The Story of Leather

early_leather

Leather has been used for thousands of years. It was among the first tools invented and used by early man. Initially, its’ main purpose was designed for improving the functionality, effectiveness and accuracy of tools already in use. It was later discovered that leather could also be extremely beneficial in protecting the human body from environmental conditions. Thus leather became popular as footwear and heavy clothing to protect the body from adverse weather and traversing terrain.

As animals became more domesticated and useful in food production, construction and transportation, leather once again played an integral role in controlling these beasts. It was determined that leather could be made strong enough to withstand the strain and tension of pulling heavy weights as well as directing the actions of the animals being employed.

The tanning processes initially used were very crude and, by todays standards, extremely disgusting! Ancient tanneries were almost always located well away from cities and towns due to the terribly foul smells that were produced. Many times, raw hides were simply piled up for months to rot and putrefy so that the hair could be removed before tanning.

Old Style Dyeing Method
Old Style Dyeing Method

The actual tanning process used materials such as animal and human urine and feces. At one point, public pots called ”piss pots” were placed on street corners to collect urine from the town-folk for use in the tanning process. Thus came the old saying: “don’t have a pot to piss in!” which signified a very poor economic situation. Thus, leather was generally considered as a “practical” product, useful only for daily use items such as tooling, weaponry, harnesses and work clothing. The care of these items was not particularly important at the time since leather was such a common commodity. The use of products such as “neatsfoot” oil or other types of animal fats, saddle soap and other materials were sufficient for the care and cleaning of leather articles.

old_shoe

Leather did not become a “luxury” or “status” material until much later in history. It has been only within the last 100 years that the reputation of leather has dramatically changed. With the advent of plastics and other “man-made” materials, leather began to lose its’ appeal.

newshoe

Production methods of these new materials was much cleaner, easier and less repulsive. Leather was given a “back seat” to these new materials and, in many applications, began to be replaced. However, the realization that leather does play an integral part in our daily lives, was never forgotten, and leather continued to be used, just not as universally. Tanning methods and procedures were transformed. Salt and Lime methods became more implemented, desired and efficient. Public acceptance of leather snowballed and leather began to acquire a more prestigious, luxurious roll.

Tanning processes have evolved even more so within the last 30 years and have become much more environmentally favorable and publicly accepted. There are many different processes and chemicals used for tanning of the hide. These are determined by numerous factors:

Tanning
vegetable-tan

The tannery or “beamhouse” that is making the leather, the environment within which the beamhouse operates, the buyer of the finished leather hide, the type of leather being manufactured, the end purpose of the leather and a whole lot of other factors. The chemicals used in the process have dramatically changed to meet environmental and safety issues, most of which have been imposed by governmental regulation.

tanning2
tanning-machine

Public opinion has embraced these changes and created a high demand market for leather items. For concise information on this subject, check out this article  it is one of the best and most accurate that I have found.

Leather has earned its’ present reputation as a luxury, status type product, and the ownership of these items has come to be prestigious and desirable.  As such, all of us own leather items in one form or another; belts, clothing, purses & handbags, billfolds, shoes, all the way to furniture and automobile interiors.  We appreciate the value and luxury of leather and we all want to make it last and retain its’ usefulness as long as possible. Care and maintenance products have become much more in demand and also much more sophisticated so as to stay compatible with the new processesing methods and chemistry.  Read deeper into this web site and you will find a wealth of information regarding the care, maintenance and repair of all types of leather along with products that are formulated to perfectly match the processes and chemistry of todays standards of leather production.

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