© 2015

Genesis III, 21

Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins and clothed them

2 million years ago

Australopithecus Habilis roamed East Africa some two million years ago and seems to have developed a diet in which meat played an increasingly significant part.  Australopithicines were not equipped with specialised teeth or claws to penetrate the tough, fibrous, outer protective layer - the skin, but artefacts indicate that they discovered that the serrated edge of a chipped stone was capable of cutting through the thickest hide.  This fundamental technological discovery led to a wider use of edged stone tools - an essential factor in the evolution of man.

2 million to 100000 years ago

Pithecanthropoid group of hominids were systematic and successful hunters.  They controlled fire and cooked their meat.  They had also developed a wider range of tools which has been shown to have been used for both butchering and skinning. Some Pithecanthropoids lived in large tent like shelters constructed by spreading skins over wooden frameworks, supported by rows of upright poles.   A fire in a central hearth warmed these dwellings.  With such a structure, the curing effect produced by drying out skins slowly would have been demonstrated.  More importantly, the mild tanning action of wood smoke would also have manifested itself.  Scraping away unwanted flesh would have distributed the fats throughout skins giving a more supple product.  Flexing the pelt while it was drying out would also have given a softer product.  It is very possible that a crude form of leather was being produced by these hominids over a million years ago.

100000 years ago

Neanderthal Man is typically associated with a wider range of specialised stone implements including a higher proportion specifically made for working the hides and skins.  The Neanderthals were skilful hunters preying on animals such as deer, horses, bears, rhinoceros or even mammoth, and had access to large quantities of hides and skins.  Neanderthal Man is associated with the last great ice age when they flourished despite the intense cold, living in skin-covered tents.  The fact that they expanded their territory into the bleak tundra regions supposes the production of warm, protective clothing had been perfected.

Neanderthal Man employed stone, horn, antler and bone for skin-working tools.  The bone implements included lower leg bones sharpened along the concave edge to give fleshing knives.  A similar range of stone and bone tools were used in an analogous manner by Native American peoples until the end of the nineteenth century.

The earliest skin remains also date from this period.

5000-2000 BC

Coloured leather, sandals, bags, and cushion and leather clothing found in Nubian tombs. (6)

3300 BC

ÖTZI dies while crossing the Alps. He was fully clothed in leather from different types of animals and with different tannages. His shoes also were leather. His coat was deerksin tanned with smoke made where the rawhides are hung in a fashion that allows the action of cold smoke to penetrate the leather or fur. The hide is then greased, dried and softened by being worked with a smooth stone, stick or even chewed. Smoke tanning produces serviceable materials, but they do not have the durability of other tanned leathers, probably why few samples have survived.  

2000 BC

Egyptian scroll, the earliest known document written in leather. (6)

1500 BC

 A scene from the tomb of Rekhmire, dating from about 1500BC, depicts skins being fleshed, steeped in large jars containing an unknown liquor and staked or softened by puling it over an implement similar to a lawn edging tool.  It is interesting to note that the finest gloving leathers are still softened in this manner using an identical implement. (Via Roy Thomson) 

1370 BC

Red leather gloves presented to Egyptian official Ay. (6)

900-700 BC

Philistine texts in Jordan on parchment made from camel skin.

800 BC

Sumerian recipe for tanning freshly slaughtered ox hide. "This skin you will take it, then you will drench it in pure pulverised Nisaba flour, in water, beer and first quality wine. With the best fat of a pure ox, the alum of the land of the Hittites and oak galls, you will press it and you cover the bronze kettle drum with it". (6)

399 BC

Socrates died by drinking hemlock, after being found guilty of "impiety". His main accuser was Anytus, who was a tanner.

206 BC - AD 220

(Han Dynasty China) Shoes found in 2002 in the Xuanquanzhi Ruins in Dunhuang, Gangsu Province. Entirely made of pigskin or sheepskin, including the sole. No difference between left and right. Men's, women's, and children's shoes have been found showing shoes were commonplace and durable at that time.

