Hide Tanning 1769

Here are some images from hide tanning workshops from Diderot’s Encyclopedia, 1769 that I found interesting as a leather worker and occasional hide tanner.

Tools for the tanner, the beam, currier knife, slick, tub, and the heater. From the Encyclopedia of Sciences, Arts and Trades, Diderot and D’Alembert.

Chamoiseur, From the Encyclopedia of Sciences, Arts and Trades, Diderot and D’Alembert.

If you have done any hide tanning you’ll recognize the tools of the trade.  Not much changes for the small-time home tanner.

From the Encyclopedia of Sciences, Arts and Trades, Diderot and D’Alembert.

I suspect this is some hot and smelly work and judging by the way they’re dressed it is a hot room.  The only large traditional tannery I have visited was in Morocco and it had an odor on a hot summer day that hit you like a brick wall.  I’m not sure what they’re doing with the fire at this stage but maybe adding some amount of smoke rather than heat.

Any thoughts or insights?

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Leatherworking Images from the Middle Ages

Some things never really change…

While looking through my image archive I came upon some leather working illustrations dated to the early 15th century.  All but one of the images below is from the extremely informative Mendel manuscript dated 1425 created at Nuremberg, in what is now Germany.

Nuremberg ca. 1648

Creating leather from animal hides has been an important process for many thousands of years with various types of leather created dependent upon the intended use (e.g., shoes, belts, gloves, parchment, shields, ties, lariats, etc.).  Creating quality leather from a hide not only requires in-depth knowledge of the process, a little chemistry, and a little bit of hard labor.

These illustrations are an invaluable snapshot in time and space of tradesmen plying their skills.  We can learn from these.  I’ve arranged the selected images below in an order that makes sense to me from the processes I have used or seen over many years.  In  my short journey to Morocco many years ago I was lucky to wander through the ancient tannery there and see leather being produced and products made on a remarkable scale in ways that have probably not changed in several millennia.  That is what we see below.

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Furrier – The furrier is sorting what appear to be “hair on” skins either for sale or for making warm clothing.  This was northern Europe after all.  The tradition of trapping or hunting fur-bearing animals is probably as old as human’s time in cold climates.

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Soaking the hides –  The first step in making leather often involves soaking the hide to hydrate it, sometimes even promoting a brief spell of bacterial growth to “slip” the hair.  Most leather manufacturers, however, want to prevent any contamination and use other methods to swell the hide by adding caustic lime (a.k.a. slaked lime, slack lime, limewater, or Ca(OH)2). This tub might be a tanning tub containing tannins from plant material (hence the name “tanning”).

Mendel_flesher

De-hair and fleshing (a.k.a. drudgery on a pole) – The man above is de-hairing a sheep skin on a fleshing beam; a fairly dull and not very fun project for me.  My face probably resembles his when I do this task more than a few times in a row.  He will then flip the skin over and clean the membranes, fats, etc. from the flesh side before a second bath in the caustic solution.  For parchment, I understand that there was only a partial rinse after this but for soft and supple leathers, the skin is rinsed thoroughly to neutralize the pH then treated in a low pH (acidic) bath to make true tanned leather.

Mendel_parchement maker

Final Scraping in the Frame – Skins are often stretched on a frame to dry and further scraped for a consistent and smooth surface.  The hide above is destined to be parchment so it must be a perfect as possible.

What does all this become?

Just as today, people need and use leather for its plasticity, strength, and durability.

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Here we see a cordwainer making shoes.  It looks like he in the midst of attaching a sole while sitting at his workbench.  The simple tools of the trade are laid in front of him and some finished shoes are displayed behind.  Patterns or forms hang on the wall and his pail, probably for water, sits at his feet.

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Our workman above is showing leather hose, a popular bit of clothing in its day.

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The purse maker is doing a bit of fancy work while his scraps lie beneath his feet; a nice detail.

furrier thong cutter

I’m not sure what this guy is actually doing.  If anyone knows for certain, please let me know!

Mendel_I_035a_v

Here we have another shoemaker (cordwainer) hard at work at his bench.  Shoes have always been in demand.  That is a classic shoemaker’s knife on the bench,

1425c - Mendel Housebook I, Fol 27v

The belt maker had an assortment of belts and is in the midst of punching a hole.  Good timing for capturing this image.

Bag maker

Another bag maker creating a classic belt pouch and displaying his wares.

Landauer Twelve Brothers' House manuscript, c. 15th century

Another take on the cordwainer from the same period by a different artist with a couple of other tools in the background (from the Landauer manuscript).

