HISTORY OF LEATHER
Ask the Shopkeeper
THOUGHTFUL ANSWERS TO COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS
HISTORY OF LEATHER
Leather has been around as long as people needed clothes—for cover and for warmth.
Animal skins have been used to satisfy the basic needs of clothing, shelter, floor covering and ceremonial garb.
The Egyptian woman prized fur as much as her jewelry.
As civilizations grew, the use of leather expanded to footwear, belts, containers for wine and water, boats and armor.
In fact, the Roman soldier standard issue was a heavy leather shirt.
EARLY TANNING METHODS
Turning a hide into a functional material requires stopping the decay and softening the leather for workability.
Smoke, grease and bark extracts were early forms of tanning. Secrets were often passed down from father to son and recipes for tanning were closely guarded.
Early methods of tanning involved stretching the hides on the ground and rubbing them with animal brains and fats as they dried.
The smell emanating from this approach kept friends at a distance and was only marginally effective.
Some observant primitive guy noticed how well preserved a dead animal became lying on the forest floor.
Using the smoke from wood-burning fires and treating the hides with an mixture of barks, leaves, fruits and twigs quickly became the best, and neighbor-friendly, approach.
This technique has been refined and is still a choice method today. The use of bark from certain trees to tan leather is called vegetable tanning due to the natural wood fibers used in the process.
MIDDLE AGES TO END OF NINETEENTH CENTURY
During the middle ages, guilds of leather craftsman were formed. Royal charters were issued authorizing the tanning of leather to guild members.
Most towns had a tanner, located near a river or stream.
Look on a map and evidence of their location can still be seen in street names like Bark Street, Tanner Street, or Leather Lane.
By the end of the nineteenth century, chrome tanning was introduced—using salts and chromium metal.
The demand for a new process was necessitated by the need for more soft and supple leathers.
The invention of the motor car, a rise in the standard of living, the need for lightweight and fashionable footwear, each were demanded by a new consumer.
Eighty to ninety percent of all leather tanning, excluding leather used in the soles of shoes, uses the chrome-tanning process.
The stiffness and durability of the vegetable-tanned leather is by far the best choice for walking the streets.
Leather goes through its final preparation at a tannery. Various chemicals, dyes, waxes and finishing techniques are used to meet the needs of specific industries.
Hides can be sourced from one country and tanned in another, depending on the specific trade restrictions.
According to the World Statistical Compendium for raw hides and skins, leather and leather footwear 1993-2012: The eight countries that produce the most leather are, in order, China, Brazil, Italy, Russia, India, South Korea, Argentina and the United States.
Recent experiments in biofabrication report success in growing leather from skin cells in laboratory trays.
Currently, the process takes about six weeks to make a square foot of leather that is fully finished and ready for production. Fans of the process favorably compare it to the two to three years it takes to raise an animal–feeding it and providing shelter.
Another company is developing leather made solely from mushrooms.
Personally, we think mushrooms are better on pizza.