197-159 BC

Parchment (charta pergamena) first made in Pergamum (Asia Minor - Turkey, now known as Bergama). Used to build a library to match that in Alexandria. Ptolemy Philadelphus stopped the export of papyrus from Egypt, necessitating an alternate writing material. The vellum used was much more durable than papyrus and marked a distinct change in book technology. (Part of this is extracted from the Encyclopaedia Britannica)

AD 79

Pliny mentions "green gall-nuts of Aleppo" as best suited to the preparation of leather

8th Century

On the arrival of the Moors in Cordoba, in Southern Spain, two great industries are established silver and leather

9th Century

"Well known are the skins that arrive white as snow and then leave here, tanned red, bearing your name, Cordoba" Theodulfi Carmina poem

11th Century

Knowledge of tanning has spread beyond Cordoba and into Europe. Three tanning processes exist A) the oil process or chamoising; B) the mineral (alum) process or tawing; C) the vegetable process or tanning. (2)


The Magna Carta is written in England, on June 15th, a wet Monday afternoon. It sets out a legal framework between King John and his people. It was written on Vellum (parchment from calfskin) and cover one large page in abbreviated Latin. Ink from oak gals was used. 13 copies were written and four remain. One in Salisbury Cathedral, one in Lincoln castle, and two in the British Library. I have seen the one in Salisbury and it is in perfect condition and quite legible. Parts of the Magna Carta were adopted in the American, German and Russian constitutions as well as in those of many Commonwealth countries.


Marco Polo broadcasts the quality of Russian Leather, including noting the aroma from the birch-bark.


The Cordwainers Company of London received Ordinances, and their first Charter in 1439. They worked in Cordoba goatskin leather and later made shoes, leather bottles, and harness. (16)


The Saddlers Company of London received its first Charter, although it is believed to have its origins in earlier Anglo-Saxon times. The Saddlers Company was then incorporated in 1395. (16)


The Curriers Company of London received its first Ordinances. These dealt with price and quality. Further ordinances of 1415 were more general. Curriers dressed, levelled, and greased the tanned leather.


The Skinners Company received their first Charter in 1327. They were derived from two religious brotherhoods founded in the 12th and 13th centuries. The skinners controlled the fur trade and became wealthy because the wearing of furs was restricted to the upper classes as an obvious indication of dignity. (16)


After flood destroys the Ponte Vecchio in Florence tanners are not allowed back on the bridge because of the pollution and smell. They move down river to Santa-Croce sull Arno.


First written details of tanning in Igualada Spain.


The ordinances for the Guild of Glovers in London were made. Joined with the Pursers in 1498 and then in 1502 the Glovers company merged with the Leathersellers, but they separated later and the Glovers Company were granted a Charter (Letters Patent) from King Charles I in 1638. (16, 2).

Apprentices written contracts still preserved in Igualada.


Igualada begins as a tanning centre near Barcelona in Spain. In the 14th century a group of ten tanners called "La Dena" takes the decisions of approving tanners qualifications to work.


The Leathersellers Company of London received its first Ordinances for the dyeing of leather.


The butchers of London ordered to deposit skins and offal in the Bermondsey Leather Market. The industry there made use of the tidal streams and the nearby oak bark. (16)


Nottingham (England) borough records blame tanners for polluting the River Leen by laying their skins in the water "to the great detriment of the whole people aforesaid. (21)


The Worshipful Company of Leathersellers granted Charter of Incorporation in London from Henry VI.


Two strangers, Roger Heuxtenbury and Bartholomew Verberick were granted a seven years' monopoly patent in England for the manufacture of "Spanish or beyond sea leather" on the condition that the patentees should employ one native apprentice for every foreigner in their service. The supervision of this was entrusted to the "Wardens of the Company of Leathersellers in London". From "Leather for Libraries" by Hulme and others, 1905. This is important as it implies that the process was new to England. The tannage being introduced was sumach tanning from Spain, which had been developed in Cordoba. It was also important as later there was a view that oak tanning was the only vegetable tannage used in the UK. See also 1584.


