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[medieval-leather] Status of Leather

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  • Tim McGrath
    Greetings everyone, I have found this group thanks to a question I sent to Marc Carlson. He gave his answer and suggested I post it to this group... One thing
    Message 1 of 7 , Nov 18, 1999
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      Greetings everyone,
      I have found this group thanks to a question I sent to Marc Carlson. He
      gave his answer and suggested I post it to this group...

      "One thing I haven't come across is the overall status of leather in he
      middle ages. Was it considered a common place material or an expensive
      status material. Did it vary by era and culture?"

      I won't tell you Marc's answer,
      Tim ;{)}
    • rmhowe
      ... Well, I suppose it tends to depend on the availability of the critter hide in question. Bull tends to be a bit rarer... Personally, I m convinced there
      Message 2 of 7 , Nov 22, 1999
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        Tim McGrath wrote:
        >
        > Greetings everyone,
        > I have found this group thanks to a question I sent to Marc Carlson. He
        > gave his answer and suggested I post it to this group...
        >
        > "One thing I haven't come across is the overall status of leather in he
        > middle ages. Was it considered a common place material or an expensive
        > status material. Did it vary by era and culture?"
        >
        > I won't tell you Marc's answer,
        > Tim ;{)}

        Well, I suppose it tends to depend on the availability of the
        critter hide in question. Bull tends to be a bit rarer...

        Personally, I'm convinced there were lots of rat hide shoes.
        These would wear out more quickly than most, and because of coming
        with their very own pre-attached laces are rarely suspected of
        being shoes. I imagine this is because of the awl holes being
        mistaken for terrier bites. But they were plentiful and cheap.

        A new set of ratooties, precursors to the pampooties of Irish/Scots
        fame, might be as simple as clubbing an appropriately sized pair,
        slitting them from the behind the neck to the tail, pulling the
        critter out, and inserting one's feet with lots of "stuffing" to
        cure the hide. Be sure and ask Marc about "stuffing" as well.

        Being furry these were a bit warmer than the other 3-4 oz hides of
        the time and the distinctly pointy nose led to the rather extreme
        evolution of the poulaines. The little chain that used to lead from
        the poulaine's tip of the toe to the mid shin being the derivation
        of the leash of the once favorite family pet. (Let's face it -
        dogs eat a lot, and that natural jealousy would explain the insane
        rage of the terriers obvious to this day.)

        However, I feel relatively certain that the general practice died
        out with the onset of Black Death (circa 1347-51) since most of the
        proponents of this style died out when the carrier fleas mistook the
        unfortuante passing wearers for their natural hosts and hit them
        up for a free meal.

        The Scots and Irish never did entirely give up the fashion, but
        being so hard up for grub at the time couldn't stop at just the
        meat and ate the hide as well, leading to the demise of the
        ratooties and the eventual rise of the pampooties among the
        Celtic descendants. It was also simply easier to work with a larger
        piece of hide that wasn't quite as tasty. The other obvious
        advantage of this was that you didn't have to find the appropriately
        sized rats in your grain bin, you simply took a piece of charcoal
        out of the fire and traced to cut 2-3" beyond the outside of your
        big flat feet while you stood firmly on the pampered buns of an
        obliging Englishman, often found in the very same grain bin.

        In a small way, I hope this helps answer your question.

        Further information may be had by consulting the files of
        Doc Wu-Shi at the E-Z-D Institute and Home for Wayward Girls.

        Magnus
      • Ian Carlisle
        ... Very good :-) Seriously (in case Tim believes you) you would not bother with hides such as rat when you have cattle, sheep and goats being slaughtered all
        Message 3 of 7 , Nov 23, 1999
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          On 22 Nov 99, at 16:50, rmhowe wrote:

          > Tim McGrath wrote:
          > >
          > > Greetings everyone,
          > > I have found this group thanks to a question I sent to Marc Carlson. He
          > > gave his answer and suggested I post it to this group...
          > >
          > > "One thing I haven't come across is the overall status of leather in he
          > > middle ages. Was it considered a common place material or an expensive
          > > status material. Did it vary by era and culture?"
          > >
          > > I won't tell you Marc's answer,
          > > Tim ;{)}
          >
          > Well, I suppose it tends to depend on the availability of the
          > critter hide in question. Bull tends to be a bit rarer...
          >
          > Personally, I'm convinced there were lots of rat hide shoes.
          > These would wear out more quickly than most, and because of coming
          > with their very own pre-attached laces are rarely suspected of
          > being shoes. I imagine this is because of the awl holes being
          > mistaken for terrier bites. But they were plentiful and cheap.

          Very good :-)

          Seriously (in case Tim believes you) you would not bother with
          hides such as rat when you have cattle, sheep and goats being
          slaughtered all the time for meat. Cordwainers' guilds tended to be
          amongst the largest in most urban centres (I'm talking medieval
          Britain here) and the cordwainers themselves were scattered
          through the towns rather than being concentrated in a particular
          area as some other trades were. This suggests that there were an
          awful lot of shoes being made and therefore a lot of leather being
          produced. To answer the original enquiry, leather seems to have
          been plentiful and probably relatively inexpensive. Probably the finer
          leathers - alum tanned "white" leather for example - would have
          been more expensive, but your bog-standard vegetable-tanned
          calfskin was pretty cheap.

