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Object Detail

A fur cape made from the pelts of bush rats. Rectangular sections of fur stitched together to short, shoulder cape. Lined with pale purple, floral material.
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Rats and romance do not normally go together but this rat fur cape may have helped a possum trapper snare his wife.

This one-off cape was fashioned from the skins of bush rats trapped by Mick Murphy on Mount Taranaki from 1939 -1940. Murphy, who was employed as a possum trapper, sent the skins to a furrier in Palmerston North who made the cape.

Puke Ariki's records are silent on Murphy's motivation for all this effort but recent research suggests a romantic link.

A possum trapper would not have the money to woo his girl with mink and perhaps even his possum skins were too valuable, so it makes sense he had to find a cheaper source of pelts to make his girl feel special. And it seems this unconventional romantic gesture may have worked.

A photograph from Puke Ariki's Swainson - Woods collection records the marriage of a Mr M (H) Murphy to Winufreda in 1945, just a few years after the cape was made.

Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has a similar coat in their collection, although theirs is made from water rats rather than mountain rats. See  for information about their similar example.
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Fantastic object and across the ditch we have a beautiful water-rat fur coat made for a young bride.

- Lynne McNairn

Posted on 12-02-2014 22:55:11