Beaver Price Wars
Money may not be able to buy happiness or love, but it can buy beavers.
The first pair of beavers bought by Eric Festin in 1921 for reintroduction in Jämtland cost over 3000 Swedish kroner (SEK) for the beavers plus transport. The two pairs bought in 1925 cost 2500 SEK total — but Festin estimated it should have been 4000 SEK if extra expenses were accounted for and the exchange rate between Norwegian and Swedish kroner hadn’t been so favorable (in 1925, 75 SEK bought 100 NOK but by 1927 they had almost equal value and would stay that way until after WWII). This was still significantly cheaper than the first pair. And the price had kept falling. Festin noted that in 1934 two pairs of beavers could be bought for 800 SEK. “So one must now say that the price is reasonable,” he wrote.
P. M. Jenssen-Tveit was the main supplier of beavers from Norway to Sweden (and a host of other European countries), but he wasn’t alone in the beaver market. Because of competition, there was a question of what price should be used for exported beavers. Jenssen-Tveit asked the Agriculture Department (Landbruksdepartement) what the fixed price per pair should be in 1933. While I did not find a direct answer to the letter in the correspondence in the Norwegian National Archives, the archive documents reveal an ongoing struggle with pricing beavers.
In November 1934, Jenssen-Tveit corresponded with the consul from Latvia about beavers they wanted for reintroduction. In his letter he wrote, “Since the [Agriculture] Department has not told them a price, it is obvious that I can also deliver them for the same price per pair that other sellers have offered them for, namely 200 kr.” He noted that the box with water holder and lock would be an extra 15 kr. After writing the reply, Jenssen-Tveit sent a copy to the Agricultural Department along with a letter explaining that the Latvian consul had gotten bids from four beaver dealers who each delivered a bid for delivering the animals. One of the dealers said they could deliver the beavers for 200 kr per pair, so he was going to match that price. In this letter, we see that competition appears to have been driving the price sharply downward. Festin had written earlier in 1934 that beavers cost 400 kr per pair, so something was going on.
Back in March 1934, the animal exporter Sverre Holmboe wrote to the Agriculture Department complaining about slow beaver sales. He had sent letter to about 50 different individuals offering beavers for sale, but had gotten only two orders, “which shows how difficult it is to sell beavers when the price is high.” “However,” he continued, “I am in agreement that the price should be maintained up. The price which the Department established last year was 400 kr per pair adults.” The reason he was writing was to see if the price was supposed to be the same in 1934. If he didn’t hear anything back, he was going to assume that 400 kr per pair was the right price.
In December 1934, Jenssen-Tveit offered Eric Festin three pairs of beavers for 1000 kr, which was a reduction off the regular 400 kr per pair price but not down as far as 200 per pair. In a letter from July 1935, Holmboe noted again that the price that the Agriculture Department had set on a pair of living beavers was a minimum of 400 kr, delivered to a Norwegian port. It is not clear if Holmboe knew about the other price offers, but his letter implies that he wants to make sure that everyone is using the same “fair” price.
The 400kr price does appear to have been communicated to the beaver dealers. Jenssen-Tveit referenced the price of 400 kr per pair in August 1937, noting that “your honourable department has earlier said that one should see to it that the price for Norwegian beaver is held as high as possible, therefore I have held my price at 400 kr per pair, as was offered to the Swedish State.” When Jenssen-Tveit offered to take beavers to Latvia in 1939, he also used the 400 kr per pair price as a reference, although he made sure to point out that his travel and accommodation expenses for delivery were on top of that amount.
During the German occupation of Norway, it appears that the price sank down to the 200 kr per pair level and afterwards the same price cropped up. When a request was received by Dr. O. Olstad, the State Veterinarian, from the Agriculture Department for 4 to 6 beavers to be sent to Austria in 1947, he recommended Jensen-Tveit as the supplier. In his letter dated 1 Sept 1947, Olstad noted that Jensen-Tveit had access to a large number of animals and would charge a reasonable price. Olstad indicated that a price of around 200 kr per animal would be sufficient.
When Jenssen-Tveit got this information, he was not pleased. He countered offered a pair for 2400 kr including transportation. According to Jenssen-Tveit, his biggest concern was that during the German occupation of Norway, many beaver were killed, hunted with leg traps, sold to Germans for between 200 and 300 kroner, and used as food for fox farms. The result was a severe reduction in the beaver population. He noted that only one beaver family was still around his family’s home property of 18,500 hectares, and on a neighbouring property of 30,000 hectares there were none. “This is extremely discouraging,” he wrote in a letter dated 18 November 1948. “And I have heard that it is not much better general.” I did not see a final decision about the beavers for Austria in the file, so I’m not sure what price they finally agreed upon.
The archival record shows an ongoing struggle with setting the price for beavers. The price for a pair had swung from 3000 kr down to a low of 200 kr, stabilized at 400 kr for a decade, and then dropped back down to 200 kr during WWII. After the war, the main beaver supplier expressed serious concerns about the beaver population in Norway and wanted to raise the price.
This whole episode should remind us that 1) animals for conservation and reintroduction projects are commodities which are bought and sold, 2) somebody is making a living off of capturing the animals to be moved, and 3) everything has its price.