          Ian


          Ian Carlisle
          Artefact Research
          York Archaeological Trust
          01904 663034
        • Melanie Wilson
          ... been more expensive, but your bog-standard vegetable-tanned calfskin was pretty cheap. & trust me there is a lot of leather on one skin ......... as I
          Message 4 of 7 , Nov 23, 1999
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            > - would have
            been more expensive, but your bog-standard vegetable-tanned
            calfskin was pretty cheap.

            & trust me there is a lot of leather on one skin ......... as I think with
            dread os actually finishing tanning the cow hide sitting it the stable !

            Mel
          • Peter Adams
            Tim, Without serious citation, I will say that different places and different times the raw material leather was available on different levels. Certainly in
            Message 5 of 7 , Nov 23, 1999
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              Tim,
              Without serious citation, I will say that different places and different
              times the raw material leather was available on different levels. Certainly
              in the context of cities, the manufacture of leather from all sorts of
              livestock was a major industry, known for its smell and effluent- both "meat
              byproducts" - the hair, fat, and connective tissue removed from the hides
              preperatory to tanning, and the tanning baths themselves.
              There were several methods of making leather, of which I believe
              vegetable tanned leather and tawing, actually a drying process which does
              not "tan" the leather were the two most popular. Remarkably, I have seen no
              documentation for oil tanned leather (hides which have some sort of oil,
              commonly fish oil) pounded or rolled into the hide during the middle ages,
              although I have seen writings which suggest this is one if not the earliest
              leather treatments known to man.
              Leather per se was probably not all that expensive as a raw material.
              However, this is compicated by the records of the importation of Cordovan
              leather from Spain to England during a portion of the Middle ages, and
              undoubtably that leather would be more expensive.
              In many ways, Leather use in the middle ages included most of the uses
              of plastics today, because when properly treated it could make water
              resistant and water tight containers (depending on specific finishes or
              linings) flexible bags, shoes, and the like.
              Objects of leather undoubtedly were of different grades of manufacture,
              from the generic aisle to the remarkably tooled, carved, and painted. These
              would vary in price accordingly.
              The presence of leather shoes of varying quality from virtually every
              period excavated indicates that it was the standard for footwear regardless
              of clas , so to specifically answer your question, leather was not
              fundamentaly a "high status" material though it could be used to make
              objects of high quality that would only be available to the wealthy.
              Think about it in this context- you can get a pair of leather dress
              shoes for say $40, or you can spend a thousand dollars on hand made, custom
              fit Italian shoes. The materials cost varies somewhat, but not as much as
              the craft cost.
              That last is as close to an answer as I would care to essay in one
              sentance, the opposite extreme being a further discussion of specifics such
              a "rat skin shoes"<EG>

              I hope this helps you with your analysis of the folks on this list...<G>


              ----- Original Message -----
              From: Tim McGrath <tmcgrath@...>
              To: <medieval-leather@...>
              Sent: Thursday, November 18, 1999 9:34 PM
              Subject: [medieval-leather] Status of Leather


              > Greetings everyone,
              > I have found this group thanks to a question I sent to Marc Carlson. He
              > gave his answer and suggested I post it to this group...
              >
              > "One thing I haven't come across is the overall status of leather in he
              > middle ages. Was it considered a common place material or an expensive
              > status material. Did it vary by era and culture?"
              >
              > I won't tell you Marc's answer,
              > Tim ;{)}
              >
              >
              > ------------------------------------------------------------------------
              > -- Create a poll/survey for your group!
              > -- http://www.egroups.com/vote?listname=medieval-leather&m=1
              >
              >
              >
            • Robert Huff
              ... I believe somewhere in one of my books is a reference to leather being imported from al-Andalus to Christian Spain (somewhere in the Aragon/Navarra
              Message 6 of 7 , Nov 23, 1999
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                Peter Adams writes:

                > Leather per se was probably not all that expensive as a raw
                > material. However, this is compicated by the records of the
                > importation of Cordovan leather from Spain to England during
                > a portion of the Middle ages, and undoubtably that leather
                > would be more expensive.

                I believe somewhere in one of my books is a reference to
                leather being imported from al-Andalus to Christian Spain (somewhere
                in the Aragon/Navarra region???) in the 11th century (??). The
                reference (basically a schedule of tariffs) is insufficient to say
                whether or not this is a luxury item.


                Diego Mundoz
                Carolingia
              • Tim Bray
                ... My impression from the archaeological evidence is that leather was a commonplace material, with no special status or expense. It was occasionally used for
                Message 7 of 7 , Dec 2, 1999
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                  >"One thing I haven't come across is the overall status of leather in he
                  >middle ages. Was it considered a common place material or an expensive
                  >status material. Did it vary by era and culture?"

                  My impression from the archaeological evidence is that leather was a
                  commonplace material, with no special status or expense. It was
                  occasionally used for highly decorated objects, such as reliquary cases,
                  crown cases, or caskets. In these applications it appears that the
                  decoration, not the material, gave the object "status."

                  Leather was an important part of the economy in some regions; Scotland for
                  instance exported large quantities of hides.

                  I would compare leather to wood - widely available and put to almost every
                  conceivable use. In general, neither material had a high value or
                  intrinsic "status" as raw material (as compared with, say, steel, bronze,
                  brass, or even tin). Either material could, however, occasionally be used
                  for extremely high-end items (although here I think wood has the
                  advantage). Also, both leather and wood include certain varieties that
                  were esteemed and more highly valued (e.g. cordovan, boxwood) for their
                  specialty characteristics.

                  Regards,
                  Tim Bray
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