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Re: Bookbinding Leather Suppliers


>At 10:43 1/1/97, Rick Cavasin wrote:
>>Other than my own site with information about parchment/vellum making, and
>>another site with info on Native American Brain tanning, I don't know of any
>I'd love to check these out! Would you post the urls when you get a chance,

Rick's URL is: www.niagara.com/~acavasin/rick/rcav.html
the native tannage web site he mentioned comes from the Univ. of
Connecticut and the URL is: http://spirit.lib.uconn.edu/NativeTech/

That URL brings up the home page with much more about American Indian
crafts than tanning; just follow the links which interest you.

Rick also mentioned that I am editing/publishing the English language
translation of Lotta Rahme's book on traditional leather tanning.  Rick has
been kind enough to review the text, which is not yet at the printers.  I'm
still scanning the art work and doing page layout.  Soon!!!  I'll make an
announcement to the list when it's ready.

>...I would like to think there's a middle ground between the disposable
>item >(that everyone has whether they need it or not) and the item
>designed to last >for several centuries ... and that's the item I'm aiming
>to make ;-) Should I >be ashamed of that? I would like to hear honest
>reactions from anyone who has >them, because it's a question I'm still
>struggling with myself, to be honest.

There is certainly nothing wrong with shooting for the middle ground.  Any
reasonable survey of the bookbinding/book conservation literature of the
past hundred years will reveal a number of attempts by binders, librarians,
and scientists to resolve the problems of making permanent/durable book
materials and structures.  All too often the conclusions arrived at were
found to be inadequate to the task.

I've been in the business long enough to personally see that some materials
and techniques are inadequate.

>When we talk about acidity and chemical residues degrading the leather and
>damaging other materials in contact with it, what kind of time frame are we
>talking about? ... Is it irresponsible and wasteful to use only the
>finest, >most archival materials and then *not* make sure the buyer will
>treat the item >with the care it deserves?

You are right to be concerned and correct to state that the best
material/technique is not proof against poor storage conditions.  That's
something we can advise about, but once the book is out the door, it's out
of our hands.

Good machine-made paper is not too expensive anymore.  Leather can be
another matter.  Twenty years ago I would buy only the highest grade skins
available, cut out what I needed and ended up with quite a bit of scrap.
Then I began buying 3rd class skins from 1st class tanners.  The skins have
flaws.  The dye job may be bad; there may be holes, deep scratches or knife
marks (flay marks), etc.  But the tannage is good.  Now, instead of a lot
of scrap, I have holes and scratches to throw away.  This works for me,
because most of my book work is restoration and only small pieces of
leather are required for most books.

I get what I need, the tanner gets rid of otherwise unsalable skins, and
the cost is a fraction of 1st class skins.

That said, I should also say that it is my opinion that even the best
commercially available tanned leather is not very good.  It is not
necessarily the quality of tanning or currying (oiling/softening skins
after tanning them) but changes in animal husbandry/nutrition and medicine
in recent centuries which has resulted in a lower quality raw material.

For some years now, I have been making parchment and tawing skins to test
this thesis, using deer, elk, goat, and calf skins.  So far, my experience
has supported my intuition.  If I had the land, I'd like to back-breed some
cattle and let them range freely to see how much stronger such skins might

Well, time to get back to the scanning & page layout.


Jack C. Thompson

Thompson Conservation Lab.
7549 N. Fenwick
Portland, OR  97217

503/735-3942  (voice/fax)      "The lyf so short; the craft so long to learn."
                                                               Chaucer,  1386

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