I love a great looking leather handbag, I’m drawn to the beautiful styles and colours of the leather. Yet, I never stop and think about why leather is used and where it originates from. And I don’t just mean from large animals.
The Origin of Leather
Leather tanning goes back in history for thousands of years, it is believed to be one of the oldest human activities along with hunting. Our Ancestors found that the animals they hunted for food also had skins that could be used. They realised that these skins were durable and they begin making clothing, shoes and tents with them.
In the colder months the items became stiff and unusable, yet in the summer they started to rot with the heat. So they started to look at ways to make the animal hide more flexible and stronger by rubbing animal fats into the skins. It was soon discovered that drying the skins in the sun or by using salt to dehydrate, stopped the rotting process.
As the centuries passed methods to preserve and maintain have become more refined yet the basic processes are still being used today.
Uses of leather through the ages
The Egyptians tombs shows that in around 5000BC leather was used for sandals, clothes, gloves, buckets, elaborate jewellery items and even for sending off after death. It is believed that they preserved leather by using tree bark and leaves that they soaked in water to coat the hides.
The Romans used leather for footwear, clothes, military equipment, including shields, saddles and harnesses for their horses.
As the centuries passed leather became more and more popular and by the medieval times most villages had tanneries. They were located by the rivers so there was a constant source of water.
When the Tudor Boat the Mary Rose was recovered it showed that they had started to use leather for not only clothes, bags and footwear but also used for furniture. Chairs, leather cases, wall coverings and also elaborate carriages.
During the 18th and 19th century there was more demand for different leathers, lighter weight items. So new machine processes were being used to make the leather thinner, lighter weight more readily available and more durable.
Today leather continues to be a popular choice of material, it is used for so many everything items. Bags, shoes, furniture, phone cases, passport covers, wash bags, today leather can be made into just about anything. All produced in a variety of beautiful colours. It is not just used around our homes but also within the automotive, aviation and marine industries as well.
What is your favourite leather product? Mine is my beautiful tan leather handbag, that cost more than I am happy to admit to my Hubby.