Why are these guys all old?

A little background – an interesting story of the Zwölfbrüderhausstiftungen (the Twelve Brother’s House).

From BiblioOdyssey, a fine, but sadly dormant weblog:  “In 14th century Germany, a wealthy trader by the name of Mendel established a charitable endowment in the city of Nuremberg, known as the Twelve Brothers House Foundation (Zwölfbrüderhausstiftungen). A dozen elderly and unwell (but capable) citizens were (I assume) given a place to live in exchange for their performing work duties.

Although the house life and routine was said to have been inspired by the example of the apostles, there was a fairly anti-clerical or anti-religious tone to the rules and priests were formally excluded from being taken in as one of the ‘brothers’. The house served as a model for the commencement of similar charity foundations in other German cities.

Mendel’s grandson began the practice in the 15th century of having sketches made of each of the brothers engaged in their chosen employment together with detailed notes about the tools and practices relating to their work. The manuscripts were updated until (I think) the beginning of the 19th century, although portraits of craftsmen engaged in their work were only produced in the 15th and 16th centuries.”

I hope you enjoy learning from these images as much as I do.

 

The Making of a Cabinetmaker – Part I

“I believe I was fitted by nature to become a woodworker, and had my father been a wagonmaker or millwright, a carpenter or cooper, I would have been taught by my father the trade that he knew. He saw that I would whittle something, for when I was even smaller and lived in the woods I would ask for his knife whenever he came home. He always demurred, saying, “You will cut your fingers,” for a woodworker’s knife is always sharp.

I would tease until he would hand it out with the remark, “Now you will cut yourself.” I invariably did, and it was generally the fore finger of my left hand. That finger is just covered with small scars of every possible shape. I was bound to whittle something. Father knew it, so he calculated to give me a trade where I could whittle away and bring in a little money thereby.”
Chris Weeks
Wood Craft – December 1905

Lost Art Press

bench_plane

I took kindly to woodworking. In fact, I was brought up in the woods until I was seven years of age. During these first seven years of my life I saw my father only occasionally, for he was a cabinetmaker by trade and worked in a smart little town about sixty miles distant from our forest farm and came home after intervals of about six weeks to remain with us but a day or two. When I was about seven years old my mother died and the remainder of the family father took with him to the town where he worked.

I went to school, but had a chance to run in and out of the shop as I pleased, and just about as the child learns to speak his mother’s language by sights and sounds long before it is sent to school, so I learned a great deal about…

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J L Hammond, a working history

An excellent post from Michael Langford (michaellangforddotorg). I have come across this somewhere before, I think through Tom Hodgkinson’s Idler essays. Anyway, another important, but nearly lost, part of our history and how we surrender so willingly to authority.

VLtitle

michaellangforddotorg

J L Hammond and Barbara Hammond are two of the greatest historians you’ve probably never heard of.  In the early years of the twentieth century, they were commissioned by the British Labor Research Department to investigate the social and economic impacts of enclosure, displacement, and attempts to organize labor (combinations), up to the Reform Bill of 1832

Practically, their work discusses the effects of enclosure, the systematic disruption of  English village life by taking of common land by the aristocracy.  Enabled in large part by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, enclosure became an instrument of massive land theft by the titled classes, legitimized by Parliament.  Through the penal laws and the practice of transportation, plantations in the American colonies were provided with cheap labor.


The Concentration of Power, the controversial first chapter of The Village Labourer, was only printed in the first edition of the book.

“…differs from…

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Tavern Interior by John S.C. Schaak 1762

Sifting The Past

Tavern Interior_John-S-C-Schaak_1762John S.C. Schaak  active 1760-1770

Video walkthrough:

Detail: tavern, chair, table, basket, food, sideboard, meat, pie, plate, knife, fork, fire, hearth, fireplace crane, cucumber, lemon sausage, meat hook, beef, bird, bird cage, bottle, glass, bread, mortar and pestle, chocolate pot, spit turner, soldier, cooking pot, tongs, serving boy, raised cooking surface, fry pan, jug, game birds, rabbit

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Tool Museum

If you love beautiful tools (if you don’t, you should) there is a remarkable web page devoted to some remarkable historic tools.  I hope to see these in person someday.  I hope  I get to Michigan or find him on the road sometime.  He’s got a pretty amazing paint job on the trailer too.

Click the ship plane to open the museum in a new window.

I really like this drill.  I think I need to make one.

Thank to the Village Carpenter (http://villagecarpenter.blogspot.com/) for having a link to the museum.