How to Buy a Bearskin Rug
Step one: Make sure it’s dead.
Name another animal that’s as comfortable beneath a Barcelona table as it is sprawled under the rafters of a ski lodge. There isn’t one. Only bears (preferably dead and flattened) can make any home into a bachelor pad and every bachelor pad into a retro winner. And there’s only one catch: Buying two-dimensional growlers is tricky and expensive. That’s why we turned to Paul Rhymer, the retired head of taxidermy for the Smithsonian. A veteran in the skin game, Paul was kind enough to give us an expert’s advice on what to look for, what to guard against, and where to put your furry treasure.
Here’s how to proceed:
1) Make Sure Bear Parts Can Be Sold Legally in Your State
Technically, a bearskin rug is classified as “bear parts,” which aren’t always legal. New York has a healthy and growing bear population (over 8000 critters), so trade of bear parts (besides the meat itself) is literal fair game, but rules vary state to state. Check with your state’s Fish and Wildlife or Environmental Conservation office.
2) Pick a Breed
You want to choose a bear that’s indigenous to the area of the country you live in. Almost all species of bear live out West, but only Black Bears live in the East, so if you’re outfitting a cabin in Maine, stick with that species.
3) Pick a Texture
Having said that, there are meaningful differences in different species’ hide and fur qualities. Brown and grizzly bears are mostly fur (the shorter, softer under-follicles) while black bears are mostly hair (longer follicles, and stiffer). It’s a question of soft versus sleek.
4) Locate a Rug
There are many options. Small-scale tanneries and taxidermists, local furniture stores, and websites like Ebay are all great resources when looking to buy a bearskin rug.
5) Check the Hair Quality
Both hair and fur should be vibrant and supple, with few (if any) broken hairs.
6) Scope the Skin Condition
Check for cracks in the skin. Old and poorly done domes will crack around the thinnest areas: the eyes, mouth and ears. Ears themselves may split with age. Check also that the skin of the body and legs is flexible, not stiff.
7) Check the Felt
Most bearskin rugs are mounted on felt. Old felt will be dull and pulling away from the hide in places. Check all the way around for good adhesion.
8) Consider the Details
As when you check the air-conditioning and windows in a used car, the details of a bearskin matter. Make sure all claws are accounted for, and that the head is detailed, not worn. Color is another important feature: make sure the skin around the eyes and mouth is evenly colored and that the skin itself isn’t peeling away (or missing altogether).
9) Get a Sense of the Piece
Does the head look natural, as if it might shake itself away at any moment? You want tastefully done taxidermy that respects the animal, not overly aggressive, cartoonish manipulation that turns a bear into a monster. A woman should feel comfortable getting comfortable on your rug.
10) Get a Good Price
As with anything that’s caught between commodity and art, prices for bearskin rugs very. Think about it like this: if the price is high, make sure you’re getting the best. A small black bear rug of good quality should start around $1500, while a huge and luxurious grizzly rug can creep towards the upper four figures.
11) Pick the Right Place
Extreme temperature and humidity swings are bad for any leather, taxidermy included, so keep your rug away from doors and out of basements. Additionally, stone floors attract mildew, which had be a death sentence for a rug: stick to wood and tile.
12) Take Care of Your Prize
This sounds bizarre, but it’s true: it’s bad to walk over a bearskin rug. Our move? Take off your shoes and engage in more horizontal, hide-sparing activities.
Photos by Everett Collection