Legends of the Industry

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Industry Leaders - Mr. Michael Lehrfreund





When Michael Lehrfreund agreed to speak with us at the recent Fur Auction in Toronto, we were certainly excited. After all, Lehrfreund is a name known throughout the fur world. S. Lehrfreund Ltd. was started by Michael’s grandfather and father – the family fleeing Germany before World War II from Leipsig - Germany’s fur capital. They settled in London and began operations there. Michael, born in London in 1942, had a natural gift and love of languages – a skill that would come in handy for him in the future.


Michael Lehrfreund with efurmedia.com’s Koral Kanca at the recent Toronto Fur Auction


Michael’s charm and wit became immediately apparent. As he spoke, his clear blue eyes came alive - as he recounted his journey into the business at the age of just 18. After choosing a career in the business over university, Michael began his career at The Hudson Bay Company in London as an apprentice. When Michael subsequently joined the family business, one of his first challenges was to represent the company at Copenhagaen’s “Ides of March” Fur Auction with the mandate to buy 100 American skins for the price of 140 Kronen. His trip there reads like a scene from “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” – a journey of 33 hours. Michael couldn’t buy what he’d been asked – the price soared to 240 Kronen, but his keen eye picked out a much better buy.

After the auction, when he was back to London, Michael told his father that he did not buy what he wanted, instead he bought something else. He clearly remembers his father responded, “Remember son, if you are a broker buying for someone, you buy what they ask for; if you are buying for yourself that is a different scenario.” It was a valuable lesson learned for Michael and he follows that rule to this day.

After this Michael moved to Frankfurt and worked for a company called Taorer Hollander where his education in the business continued and where he learned to speak German. He worked with a crew who stamped out 5,000 skins a day. The following year he came back to London to work in the family business. He then was sent for a time to Milan, Italy in order to learn the language. Unfortunately, his father’s health declined and he passed away in 4th October 1962. Michael was just 20 years old – under the age of “facility”. Michael’s mother joined the firm in order to facilitate this credit procedure.


Picture from London Auction 1982 – England


Up to 1980 the business flourished as a fur broker for many of the world’s largest companies. He has brokered hundreds of thousands of skins for clients throughout the world for many years.

One of his most expensive buys was for a client in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he bought pelt for $9,100 USD per skin – the most expensive skin ever sold.


Russian sable skins purchased by Lehrfreund for $9,100 USD each – the highest price in history
at the Auction in St. Petersburg in 2011


At each auction he attends, Michael creates his own meticulous catalogue of the mink, sable or wild fur inventory, rating each grouping of skins. He supplies this handwritten catalogue to his clients in each auction.


Since 1967, Michael has kept meticulous records of the skins he has bought.
He records this information in his infamous "little black book"


Michael laments the decline in the fur business. At its heyday there were over 440 fur companies in London processing over 7 and a half million muskrats, just in this article alone!– today there are only 20 fur companies left including fur brokers, and there is one handling about a hundred thousand muskrats. The future is challenging, but with markets expanding in Russia and China things are looking up. The last year has been fantastic with high quality and expensive skins were in great demand.

Michael Lehrfreund has been an integral player in the fur industry for over 50 years. He remembers a time when a nice mink coat fetched around 5,000 pounds – the same price as a decent house in the London burbs. Today, Michael sees the industry changing dramatically with the focus off North America and onto China where, he believes the Chinese have really learned the business well. The skill, and expertise that once dominated the North American and European fur industry is re-surfacing in China, with expert technology, labour force and business acumen. There is still good opportunity for brokers and agents to make money in the fur business. But like everything in life, success will go to those people who are able to adapt to the changing times. Michael Lehrfreund is a survivor – an industry leader whose insight and experience is legendary.


By Koral Kanca - Editor in Chief