This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Lawn. A term applied first in 1423 to a fine thin linen fabric at that time much used for kerchiefs and ruching, and also for the sleeves and other parts of the dress of bishops of the Angelican Church. By some authorities the word is said to have been derived from the town of Laon, France, near Cambray, which latter place gave the name of cambric. It is well known that fabrics frequently take their names from the locality where they first acquire excellence and retain them long after local manufacture has been transferred elsewhere. Other authorities, however, claim that fine, slight linens received the name of lawn on account of having been spread upon the smooth grassy lawns to bleach, instead of on the coarse and more ordinary grass, which is probably the correct origin of the term, as exposure in the open air to the action of sunlight and moisture was at that period the only known method of bleaching linen. Lawn at the present time is a thin, open cambric, slightly sized with pure starch, and mainly used for women's summer dresses. The term is applied in trade to various sheer muslins, found in both linen and cotton, printed and plain. Linon is the French word for lawn. Cobweb lawn, as the name indicates is a fine, gauzy variety. Cypress cloth was the name formerly applied to black lawn for mourning purposes, and at one time was identical with black cotton crape; so called on account of cypress branches having anciently been used at funerals as emblems of grief. Victoria lawn is white cotton lawn, made in many qualities; named in honor of Victoria, queen of the English. Lawn of every description was in the early days of its manufacture called bishop's lawn, on account of its being used for certain portions of the dress of bishops. Thread lawn is pure linen lawn, and is sometimes termed Irish lawn. The term originated in the 18th century to designate an all-linen from a mixed lawn, just as thread lace is used to describe an all linen lace as distinguished from one made of cotton. Leather. The tanned, tawed or otherwise dressed skin of an animal. The first leather was tanned with the fat liquor out of the human being. Hides were used to cover the nakedness of primeval man, and they were tanned by the sweat, the salt and the grease from his carcass. Since the day that Adam and Eve exchanged fig-leaves for furs, the human animal has had a habit of clothing himself in the integument stripped from his dumb brothers. When or where the first artificial process of converting hides into leather originated, no wise man pretends to know. Doubtless the process was evolved, not invented, as the use of leather antedates the earliest historical records, and no savage tribe has yet been found ignorant of some way to dress skins. The American Indians especially are masters of the art. Rude as are their processes, the product is far ahead of the white man, the soft and pliant buckskin of the moccasin being a positive luxury to the touch. Neat cuttle furnish hides for more than half of the world's leather. Next to them come goats, and after them sheep. Horse hides and deerskins are inconsiderable in amount. Pigskin used for saddles and heavy gloves is in limited demand. Dogskin, elephant skin, snake skin, ratskin and aligator are mere items of account, not at all equal to the kangaroo skin, which has quite superseded some grades of calf. Our home supply of hides is far below the demand. Old Mexico furnishes us with many steer and goat hides, and ranks next to South America, whence comes two-thirds of our supply. The heaviest, consequently the best, hides come from Brazil. They weigh over twenty pounds each (dry), and fetch about sixteen cents per pound. These all go for sole leather and machine belts. Cowskins and those from young animals furnish the "kip" leather of commerce, while the animals a year old or under furnish the many varieties of calfskin. For cheap work both kip and calf are often split -that is divided by machinery into two sheets, each by courtesy called leather. Oak bark, hemlock bark, and the powdered leaves of sumach are the things that supply tanning. Oak-tanned leather is distinguished by its being almost colorless, or a very slight shade of tan, and sometimes nearly white. It fetches a cent or two more per pound than other kinds, and is invariably used when a leather of peculiar strength and toughness is required. Hemlock tanning makes a leather hard and brittle, and imparts to it a red, cherry color, which latter is against it as far as appearances is concerned. The bulk of leather is of this tanning, as it is cheaper. Sumach makes leather almost as light as oak, and makes it soft and pliable. A great many years ago, the time taken to tan sole leather occupied from a year to a year and a half, but nearly all tanners in this country now turn out leather by any of the above methods in four to five months. The impression that quick tannage forbids a good product, has no real foundation. It has been discovered by experience that upon feeding the tannin as quickly as possible to the pores and interstices of the hide, depends the thoroughness by which the even weight and quality of the leather are gained. The agitating of the hides (that is, the frequent stirring and turning) has been found to cut down in a great measure the time formerly consumed in this process. The object of all tanners is to secure as much gain in weight as possible; and a good tanner can generally get 170 pounds of leather from 100 pounds of dry hide, without injury to the quality.
