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Leather dressing,

I copied the following from the DistList Archive at CoOL:

Leather dressing

Angela Thompson (angela.thompson@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx)
20 Nov 96

Sent by Angela Thompson, National Gallery, London, on behalf on
Margaret Hey who is not on the List.

Wim Smit's contribution (Conservation DistList, Instance: 10:39,
October 16, 1996) gives me the opportunity to round out and link
together several of the experiences he reported.

In early 1971 (or perhaps later 1970) Christopher Clarkson and I
visited Dr. Ronald Reed (he of the book) in Leeds to discus
bookbinding skins and leather dressing.

He emphasized for us the great importance of water in giving
flexibility to skin (a concept not so well appreciated then as
it is now, some 25 years later).

He explained that leather dressing served to lubricate the
fibres so that they move one over another more easily and would
also help to a) retain moisture within the skin structure, and
b) prevent or at least slow down the penetration of pollutants
from the atmosphere.

However, full benefit would only be obtained if some moisture
had been put back into the skin before applying any leather
dressing. Ron therefore advised that books should be kept in a
more humid environment before applying any dressing.

I don't think this information has ever appeared in print
although I have always subsequently taught it. It doesn't
contradict any of the individual pieces of information supplied
by Wim Smit but simply links them together while giving due
credit to the originator.

One other point--the disagreement over the value of leather
dressing stems from the time when mixtures contained potassium
lactate--a substance over which there was at one time
considerable controversy.

Again, Ron Reed explained that applying potassium lactate to an
acid (degraded) skin would release lactic acid. Like acetic
acid, lactic acid can swell collagen fibres and thereby make
them more vulnerable. However, unlike acetic acid, lactic acid
is not very volatile so that repeated applications of the
leather dressing would lead to a build-up of lactic acid--not a
good thing.


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