on the ground, too, instead of up in a tree. Word must have gotten back to the potting plant in Staffordshire that Canadians objected to eating off a service that featured a beaver ludicrously perched on a thin tree branch, like on the Walley and FT Thomas pieces, which were probably drawn by artists in England who had never seen a beaver in the wild.

It is interesting to note, too, that the Furnival trademark beaver changed somewhat, in the shape of the back, fewer twigs, and facial expression, hair, and teeth, to make him look less like a rodent staring back at you at the dinner table.

Beaver in Other Places

Left, a beaver perched on top of a Canadian nineteenth century tooth brush holder, lucky to have survived decades of daily lid openings and closings. But then, perhaps, it came from a household where they chewed tobacco and brushing was a losing battle, what with teeth falling out or blackening.

Below, a beaver tile. You could have your entire kitchen, or alcove walled with beaver tiles.

So Proudly We Hail! The American Beaver

Many people may not know that there is, in fact, an American Beaver (LAT. castor americanus britani) too, but it - like so much else in the US these days - is definitely inferior to the Canadian version.

It is - blush, we admit it - even more common than the Canadian beaver. Although we ourselves have not seen one, it is reportedly much more easily captured, and widely spread, being found in more places, and generally disporting itself in a much more aggressive manner than its somewhat more retiring Canadian cousin.

Unlike castor canadienne, the American beaver is likely to be far less restrictive in its choice of mating partners, preferring a seemingly endless string of contacts, resulting in the mutation of a species that the scientific community once widely considered monogamous.

Unhappily, it is also a species in decline; researchers report that it is rare, apparently, these days, to find individuals sporting the luxurious pelts of former years...

To view the sad state of the American beaver in Bushite America click

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