John Shakespeare, the father of William Shakespeare was a "whittaner" - a worker of kid, dog and deerskin. At the family home in Stratford on Avon, a room is dedicated to showing the work he did in it to tan leather and make gloves. Nearby Woodstock was a centre of glove making, on account of the plentiful supply of deerskins. Shakespeare was himself born in 1564. His father who was a tanner and wool merchant was also sometimes money-lender. The year 1570 is memorable as in this year he was charged with lending money at illegally high rates.


The Punchmakers join the Leathersellers Company (16).


Queen Elizabeth of England settled her doctor's bills by granting one of her physicians, a Spanish Jew by the name of Roderigo Lopez, an exclusive license to import sumach and aniseed for ten years. This is revealed in Leather for Libraries by Hulme, Parker, Seymour-Jones, Davenport and Williamson, 1905. Dr Lopez was also a translator for the Portuguese pretender, Don Antonio, when he visited the UK. As a result of some misunderstanding Lopez joined a conspiracy nominally against Antonio but actually directed against the Queen. Consequently Roderigo Lopez was executed at Tyburn in 1594. Shakespeare based the character Shylock on Roderigo Lopez.

1563 and 1604

The Leather Acts. English parliamentary laws were passed which stipulated, amongst other things, that leather intended for the outer soles of shoes should be tanned for at least a year and other shoe leather for at least nine months. By the Act of 1563 curriers were forbidden to buy leather (shoemakers were intended to buy crust from tanners and take it to curriers for processing for them). The shoemakers had first asked for this and obtained legislative support for it in 1548. The Company of Cordwainers and the Company of Curriers lobbied heavily on this issue but the Curriers were unsuccessful, although between 1548 and 1563 five acts alternately allowing and prohibiting curriers from dealing in leather. The shoemakers had the upper hand in 1563 and the curriers were not successful in getting a further change in the act, although a number of them did obtain a license in 1567 allowing them to buy leather. (Discussed in "The Organisation of the English Leather Industry in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries" by L.A.Clarkson) (13).

In the 1604 Charter of the Leathersellers' Company "Spanish leather and other leathers dressed or wrought in sumach or bark" are mentioned.


Experience Miller, a tanner, arrives in New England, USA, town of Plymouth.


Francis Ingalls, from Lincolnshire, England, founds the first tannery in the USA in Lynn, North east of Boston.


The Richardson family begins tanning in Great Ayton, North East England, starting the tannery which would evolve into Edward and James Richardsons of Newcastle.


The Swamp established in Manhattan.

47 distinct tanneries to be found in Nottingham (21).


100,000 people died in London from the Great Plague. Citizens are said to have fled to the Bermondsey Leather Market area believing the smell from the works would protect them. (16) This is also recorded in Nottingham: "in particular it seems that the smell of the tan was believed to be an invaluable defense against the Plague, and whenever this malady made its appearance the wealthier citizens used to take up their residence in the vicinity of Narrow Marsh, in order to avail themselves of its protection.. (21)


William Richardson of Great Ayton, North East Yorkshire started tanning. Based on local sheepskins and hides, this was rather a part-time business linked with farming. In 1701 he moved to Whitby on the North Sea and added tanning of seal-skins brought in by whalers. They continued to expand and moved to Newcastle in 1780. The tannery was eventually to become famous as E&J Richardson.


Igualada's tanners Guild was set up, made up of the tanners, the curriers, the glove and the belt makers.


The Glovers of Worcester (England) stated that their employees were "decrepit and unfit for any other employment" (Commons Journals, XII, 16).


The leather industry in London was granted a Charter by Queen Ann and Bermondsey became the major leather-making centre. The Bermondsey Leather market was a large roofed square piled high with skins in the centre of a large block of buildings. (16)


In 1727 the Irish Parliament presented William Maple, chemist, of Fishamble Street, with £200 "as an encouragement for discovering a new method of tanning leather by a vegetable, the growth of this kingdom;" on which he published in 1729 a pamphlet of 39 pages, under the title of "A Method of Tanning without Bark." The proposed substitute for bark was the root of tormentilla erecta, or septfoil, called [two old Irish words missing. KF] by the native Irish, who appear to have been acquainted with its chemical properties long previous to Maple's era. Maple was subsequently one of the originators of the Dublin Society, to which he acted as Secretary and Registrar till his death in 1762, at the age of 104 years.

