By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, September 6, 1947
“There’s millions,” declared Jimmie Frise, “in mink!”
“I wouldn’t invest a cent,” I stated.
“This fellow I met,” went on Jim excitedly, “offers us what they call a trio – male and two females – for only $140!”
“Not a cent,” I repeated decisively.
“Look,” said Jim. “We go shares. Seventy dollars each. He keeps the mink on his ranch, see? All we do is invest our money. He needs the money for development of his ranch. He does all the work. Now, suppose our two females have five kits each…”
“Kits!” I checked.
“That’s what they call young mink,” explained Jim. “There’s 10 kits. And so it goes. Maybe two or three litters a year. They’re like rabbits. They multiply rapidly. Why, before the year is out, we’ve got maybe 30 or 40 mink to our credit.”
“If there’s millions in mink,” I demanded cunningly, “What does this guy want $140 for?”
“You don’t understand,” complained Jim. “It’s like the mining game. You’ve got to put money in for development. I just met this mink rancher on the road. He was thumbing a lift, and I happened to be lucky enough. to pick him up.”
“Lucky?” I scoffed.
“Yes, I consider myself lucky,” asserted Jim, “in having picked this guy up. He certainly opened my eyes.”
“What was he doing thumbing a lift,” I questioned sarcastically, “if he is in the big money?”
“That’s the point!” cried Jim. “Don’t you see? He’s just developing into the mink racket. Do you think, if he were an established mink rancher, he’d let a couple of outsiders like us into a partnership?”
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” I grumbled.
“You’re like all the rest of mankind who miss the boat,” protested Jimmie. “The whole secret of success in life is speculation. Who makes the millions out of the gold mines of this country? The people who buy the stock AFTER the mine has proved good? No, sir! The people who make the millions are those who invested a little capital to develop the mine in the first place. The people with the courage to risk a little capital for the DEVELOPMENT of the mines. Those are the guys who own the two-tone convertible jobs.”
“Mink,” I stated, “are a fad.”
“A fad, my neck!” protested Jim. “Do you know how much they are paying for mink coats in New York and London right now? As high as $20,000!”
“That’s absurd,” I submitted.
“For blue mink coats,” said Jim. “Twenty, twenty-five thousand bucks!”
“Blue mink?” I requested.
“Yes, that’s the latest,” explained Jim. “The fine under-fur of the mink is a beautiful blue color. It gives the richest, most glorious lustre to the fur.”
“I’ve seen lots of mink,” I admitted, “but I never saw a blue one yet.”
“Well, up in the far north,” elaborated Jim, “the wild mink have this beautiful bluish under-fur. And on the world markets, mink pelts from the northern Quebec and James Bay district have always commanded the most fabulous prices. So, in recent years, the mink breeders have been specializing on this blue mink. Now, are you listening?”
“Go ahead,” I muttered.
“This fellow Middity I met, Hugh Middity, his name is,” said Jim dramatically, “is going to raise blue mink. And he’s letting us in, for only $140! Seventy bucks apiece!”
“Not for blue mink,” I asserted. “Nor for pink mink. Nor for any other kind of mink.”
“Aw, look,” pleaded Jim. “The world is hungry for mink. There isn’t a woman from the Atlantic to the Pacific who doesn’t covet a mink coat. So far, only the wealthiest and most pampered women – the movie stars, the wives of rich tycoons – have been able to afford mink. But there’s millions to be made …”
“Jim,” I assured, “when I was a boy, seal was the rage. No lady considered herself a lady until she owned a bob-tailed seal coat, with a frill around the bustle and large leg-of-mutton shoulders. So the fur trade produced millions of seal pelts and killed the fashion right off. The next thing I remember was Persian lamb. The next fashion was Hudson seal – which was muskrat clipped and dyed to look like seal. Next – mink!”
“But it will be years, years,” cried Jim, “before we satisfy the craving of the womanhood of America and Europe for mink coats!”
“I’ll tell you something, Jim,” I informed him. “Do you know that there are thousands of mink being bred right in the city limits of cities like Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg? Do you know that in back yards, all around the suburbs and actually inside the city limits, there are hundreds and hundreds of pens where little guys like store clerks and accountants and mechanics are raising mink for the market you are raving about? They have a long pen, about two feet square on the front, and about eight or 10 feet long, for each mink. A wire floor in each pen, and a little den of a sleeping box at the back…”
“Mink ranches are out in the quiet country,” interrupted Jimmie, “and the ranchers keep them solitary and free of worry from dogs barking or other disturbing noises.”
“Jim, I got it from a vet friend of mine,” I insisted, “who attends these city mink breeders. There are thousands of mink raised every year right in cities and the suburbs.”
“Well, what of it?” exclaimed Jim. “There’s a fortune in it! I’m not talking about guys raising half a dozen mink in a back yard. I’m talking about mink RANCH. We invest in a trio – one male and two females. At the end of the first year, we’ve got 30 or 40 mink. Forty mink! Do you know how much one blue mink – for breeding purposes – will sell for? TWO HUNDRED BUCKS!”
“For one mink,” I checked.
“For one mink,” assured Jim. “In fact, a good breeder blue male mink will sell as high as six hundred. Or even a thousand. It’s all luck. It’s like the gold mines. If you happen to develop a good blue strain, why there’s no limit to the money you can make. Look at what bulls sell for? You often see a bull selling for $15,000.”
“Yeah, a bull,” I admitted. “But a mink is a mighty small animal compared to a bull.”
