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Archive for January, 2010

I’ve been puzzled about the term “Kolinsky” used in the brush and fur coat industry for the Siberian Weasel, Mustela siberica. At first I thought that it had been invented to find a more acceptable term.  No one wants to walk around in a beautiful fur coat and tell people it’s weasel fur.   Here and there I had seen references to this fur originally coming from the Kola Peninsula of Russia.  But here is a definition that seems to clinch it.

[Russian kolinski, of Kola, from Kola, Kola Peninsula.]   From the American Heritage Dictionary.

What this means is that in Russian to modify a word to mean “of, belonging, or from” you sometimes add a suffix to it.  In fact, my name , Rabkin, has the suffix “kin” which has the same meaning as “coming from” in Russian (in this case coming from town in the province of Perm, called Ryabki)   In the case of “kolinsky” the insky means “coming from” also.   I can’t confirm this but, if you met someone from the Kola peninsula, they might refer to themselves as a “Kolinsky” in the same way that someone from California might say they are a “Californian”.  Russians sometimes call Americans “Americanskis”.

If the term Kolinsky means coming from the Kola Peninsula, there is another complication.  There are no Mustela sibirica in that area of the world anymore.  They have been hunted (trapped) to extinction there.  The name was then switched to very similar animals in Siberia and the adjacent area of North Korea and China hence the species name “siberica”.   There are M. siberica in other parts of Asia, Beijing for example,  so they are not all in the colder regions.  But the best hair for paint brushes grows on the tails of males  in the most cold regions.  So for many reasons the species name, siberica, is a misnomer.  The animal was first known from an area of Europe and it occurs over a wide area of Asia.

Here’s a map of the Kola Peninsula.  It lies just to the East of Finland.  Notice the city of Murmansk, an important military base for Russia.   It is NOT in Siberia or, for that matter, Asia, so I think the scientific name must have been given to the weasel after it had been eliminated from the Kola Peninsula, or specimens being examined came from Siberia.

So, when we use the term “kolinsky”, we are saying “a weasel from the Kola Peninsula” which, sadly, is no longer the case.

Certain brush manufacturers claim that they are using old stock that was collected “before the animal was put on the endangered species list”.  But, somehow, I don’t think this can be the case given the number of brushes being offered (but this is another matter, and one, I’m afraid for the authorities.)  Anyway the Siberian weasel is not on the endangered species list although one sees references to that often.

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