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[medieval-leather] Re: Status of Leather

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  • 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 1 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 2 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 3 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 4 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 5 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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