Partly from history of Dublin (1766) and partly from J. T. Gilbert, Vol.1. I of his Dublin Chronicles (1854).


The RSA (The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce) was founded in London. "On the formation of this Society, most of the manufactures of the kingdom, which depended upon chemical knowledge, were at a very low ebb in comparison with their present state; and the first attention of the Society was directed towards ..... the tanning of leather, and the invention of substitutes for oak bark in this process; to the preparation of Morocco leather of different colours"

The Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 3 article "morocco" describes the process of sumach tanning skins by sewing them up into bottles and allowing the fluid extract to penetrate the fibre by pressure.


The Richardson family of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, build their first tannery in Great Ayton.


Sir William Johnson brought 60 tanners and glovemakers to the Gloversville area of New York State from Perth in Scotland


Dr McBride of Dublin (Phil trans 1778) introduced sulphuric acid for heavy leather tanned with vegetable tannins in place of the organic acids derived from fermenting bran or rye. He argued that it gave more precise control, that the skins were better plumped, thus less susceptible to bacterial damage, and that the whole process could be shortened. After the Dublin tanners adopted this, the Bermondsey (London) tanners soon followed. Sulphuric acid then began to expand into lighter leathers tanned with vegetable and when aniline dyes were introduced about 1870 sulphuric acid was universally used to clear the skins before dyeing.

This was a big issue for book-binders as this acid created a tendency for book bindings to rot. Another problem was the use of catechol tannins (hemlock, larch, gambier) which color red and disintegrates when rubbed - called 'red decay".


British patent 893 from 29th February 1768 is the first patent for a "Tanning drum". From leather manufacture through the ages.


Iron Tannage. J.Johnson, an Englishman, patented a process of tanning, using ferrous sulphate with an acid (sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid, or nitric acid). The pelt was tanned in three operations, in the middle of which a vegetable tannin was used. (12)


Leathermakers Guild of Vic (Barcelona) awarded the professional diploma permitting Colomer Company to begin activities.


29 saddlers and harness makers in Walsall, England.


Discovery of catechu by Humphrey Davy. Davy did not patent his inventions or technology but viewed it as a donation to the benefit of mankind.


Invention of the splitting machine by Samuel Parker. Mr. Parker was from Billerica, MA, USA. The patent date (July 9th) is 1808, but most references take 1809 as the date of invention.


Talmadge Edwards begins manufacture of leather gloves in Johnstown, NY.


Walsall (England) Curriers described as "producing the most beautiful brown and jet black colours...(they) have the pre-eminence in this particular branch of their manufacture"


Sir Humphrey Davy elected President of the Royal Society. Most famous for his invention of the safety lamp for miners, Sir Humphrey (knighted in 1812) also did considerable research in tanning, particularly related to the use of gambier. "A special study of tanning: he found catechu, the extract of a tropical plant, as effective as and cheaper than the usual oak extracts, and his published account was long used as a tanner's guide." (From adventures in Cybersound, Sir Humphrey Davy 1778-1829 www.cinemedia.net). The work of Sir Humphrey was published in 1805 and showed that mimosa, chestnut, and hemlock amongst others could be used in addition to oak. This greatly aided the development and expansion of the American tanning industry.


William Walker and Sons Ltd. Founded in Bolton as tanners and curriers, manufacturing leather belting and leather accessories. They closed in the 1970's after being bought by the Barrow Hepburn Group.


First written records of the Pittard Company in Yeovil, Somerset, UK.


A glove maker from Grenoble, France brought about a revolution in glove making. Xavier Jouvin invented a system which "consisted of the establishment of rational methods adapted to the different sizes of hands, thus enabling the maker to produce exact fitting gloves. The scissors were replaced by the "main de fer" (iron hand), the proportions of which were carefully calculated for each size. From The Leather Trades Review, 11th August 1948. p 287.

Claytons of Chesterfield (Derbyshire) founded making industrial leathers 

Andrew Muirhead and Sons Glasgow founded. 


