The museum’s research program uncovers information about the materials and the methods of the fur trade as it was carried on from Greenland to Alaska and from Hudson’s Bay to the Gulf of Mexico during the five centuries of active trading with native people. Then the museum’s acquisition program finds and acquires the actual artifacts needed to illustrate those diverse stories through the museum’s exhibits. The collection of over 6,000 primary objects has been gathered together one piece at a time.
The trade goods collection consists not of the things that Indians made, but of the things Indians used to make things. Native people purchased the prosaic and the exotic, the utilitarian and the superfluous. Traders provided the weapons to hunt and make war, the paint used to decorate the face, clothing, equipment, and everything in between. And all these are represented in the Museum of the Fur Trade.
The range and scope of the museum’s collection are simply dazzling. It represents every type of object exchanged by Europeans and Americans with the native people of North America. The obvious kinds of artifacts such as guns, blankets, beads, axes, knives, and kettles are represented, but many unusual goods such as gimlets, quill smoothers, playing cards, trunks, tobacco boxes, and jewelry may be seen as well. The collection includes a complete type set of trade goods sold by each nation operating in the various trading areas of North America.