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[medieval-leather] Re: Status of Leather

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  • 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 1 of 7 , Nov 22, 1999
      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 2 of 7 , Nov 23, 1999
        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 3 of 7 , Nov 23, 1999
          > - 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 4 of 7 , Nov 23, 1999
            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 5 of 7 , Nov 23, 1999
              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 6 of 7 , Dec 2, 1999
                >"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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