Child workers in the UK Leather Industry earn between two and eight shillings per week.


Freudenberg tannery begins in Germany, with the purchase of a tannery in Weinheim by Carl Joann Freudenberg.


The invention of the sewing machine changes the nature of the leather using industries.


William Henry Perkins discovered the first synthetic dye "mauve" and created the basis of dyestuff manufacture from coal tar products. He had actually been trying to synthesize artificial quinine. The dye went on sale in 1857, and started a fashion craze for the colour in France and the UK. His father was a leather merchant. Read: Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World by Simon Garfield.


The action of chromium salts upon hide substance was first studied by Knapp, but his investigations led him to conclude that their application was of no practical value. (12)


Walden (USA) and Alfred Booth (Liverpool, UK) founded company to export light leather from UK to USA.


Dr Frederick Knapp, Professor of the Polytechnic School of Braunschweig, Germany made a thorough investigation of mineral tannages. His British patent 2,716 (1861), through John H. Johnson, covered iron, chrome, manganese, and other metallic salts in combination with fatty acids to form insoluble metallic soaps, so that the iron in the pelt might not be washed out. (12)

Edward and John Turney, brothers, founded the Tannery on the River Trent in Nottingham which flourished to become a limited company, Turney Brothers Limited, in 1881.


Walden becomes incapacitated and Walden and Booth dissolved Alfred Booth and Company, Liverpool and Booth and Company, New York established. (7)

Edward and James Richardson build their Elswick Tannery on the River Tyne in Newcastle. In 1890 Henry R. Procter joined them and worked there until being asked to establish the Chair of Tanning at Leeds University. Richardsons were one of the first to manufacture chrome leather in the UK. They called this Grained Chrome hide, and it was on this basis that Scotch and other important Grained Chrome leathers were patterned.


Vienna Research Institute - the first leather research institute was founded.


Augustus Schultz, chemist, of New York, USA starts development of chrome tannage using bichromate, subsequently patented (two bath process) in 1884.


3492 saddlers and harness makers employed in Walsall (England) plus 430 tanners and curriers


Kopenhagen Leather Research Institute was founded, Also Napoli Leather Research Institute.


Booth and Company purchase Messrs Kent and Stevens In Gloversville, New York, exploiting John Kent's invention of the Dongola tannage on Ceara goatskins (shipped from Brazil by the Booth Line) and kangaroo. Extended details of the tannage are contained in the glossary section.


Henry Richardson Procter establishes his laboratory in Edward and James Richardson Ltd. in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. (23)


First serious marketing of chrome tanned leather under the brand name "Surpass" by Booth and Company in a joint venture with J.P.Mathieu of Philadelphia USA.


The Leather Industries Department was instituted at the Yorkshire College in Leeds. To become the Procter Department in the University of Leeds

Between 1891 and 1911 BASF set up their leather dyeing laboratories.

Walsall (UK) Tanner E.T.Holden elected as Walsall MP (Member of Parliament).


Martin Dennis patented the "single-bath" chrome tanning process in the USA. In 1999 we had the opportunity to correspond indirectly with Mrs. Van Liew of Long Island who was a tanner's wife (West Winfield Tannery) and whose father in law worked as a partner in the Martin Dennis Company Chrome business. The Martin Dennis Company was based in Newark. They imported the ore from Africa and had twelve ovens making the tanning agent. The Schultz patents were owned by the Tannage Patent Co of Philadelphia who worked a system of licenses and royalties, and the Dennis patents were owned by the Martin Dennis Company who made the material under the brand name "Tanolin" and sold it out right to tanners without royalty.


Dr Gordon Parker becomes a founder member of the International Association of Leather Trades Chemists. Described as a leading commentator on the leather trade he lectured to the British Association in Bristol in 1898, referring to the backwardness in the British Industry compared to both Germany and the United States (14). The other founder members were Prof. H.R.Proctor and Alfred Seymour Jones. At a three day leather industry meeting in London (September 28-30) Procter, Seymour-Jones, Parker, and C.E.Parker also established the UK Society of Leather Trades Chemists (later to be renamed the Society of Leather Technologists and Chemists). Dr Perkins, who discovered synthetic dyes chaired the meeting.