“Greg,” said Jim, patiently, and a little sadly. “You don’t seem to understand how big money is made. You don’t get rich in this world by hard work. If hard work made a guy rich, there wouldn’t be a poor day laborer or a poor farmer or a poor mechanic in this world. No sir. The way you get rich is by shrewd and intelligent foresight. You look ahead and see what your fellow-man doesn’t see – yet! Now, any fool could look at the world today and see this mink coat racket and realize there’s millions in it. Every woman in the world – rich AND poor — wants a mink coat. Where are they going to come from?”
“Did you say this guy was breeding BLUE mink?” I inquired.
Now, during this debate, Jim was driving me 30 miles north of the city to meet the man he had picked up on the side road who had implanted in Jimmie this passion for mink.
“Two miles further,” said Jim, turning on to a gravel road.
And in no time, we drew up at a very neglected and dilapidated farm house, set among fields of stones and underbrush, a picture of decay.
We got out and Jimmie walked to the gaping front kitchen door and rapped. No answer.
We walked over past the barn, where there was neither animal nor man.
But beyond the barn, on a sloping bare pasture field, we saw eight or nine small structures amid the weeds which, on closer examination, appeared to be cages or pens. And among them, a man was bending.
We walked over the hills and hailed him.
“Jim,” I muttered, as we drew nearer, “this is an awful shabby outfit. If there was any money in mink, wouldn’t this guy have things a little more presentable?”
“I tell you,” hissed Jimmie, “it’s like the mining game. If this guy didn’t need capital to get his ranch going, would be ever be fool enough to let strangers like us in on the ground floor? I tell you, it’s a lucky strike, a bonanza for us!”
When we came up to the pens, the rancher, Mr. Middity, came forward to welcome us. He was a small, dignified little man, either with a very weak beard or else in need of a shave for about three weeks. His features were close set and narrow, and his eyes deep in his head. When he spoke, his small mouth revealed sharp marrow teeth, and I thought he looked more like a mink than some of the animals he showed us in the pens.
“Ah, Mr. Clark,” he said in a cultivated tone much in contrast to his ragged and dilapidated appearance, “I’m a city man born and raised myself. But I saw the folly of the city some years ago, and have been in the mink game.
“How many mink have you?” I interrupted, starting along the pens.
“Easy, easy!” warned Mr. Middity. “Don’t startle them? As a matter of fact, you have caught me at a fortunate moment for you and an unfortunate moment for me. I am in the throes of transition. I have just sold out, lock, stock and barrel, all my standard bred minks and have preserved only a very choice selection of breeding stock. Blue, Mr. Clark! I am confident I have solved the mystery of breeding the true blue mink. Not the mutation. Not the albino. But the true blue!”
“How many mink have you?” I repeated.
“Er… seven,” said Mr. Middity. “Let me see? Yes, seven.”
I glanced along the pens and could only see three.
“When strangers come around,” explained Mr. Middity, “they are very shy. They retreat into the sleeping dens.”
Jim was creeping from pen to pen, lost in a sort of ecstasy, even when looking into an empty pen. The screen of the pens was rusty and patched.
“At this stage,” explained Mr. Middity, “I am looking for a little capital to develop the property. I have, as I said, satisfied myself that I have the secret of the true blue strain in mink. It is a secret I am not at liberty, of course, to reveal at this time. But in due time, to my partners …”
And he smiled very minkily, and waved his hand airily.
Jim was down on his hands and knees at one of the far pens, making a sound like “eeky-weeky” at a very pale brown mink that was peering sleepily out of its den at the back of the pen.
“My proposition,” said Mr. Middity in a loud voice so as to include Jim, “is that I sell you a trio of three – a male and two females -“
“I was telling my friend,” assured Jim, jumping up and joining us.
“It was sheer chance, our meeting,” smiled Mr. Middity. “I was heading into the village to discuss the matter with one of my friends, there, the storekeeper. And who should pick me up …?”
“Which three are you going to sell us?” I inquired.
“Would you rather I sold you three particular mink?” asked Mr. Middity. “Or would you not prefer just to have a three-mink share in the enterprise?”
“I’d rather have three particular mink,” I stated. “Then we could keep track of the litters.”
“Aw, yes,” agreed Jim. “I think we’d prefer to have three particular mink.”
“Very good,” said Mr. Middity. “How about these three on the far end? The farthest is a male, and the next two pens are females. How would they do?”
“Can we see them?” I asked.
“Certainly,” said Mr. Middity. “If they’re out. But you know how shy mink are.”
The pale brown one – the one Jimmie had been going “eeky-weeky” at – had retired back into his den box. The other two pens appeared empty.
“If we wait a minute or so, quietly …” suggested Mr. Middity.
So we stood very quiet, watching. But after a good five minutes, nothing stirred. No sign of any mink appeared, either in the end pen or in the two adjoining ones.
“Ah, well,” sighed Mr. Middity. “They’re all the same, anyway. Only the rarest and choicest specimens were kept when I sold out the surplus, The three on the end, then, the male and two females, will be yours.”
And we went back to the broken down farmhouse, where Mr. Middity made room on his bachelor kitchen table for Jimmie to write out a cheque for $140.
“I collect from you tonight,” Jim smiled at me.
Which he did.
That was Wednesday. This is Saturday. In this morning’s mail, Jim got the following letter from Mr. Middity:
“Dear Partners –
“In last night’s thunderstorm, a high wind blew the pens over, and your three mink escaped. I doubt if we can recover them. It’s the luck of the game. However, I have a beautiful azure blue female, a nice quiet animal that wouldn’t run away if she had the chance. I would be happy to let you have her for the sum of $200. Please let me know at once if this opportunity appeals to you, as it isn’t everybody I would take in on partnership.
“Your for bigger and better business,
Jim read the letter over the telephone to me.
“What do you think?” he asked enthusiastically.
“I think.” I replied, “it’s the same as gold mines.”
And I hung up.
Editor’s note: $140 in 1947 would be $1977 in 2020.