Schultz and chrome tanning
After the introduction of the Dongola tannage the Booth Group was to be involved in another technical development which was to lead to the transformation of the world leather industry. This was the initial discovery and development of what was to become the dominant tannage for the whole of the 20th century being responsible for more than 90% of the leather tanned worldwide and the requirement for tanneries to start to employ trained chemists for the first time
Curiously this had its beginnings in a New York restaurant. In New York Julius Kuttner, the North American Manager of Booth and Co. was a regular for lunch at Racky’s restaurant on Frankfort Street, one of the major original streets in the Swamp (the leather district in New York, behind Wall Street). Towards the end of the 1870s he met Augustus Schultz, who also dined there. August Schultz had been born in Germany in 1833 and was working in New York as a chemist for Kuttroff and Pickhardt, a German dyestuff importer.
Their lunch time discussions must have been very interesting and certainly ranged far beyond the weather and politics. Both were clearly of an inventive frame of mind and they discussed improvements in tannery technology. They discussed work on further fatliquors to replace egg yolk and then on leathers suited for corset making, an interest of course of Kuttner (he had worked in a corset factory in Germany). The problem with corsets was that the white alum tanned leather used at the time showed the rust from the corset steels when moistened with perspiration.
It was in this latter area that Schultz went to work and was given some access to the tannery in Gloversville, and certainly a lot of help with skins and chemicals to work on. Through his work with dyes Schultz was aware of the use of bichromate in dyeing and knew of the historic work in Germany by Knapp to make a chrome tanned leather. Working on this process using “two large goblets” he came out with two patents in 1884 for what was to be called the “two bath process”. This put bichromate in the first bath and hypo in the second reducing bath. It is not known whether this leather worked for corsets at first – it certainly did some years later – but it is known that little was done with the process in Booth and Kent in Gloversville. According to White (1956) there were some experiments carried out to use the process with kangaroos which would have been logical as they had become such an important part of the production in Gloversville.
As already mentioned kangaroos were first imported into the USA in 1860 and Newark appears to have been the chief centre of manufacture. In 1876 the Booths had skins tanned in Gloversville and sold on a commission basis by Richard Young Co. for two years after which, in 1878, they tanned them regularly in Booth and Kent and opened a store in New York for the sale and distribution of their Gloversville shoe leather. The leathers involved were gambier tanned kangaroo, gambier tanned matt kid and Dongola tanned glazed kid. The famous American boxer John L. Sullivan had worn Dongola tanned kangaroo shoes in one of his big fights and as a consequence the product had become very popular. Booth and Kent continued to make glove leather for the local market.
James Kent died in June 1886 having contracted malaria on a holiday trip to Florida. After he died further attempts were made to introduce chrome tanning into Gloversville. First Asa Bellis and then Mr. Gottschalk (a technician from Jersey City) tried to make chrome leather but with limited success.
The records available do not really explain in detail what Schultz and Kuttner did with the chrome tanning research and why it was not used in the Gloversville tannery but it is clear that Kuttner made no demand for ownership or involvement in the Intellectual Property as might happen today. Kuttner left his day job to try and commercialise the patents and there was some litigation followed between 1888 and 1992 which did not involve Booths.
Sig Saxe who later founded the Philippine Cutch Corporation was a “Morocco” leather tanner who had started making morocco out of goat using sumac, and then converted to the Dongola gambier and alum process. In 1886 he is noted as being interested in the Schultz’s chrome process and recognising that it would replace French Kid. Schultz’s chrome patents did attract a lot of interest and we do know that Schultz sold them for $25,000 before going on to research the area of domestic central heating.
As indicated by the Sax comments a major discussion within the industry at the time was the popularity of imported “French kid” which was used for the top end of ladies’ footwear. The two US leathers being used and sometimes called “imitation French kid” were Kent’s Dongola process which could be polished by glazing and was both durable and cheap, but was not so smooth and silky as the original and the “brushed kid” tanned by the old Morocco manufacturers in Philadelphia.
These tanners were using a process which involved a sumac tannage and brushing with a special “kid brush” but this leather became wet very easily and was “lacking in mellowness and richness of feel” (White, 1956, p8). It also did not take a high lustre. The French article was very expensive since it was tanned with alum and egg yolk and then aged for several months before finishing and polishing. It was silky and luxurious in feel at first wear but was not very durable.
