Ridiculous Prices for Fancy Chicken Feathers (Cree)
Necks and saddles selling in retail shops for $300 to $500 sounds rather crazy at first but I kind of get it too. Now I would never buy a $500 cape or saddle and question who is but apparently people are or they would not be selling for those prices. And based on how the inventory changes, they are selling.
Rather than read what I have to write, listen to Kelly Galloup (The Slide Inn) talk about cree hackle and how hackle is priced by color these days...
Probably like you, my first reaction was something like, "Are you kidding me? $500 for fancy chicken feathers?!" I used another word or two but I am trying to swear a bit less, in text at least...
The fancy chicken feather world strikes me as being a lot like the Bourbon world - a topic I wrote about over a year ago (A Pox on Collectors). Bottles of "Pappy" sell on the secondary market for thousands of dollars and had lead to theft and counterfeitering. This is for a Bourbon - and a host of other Buffalo Trace products like Eagle Rare and their flagship, Buffalo Trace - that was once quite easily found on shelves by "normies" like me and not hard-core "Bourbon hunters". I used to fairly regularly find bottles of Buffalo Trace for twenty-ish dollars and Eagle Rare for around thirty dollars. I have not seen a bottle of either in years. Maybe some day this will become a modern day "Tulip Mania" - another story of prices gone crazy?
Cree has always been an outlier, in part because they are rare and they are "cool" so they have always been more sought after. As with nearly any fad - for lack of a better, more descriptive word - there is a certain illogical basis behind it. It is, after all, not all cree that is selling for several times that MSRP of other colors of necks and saddles; rather it is really just the Whiting Farms lines. I have two cree capes - one the old Metz pictured above and the other, a newer Metz pictured below. I bought each of them at MSRP. My cree capes tie good flies (well, the old one has pretty twisted stems so it is a little harder to tie good flies with) and on the hook you probably could not tell if I used the Metz cree neck I paid $35 for or a Whiting cree I could have paid 10 times or more for.
Slowly the craziness of the cree market is moving to other colors too. I have always been a fan of the grizzly and barred hackles - I think they give the fly a natural look and they build the illusion of movement into the fly. Some of the dark barred ginger, Champagne, and variant necks and saddles are selling for somewhat similar prices. But is it really all that crazy? After all, it is largely supply and demand, is it not?
There is a lively discussion online about the mark up at retail stores from both fancy chicken feathers and fancy Bourbon. On the one hand, it is supply and demand. If people are selling capes and saddles that they bought from a store at MSRP for several times what they paid for them, why shouldn't the stores simply raise their prices to reflect that supply and demand? That is how capitalism is suppose to work, right? Why should a fly shop lose out on significant potential profit so somebody can buy it from them at MSRP and then sell it at a significant profit themselves?
On the other side of the argument is that it is price gouging and because of how hackle is sold, a few stores have the market cornered. Most shops will never see a Whiting or Hebert Miner cree saddle so most tyers will never be able to get their hands on one without paying crazy prices. This is much like how I will never see nor get my hands on many of the allocated bottles of Bourbon. And people arguing against the price increases by retailers would argue that it is price gouging because the cree saddle they are selling for $200, $300, or more are not paying a higher wholesale price to Whiting for that cape. Or maybe they are now?
It is really capitalism at its finest, for better or worse. Want prices to go down for these highly coveted feathers? Stop coveting them. Illogical, I know but how logical is it to pay $350 for a Whiting cree saddle when the trout do not care? Want to find a bottle of Pappy on a store shelf for MSRP again? People have to stop buying it at ridiculous prices. Prices will stay a lot like this so long as demand stays as it is. It is not the shops that are driving the prices up - it is our demand for them.
The demand is rather nuts - but let's face it, everyone reading this would love to own a Whiting cree. Or even just be able to find a good Metz, Root River, Sideling Hill, Collins, or other producer's cree. There is really nothing that special about cree. I mean, sure it is rare, but if as trout anglers and fly tyers, we really care about catching fish, cree does next to nothing to make that happen. The Adams - parachute or traditional - works just as well tied with the traditional grizzly and brown hackles. And it works just a well with barred ginger, many variants, or other fancy chicken feathers. I would never pay those crazy prices - but so long as others do, the prices will continue to be crazy and we are all to blame. Or maybe it is just the nature of the beast. Beanie Babies and Topps baseball cards are not the crazy fad they once were. We shall see what happens but I don't see any changes anytime soon.