Small businesses and entrepreneurial spirits built La Crosse. While the fur industry died out in the 1980’s due to anti-fur movements led by PETA and other animal rights groups, it was one of the founding industries of the upper Midwest and La Crosse. Hunting and trapping in the La Crosse area was very profitable. Oral histories from the Special Collections at UWL’s Murphy Library report of $100 days in the early 20th century. Accounting for inflation that equals about $2400 in today’s money!
The store that produced and sold this fur muff has a long history in La Crosse. It began in 1859 as the Paul Lutz Fur Store on Front Street. Paul Lutz, Sr. founded the store there, but when it burnt to the ground in 1861 he moved it to 203 Main. It remained there until the store closed its doors for good in the 1951. The store went through three generations of Lutz’s, until the business was sold to Mellon & Edwards in 1944. Mellon & Edwards owned about 17 fur businesses throughout Wisconsin at that time.
James Orwell bought this mink muff for his wife, Anna, in the late 1910s - early 1920s. A muff of this size would have needed around 15 mink pelts. Its bracelet is imitation tortoiseshell done in an early plastic called celluloid. Even with the celluloid bracelet, this muff was a symbol of wealth and status.
This is one of the local history objects that will be featured in the exhibition “[art]ifact, Where History Meets Art,” on display from Feb. 26 through April 17 at The Pump House Regional Art Center. It will be displayed alongside a new piece created by artist Brad Nichols as a response to the history of the Lutz Fur Store. “[art]ifact” is a collaboration of the Pump House, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Public History Program and the La Crosse County Historical Society.
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.