WHAT IS A KOLINSKY?...
The Kolinsky is a weasel-like critter about fifteen inches long with a large bushy tail of about eight to ten inches. He has reddish-brown fur and lives in Siberia and northern China, usually along rivers in forest areas. He is a vicious predator of rodents, squirrels, and rabbits which he pursues relentlessly, but he also eats insects and fruit. He is extremely agile, with both swimming and tree-climbing abilities. Unfortunately (for the Kolinsky), his beautiful fur is highly valued and he has been trapped since the mid sixteenth century. Kolinsky fur is the most desirable in the fur industry (as well as the most expensive)- and couldn't you guess, the very best hair for Artist Brushes! Scanning a Kolinsky hair from root to end, we see that its diameter becomes larger near the middle, and then tapers off to a fine point at the end. When many of these hairs are set together in a bundle to make an artist brush, the bulges add to form a distinctive 'belly'. An artist's extremely fine control of color is attributed to this belly. The other, equally important characteristic of a Kolinsky brush, is its ability to always snap back to a fine point. This is made possible by the great resilience of Kolinsky hair grown in very cold climates. No brush compares with the Kolinsky for control and resilience; it is the ultimate in artist brushes! There is one limiting factor and that is size. Most Kolinsky brushes run up to size 12, some go to 14, and a few go higher. Only the older animals have long enough hair for these sizes, and their longer tails drag on the ground, roughing up the precious hair. Long Kolinsky hair of top quality is scarce, and expensive. Even though the Kolinsky has a very specific place in the formal hierarchy of the Animal Kingdom, there is an unbelievable amount of confusion as to where it fits in and who its 'cousins' are. This is due, in no small part, to the very loose usage of common names established through tradition, as well as the brash misnomers being used today. The 'scientific' name of the Kolinsky is Mustela siberica . This name consists of a combination of the GENUS ( Mustela ) and the SPECIES ( siberica ) at the bottom of the formal hierarchy. If we trace the Kolinsky down from the top of the hierarchy, the PHYLUM is Vertebrata (internal skeleton), the CLASS is Mammalia (mammals), the ORDER is Carnivora (flesh-eating), the FAMILY is Mustelidae (weasels, etc.), and the GENUS is Mustela . The Mustelidae family includes two genus: the Mustela and the Martes. Species in the Mustela genus include the: siberica (Kolinsky), lutreola (Mink), erminea (Ermine), navilas (Weasel), putorius (Polecat or Fitch), and the furo (Ferret). The Martes genus includes the: martes (Pine Martin), meles (Badger), lutra (Otter), pennant (Fisher), and zibellina (Sable). The common names of brushes in the Art World are not as formal, to say the least! For example, a 'Camel Hair' brush may be made of Pony hair and/or any hair but Camel, 'Sabeline' brushes are made of dyed Ox hair, while 'Erminette', 'White Sable', 'Taklon', etc. brushes are made of synthetic (polymer) filaments. Traditionally, brushes made of Kolinsky are called 'Kolinsky Red Sable' or just 'Kolinsky' while the name 'Red Sable', 'Fine Sable' or 'Sable' is reserved for non-Kolinsky brushes made from the hair of other animals in the weasel FAMILY, usually the Weasel ( Mustela navilas ). It is interesting to note that various dictionaries and other reference books define the Kolinsky as a 'Siberian Mink', 'Asian Mink', 'Tartan Sable', 'Red Sable', or most officially (F&WL), the 'Siberian Weasel'. The very best Kolinsky brushes are made with hair from the tail of the male animal, winter coat . Although Kolinskies are also found in northern China and northern Japan, the best hair is from animals in the northern-most parts of Siberia. Kolinskies must be trapped in the wild as opposed to raised on fur farms as Mink are today. Also, the fuss and expense of bringing Kolinsky hair into the U. S. is no small matter. The Kolinsky is on the endangered species list , requiring very special paper work for the U. S. Customs and the Fish And Wildlife Agency, not to mention special licenses and fees. All of this makes Kolinsky brushes expensive and many devious approaches have been used to market them at a lower price. A common approach is the use of lower-grade Kolinsky hair- not from the male, not from the tail, and/or not from a winter coat. Such brushes will not perform well, but can still be called Kolinsky! Another approach is to mix less expensive animal or synthetic hair with the Kolinsky hair. This is difficult to detect, but an experienced artist will note the lower performance immediately. Other approaches include skimping on sizes like making a 10 the size of a traditional 8, etc., or skimping on hair length; not having enough hair inside the ferrule for good performance. Finally, and with increasing occurrence in recent times, we find brushes offered as Kolinsky but made with hair of another animal! What is a 'European Kolinsky', a 'Marten Kolinsky'? Manufacturers obtain the hair for their brushes from hair dealers, who, in turn, get hair in a rough state (pelts, tails, etc.) through the fur industry. The hair dealers 'dress' (de-grease, clean, etc.) the hair, grade it, and bundle it by size and weight. A brushmaker is then offered the different grades and mixtures. If he is not careful, however, he may unknowingly receive summer coat instead of winter coat, or other hair mixed in with the Kolinsky hair. The law that protects endangered species - The Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1973-1977 - is strictly enforced by the Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Agency. However the law that attempts to protect consumers (like artists) against misrepresentation - The Fur Products Labeling Act of 1952-1980 - is evidently not taken seriously in the area of Artist-Brushes.
Copywrite 1998 Harry Kalish
Around January 2004 I was happy to find, on the internet, an excellent wildlife list that the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) / WCMC (World Conservation Monitoring Centre) had put up. However when I looked up 'Kolinsky', there was no such common name !!! I sent them my comment as follows: I'm very happy to be able to use your listed-species database. I have been searching the libraries for many years trying to find an authoritative hierarchical list of mammals. Our small business designs fine artist brushes and has them made in a small factory in Ireland. Our finest brushes are made with hair of the Mustela siberica and, of course, they are shipped to us with the proper CITES. The common name of this mammal is "Siberian Weasel" according to your list and a few of the many encyclopedias / dictionaries I looked at. My concern is that your list does not mention the "Kolinsky" as a common name even though it is thoroughly established in fine art painting for many years - well over a century ! Every painter knows that brushes made with Kolinsky hair out perform all others. Thank you for your attention- Harry Kalish And the reply..... Dear Harry We have added Kolinsky to our database. With best wishes Sarah