Last week I had to consider the other end of this wonderful equation. For about ten years I have been a Trustee of the UK Leather Conservation Centre, a quite unique body set up many years ago to conserve leather articles of antiquity. Every year they run a number of courses for conservationists from around the world and it was one of these that I joined last week. 

It soon became clear that for items made before 1900, even hundreds of years before, we can quickly identify the leather type and the experts know how to deal with them. So for such items the outcome of conservation, or restoration (these are two different things) totally depends on the state of the article and the training of the conservator.

Yet nowadays articles much younger than a hundred years are turning up needing conservation. Upholstery on highly valued classic automobiles is typical, along with some exquisite furniture and quality leather goods. This creates problems both in the non-destructive checking of the tannage and knowing what is in the finish. Tanning, retanning and fatliquoring and then leather finishing have all advanced very rapidly in the 20th century and not always very wisely for long-term usage. One of the first leathers our group had to work on was a red automobile upholstery with a loose finish that was breaking up.

So two issues arise. How do we as an industry help colleagues who conserve valuable leather artefacts to manage the complex and ever changing leathers we produced through the 20th century? More importantly are we confident that when we make leathers today we are thinking in terms of items that will last a long time and are likely not just to be conserved in the future but will be repaired on their journey into antiquity?

It would be a dreadful thought that parts of our industry are deliberately making leathers where either the finish or the whole leather will not last very long.

Last week I had to consider the other end of this wonderful equation. For about ten years I have been a Trustee of the UK Leather Conservation Centre, a quite unique body set up many years ago to conserve leather articles of antiquity. Every year they run a number of courses for conservationists from around the world and it was one of these that I joined last week. 

It soon became clear that for items made before 1900, even hundreds of years before, we can quickly identify the leather type and the experts know how to deal with them. So for such items the outcome of conservation, or restoration (these are two different things) totally depends on the state of the article and the training of the conservator.

Yet nowadays articles much younger than a hundred years are turning up needing conservation. Upholstery on highly valued classic automobiles is typical, along with some exquisite furniture and quality leather goods. This creates problems both in the non-destructive checking of the tannage and knowing what is in the finish. Tanning, retanning and fatliquoring and then leather finishing have all advanced very rapidly in the 20th century and not always very wisely for long-term usage. One of the first leathers our group had to work on was a red automobile upholstery with a loose finish that was breaking up.

So two issues arise. How do we as an industry help colleagues who conserve valuable leather artefacts to manage the complex and ever changing leathers we produced through the 20th century? More importantly are we confident that when we make leathers today we are thinking in terms of items that will last a long time and are likely not just to be conserved in the future but will be repaired on their journey into antiquity?

It would be a dreadful thought that parts of our industry are deliberately making leathers where either the finish or the whole leather will not last very long.

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Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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