Frieberg Leather Research Institute was founded. 

A 15% duty was imposed on hides imported to the USA. Called the Dingley Tariff. (13)


Joseph Turney Wood discovers artificial bates.


R Foerderer and E.L. White perfect the Schultz method of chrome tanning.


Dr Otto Rohm got involved in the replacement of natural bates after getting ill from the tannery smell. Developed "Oropon" (juice) and started Rohm and Haas. Later to be more famous for Plexiglas (polymethylmethacrylate).


The Leathersellers Company of London equipped and built the National Leathersellers College in London. (It had previously organised from 1895 a technical school for leather at Herald's Institute in Bermondsey).


Edmund Stiasny invented the first syntan in Darmstadt, where he was Professor.


Glove cutters strike for more pay in Gloversville, New York.


British Leather Manufacturers Research Association Founded.


Alfred Booth and Company purchase the Pavlova Leather Company of Abingdon, England.


Tanners Council of America established in New York.


The 'Semaine du Cuir' was created in 1926 by an association of leather professionals and it was the origin of the Conseil National du Cuir. Until nearly the end of the 20th century this was by far the most important Leather Fair in the world. As the century ended the APLF in Hong Kong had taken over; while Lineapelle in Bologna twice a year has increased in importan as well.


The process of homeworking came to an end in the US Glove Industry, after about 100 years. Homework continues in the UK and Germany on a small scale into the 21st century.


Kaiser Wilhelm Institut fur Lederforschung Dresden destroyed by bombs.


After being destroyed in 1945 the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut fur Lederforschung Dresden was reopened as the Max Planck Institute in Regensburg and moved to Munich in 1957.


Westdeutsche Gerberschule in Regensnburg was founded and relocated in Reutlingen in 1954.


Igualada Tanning School opens.


Du Pont launches Corfam to replace shoe leather.

Karl Toosbuy founds ECCO, the Danish casual footwear company.


Pou Chen, one of the largest shoemakers in the world, and important supplier to Nike and Adidas, founded in Taiwan as a maker of PVC sandals and slippers.


Du Pont sells off Corfam plant to Poland.


Edward and James Richardson, Elswick Leather Works, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England closes the door for the last time.


Walsall Leather Museum (UK) Opened by HRH The Princess Royal, in former Lorinery Factory of J.Withers and Sons (opened in 1891).


At an ITC sponsored meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, the Pan-African Leather Industries Association is established.


With 95 leather companies, of which 65 are saddlery manufacturers, Walsall has greatest concentration of saddle makers in the world.


Pearces of Northampton, UK, closed their doors for the last time.

In December 2001 Salz Leather of S.Cruz, California ceased production. They were founded in 1861.


Pearces of Northampton, UK, closed their doors for the last time.
In December 2001 Salz Leather of S.Cruz, California ceased production. They were founded in 1861.


Freudenberg of Germany announces the termination of all their leather manufacturing.
In February 2002 Prime Tanning of US sold its remaining 50% in Prime Asia to Pou Chen, its Taiwanese partner.
ECCO open their new Leather Research and Development Centre in Dongen, alongside the Corle wet blue operation which they bought in 2001, renamed ECCO Tannery Holland and expanded and modernised.


ECCO open their new tannery in Xiamen in China.  State of the art and a wonderful example of what a positive approach can achieve.

the University of Northampton celebrate 100 years of leather education in Northampton, loosely linked to the opening of Leathersellers College in London in 1908. Leathersellers moved to Northampton and combined into what isnow called the Institute of Creative Leather Technology


Northamptonshirelleather.com website launched demonstrating that the are still has more than 100 companies still involved in the leather trade.


At a celebration in Northampton in June 2011 the Museum of Leathercraft exhibitions in Abington Museum Northampton were opened to the public.  Hopefully the start of getting all the items on show, If i have linked correctly this is a little video about the MoL:  Video


A new tannery is announced to be built in the USA


Claytons of Chesterfield agree to buy Sedgwicks tannery of Walsall, both in England