FTC Advisory opinion #1
Section 5, Federal Trade Commission Act.
(1) Any use of the word "chamois" in conjunction with a product
not made from (a) the skin of the Alpine antelope or (b) sheepskin fleshers
which have been oil-tanned after removal of the grain layer is unlawful and a deceptive
act or practice in commerce.
The commission was requested to express an opinion concerning the legality of describing
unsplit sheepskin as "Chamois-like Sheepskin" or "Chamois-type Sheepskin"
on the basis, it is claimed, that the product looks and feels like chamois leather, and possesses
the same qualities as the genuine product.
This problem has been before the Commission in different forms on several occasions. In each instance
the Commission has taken the position that it will prohibit the branding or labeling of leather products
as "Chamois," "Chamois Type" or "Chamois Like" unless such products are made
(a) from the skin of the Alpine antelope, commonly known and referred to as Chamois, or (b) from sheepskin
fleshers which have been oiled-tanned after removal of the grain layer.
The word "chamois" has its origin in the common name of a small goatlike Alpine antelope whose skin was
made into a soft, pliable leather used in the manufacture of glove, and for polishing such articles as glass, jewelry,
fine metals and wood. It possessed the additional feature of absorbing water readily and returning, when
dry, to its original state of softness and pliability. The animal became virtually extinct for commercial
purposes about 1890 and since that time the word acquired a secondary meaning after being widely used
commercially to designate certain leathers produced from split sheepskin fleshers.
The necessity for splitting sheepskin is to remove the impervious grain layer so as to make the underside more
receptive to tanning. Since the two layers do no stretch uniformly and will eventually rip and crumble. In any
event, irrespective of the relative merits of the many processes which may be employed to produce the leather,
the fact remains that the grain layer must be separated from the sheepskin flesher in order that an acceptable
chamois will result. This requirement the requesting partys product does not fulfill.
The claim that the subject product is equal in all respects to genuine chamois is not true, since the grain layer
has not been removed. The genuine product has become firmly established in industry and elsewhere as herein defined,
and such product is what the public is entitled to get when it purchases chamois even though the choice may be
dictated by caprice or fashion, or perhaps by ignorance. The fact that the product is equal or will serve substantially
the same purpose is wholly immaterial. F.T.C. vs. Algoma Lumber Co., 291 U.S. 67, 68, 78. To
the same effect see Benton Announcements, Inc. vs F.T.C., 130 F.2d 254.
The question posed herein is whether the word chamois might be a permissible designation
for the subject product if qualifying terms as "like" or "type" were added.
Use of the word in any manner is a representation that the product is that which has traditionally
been sold as chamois and so accepted by the public after years of buying experience. Although the
ordinary purchaser may not know how chamois is made, he is entitled to believe that the particular product
sold under that name is in fact a chamois as it is understood in the industry, and such implication cannot
be offset by qualifying words. After reading both, an ordinary consumer would still not know
the truth about the product without resort to specialized information. In other words, the capacity
and tendency to deceive through any other application of the word chamois would continue to exist.
The requesting party was advised that the definition of chamois has been firmly established
in law, in industry, and in the publics mind to mean nothing less than
those leather products made from the skin of the Alpine antelope or from the fleshers of sheepskin which have
been oil-tanned after removal of the grain layer and that any other use of the word. whether or not modified by
qualifying language, to describe leather made by other or incomplete processes would serve only to dilute its
accepted meaning and would not be in the general public interest. Consequently, to label the subject product in the
manner contemplated world be a deceptive practice and subject the requesting
party to a charge of violation of Section 5, Federal Trade Commission Act.