It was logical, therefore, that this was one of the first areas where progress with the “chemical tannage” might give quick returns. While many who tried the Schultz process gave it up Robert H. Foerderer from Philadelphia persevered and noted that getting the fat-liquor right would be the key to stopping the leather becoming too hard and tough. Fat-liquoring was an essential part of the Kent Dongola process so perhaps Foerderer realized that borrowing this approach would give him success. Backed by Abe Stein of New York and Marcus Beebe of Boston Foerderer appears to have bought the patents and he successfully marketed a chrome tan kid under the brand “Vici” kid in 1889. He started to move quickly to obtain control of the Schultz patents which he succeeded in doing in 1891.
Looking back on the 1890s Charles Booth was to say that the decade saw “more progress in the art of leather manufacture than in any decade of the world.” Over the decade hide usage in the US grew by 21%, sheep consumption by 39% but goat driven on by chrome tanning and the fact that the resulting product was so good for all parts of footwear uppers grew by 1600%.
The Schultz patent was licensed out on the basis of a royalty of 12.5 cents a dozen and a $12500 annual fee; not a small fee but also hard to collect and so by 1895 there were many tanneries in Philadelphia making copies. The production of chrome kid had become a specialty of Philadelphia. There were legal challenges to the patent which initially were successful but finally on appeal the Schultz patents were supported in late 1895. The UK press was delighted: “this decision, from a commercial standpoint, must be very satisfactory to Englishmen, for it raises the price of chrome tanned leather to the same level as before, and all firms will have to pay their license to the Company of $2500.”
All appeared to be successful in a period for Philadelphia tanners which White describes as the “gold rush days of the kid industry.” (1956, p9). This glazed leather had all the qualities and none of the defects of the previous product, could be made quickly and sold at a good margin.
Meanwhile Booths had started to get back into chrome leather through buying a similar product from Richard Patswosky a tanner from New York to replace Dongola glazed kid in 1891. This was called “Bonafide” glazed kid. They gave this up in 1894 to join with John P. Mathieu of Philadelphia.
This was an important year for Booths when Julius Kuttner who was by then a partner in Booth & Co, signed a contract with John P. Mathieu, a Philadelphia tanner, to manufacture for them black glazed kid. Mathieu had succeeded in producing this leather using the “Schultz process” and had given it the trade name “Surpass Kid”. The deal made was that Booth & Co. would take the full production of 250 dozen skins daily.
Mathieu was 10 years younger than Kuttner and at the age of 30 in 1883 had set up a small Morocco leather tannery making brushed kid in Philadelphia, and then expanded in a new plant he built in Allegheny Avenue in Philadelphia in 1892. The 1894 agreement saw the closer of the downtown Philadelphia sales office of Surpass and the manager there, Albert G. Greier, move to the 6th floor of the Healy Building at 90, Gold Street New York where a sorting office was placed. Greier worked under Charles Becker who now had charge of sales of shoe leather from both Gloversville and Philadelphia.
The market was very much a sellers’ market and for a long time Surpass Philadelphia only produced black leather in one finish. J.P. Mathieu remained general manager of the Surpass and ran it along with his brother Joseph who does not seem to have had the same level of skill.
Soon the Surpass tannery was to become the largest kid skin tannery in the world, and was bought 100% by the Booths which they ran successfully on a full chromium tannage until the 1950s.
White, E.J. (1956) Surpass Leather Company Its Origins and Early History Booth News and Views, Bulletin No.15 January 1956
Thomson, R.S. (1985) Chrome Tanning in the 19th Cent, Journal of the Society of Leather Technologists and Chemists 69 No 4, 1985 July Aug
 The Leather Manufacturer, vol VI, New York, January 1 1896. “Mr Kuttner replied that considerable egg-yolk was being used in the factory at Gloversville, operated by James Kent, in which the firm Booth were interested, and that a substitute for this article would be very desirable. Schultz went to work at once to produce a satisfactory substitute but his efforts were unsuccessful. Kuttner then told Schultz that some of the alum tanned skins which were manufactured in Gloversville were used in covering the steel parts of women’s corsets; that the steel when moistened with perspiration, would rust; and the rust would strike through the leather and spoil the appearance of the corsets.” Skins were given to Schultz for him to see if he could find a way to stop this staining via a new tannage.
 Leather Trades Review, December 25 1937, p 75.
 The Leather Trades Circular and Review, February 11, 1896 p 490