The hides (dry) are received at the tanneries in bales of 35 to 60, and are first placed in vats of pure cold water, where they remain from 5 to 10 days. When they are thus softened, they are ready for the treatment which is necesary to remove the hair, the object being to soften and to swell the surface of the hides, where the roots of the hair are imbedded, so that the hair can be easily removed. The hides after the soaking are cut down the back into "sides." They are then put into a hide-mill to further soften them, and help loosen the hair. These hide-mills are simple contrivances, with two large wooden pendulums or arms working back and forth in a box made of stone and iron, which pound the hides, on which a stream of water is kept flowing. The hides are then "sweated" by hanging in an air-tight vault of from 50 to 60 degrees temperature, and while there it is necessary to watch them very carefully, as the change which has been commenced in the soak-vats proceeds rapidly here. The air in these sweat-vaults is so heavily charged with moisture and ammonia from the hides, that in their present incipient stage of decay there is a danger of it being carried too far, causing the hair to slip and destroying the grain. From the sweat vaults the hides are again taken to the mill to receive more kneading and pounding, and to remove the hair, which is gradually worked off by the continual turning and beating they receive, and is washed away by a stream of water descending to the mill. The hides now go to the beams-men, who lay them upon a half-circular table, and with large blunt knives remove the remaining hairs. They are also worked and scraped on the flesh side, to take off any extra flesh or fatty matter which may have been left on the hide, and are thoroughly rinsed and scoured until they appear white and clean. The next process consists of coloring. In a vat filled with liquor a large wheel, called the "coloring wheel," is arranged to revolve. This wheel is made of wooden slats, and into it 50 or 60 of the soft white hides are thrown, and the wheel set in motion and allowed to run 20 minutes, when the sides are taken out. They are now of a light cherry color, and firmer in appearance. The reason for coloring at this stage is to prevent the sides from turning black during the next process of "pumping." The pumping operation is done in a number of vats called "acid handlers," which contain a solution of sulphuric acid and water, into which the sides are suspended horizontally on sticks, where they remain two days; the liquor, meanwhile, being constantly stirred by a blast of air pumped into the vats at the bottom. This acid treatment opens the pores and fibers, and makes it ready for the reception of the bark extract or tan liquor. In using acid great care must be observed in the first stages, or the leather will be very dark, have a poor grain, and will not "clean up" into light colored soles, an object which is much desired in sole leather. From the acid handlers the sides go to the vats containing weak tanning liquors, where they remain soaking for two days, the object being to give them an even color and to further develop the grain of the leather. Next they are put in the tanning vats, and begin the long process of tanning. For the first few days the sides are changed every two or three days from one vat to another, containing liquor of increasing strength from two degrees, as indicated by a barometer, up to 42 degrees for the last vat. The sides are next placed in what are called "lay away vats," and while being so laid away, a shovelful of ground bark is thrown on top of each side, the whole being covered with bark liquor. This process is continued at intervals for about four months, by which time the hides have absorbed all the tanning liquid possible, and are thoroughly and evenly tanned. After the leather has been taken away from the last lay away vat, it is placed in a large washing wheel, about 25 sides at a time, and is washed for 15 to 20 minutes, when it is packed in piles and allowed to drain for 2 or 3 days. It is then taken up piece by piece and placed on a table, where it is oiled on the grain with curriers' oil (whose source is those Newfoundland cod livers not fresh enough for medicine), and then packed in piles to allow the oil to penetrate into the leather, when it is hung up on horizontal sticks in the drying loft to dry. Two weeks generally elapse in this semi-darkened room, supplied with dry air constantly in circulation. The leather is now "tempered" by sprinkling it with hot water, and then packed away again in air-tight rooms to allow the moisture to draw evenly through the pores for 24 hours. From the air-tight room it goes to the "fitting tables" for rolling, which consists of being treated with hot water and oil, by which it is brought out a flexible and mellow condition. In America and England all this leather is rolled by a pendulum roller made of brass, about 4 inches in diameter and 6 inches long, which is attached to a long wooden beam working from above like an arm, back and forth on a solid iron bed-piece with a concave face. Desired pressure upon the leather is regulated by a treadle, which the finisher works with his foot. Leather is generally rolled twice, a day or two elapsing between the times, when it is considered "finished;" the rolling process having imparted a fine polished appearance to the grain and a firm feel to the stock. After being weighed and marked the leather is ready for shipment, and is loaded on the cars in regular layers of sides. Kip skins go through much the same process, only less so. Being thinner, they require less time and care. More chemicals, too, are used in the tanning, and when finished much of it is blacked ready for the boot and shoe makers. The finest grade of calfskin leather is imported from France, owing to the fact that the bark of the evergreen oak, indigenous to that country, produces leather of a peculiar softness and fineness of grain not equaled by the oak bark of America.
Many other substances besides tannic acid are employed to preserve hides and skins, and prepare them for certain uses. But these do not make leather which will resist moisture or retain its flexibility after wetting. The most extensively used of these is alum, so that the term alum-tanned leather or, as frequently termed, tawed leather, has become a common designation both in Europe and the United States. The process of alum tanning has in the past ten years completely revolutionized the morocco leather business in the United States. In 1878 hardly ten per cent.of the morocco leather consumed in the United States was made here. Now the conditions are nearly reversed, for more than three-quarters of the morocco used here is of American make. "Morocco" is the general trade term for goat, sheep and light calf skins, no matter how finished, whether pebbled, bright or dull. The finer grades of morocco are manufactured from goat skins, but other grades are obtained from sheep and split calf skins. In the process of tawing (alum-tanning) the substance principally employed is alum, or some of the simple aluminous salts. This system is principally applied to thin and light skins of sheep, lambs, kids and goats. The products obtained by tawing are of a pure white color. After the skins are unhaired, the tawing is accomplished in a large drum or cylinder, into which is introduced for each 100 average skins a mixture consisting of twenty pounds of alum, nine pounds of salt, forty pounds of flour, 250 eggs, seven-eights pint of olive oil, and twelve to sixteen gallons of water. In this mixture, at a temperature of not more than 100 degrees F., the skins are worked for about forty minutes, by which action the tawing is completed. After the withdrawal from the drum the skins are allowed to drain, dried rapidly by artificial heat, damped, staked out by drawing them over a blunt steel knife, and then wetted and shaved down on the beam to the required thickness. Next they receive, if necessary, a second treatment with the tawing mixture. The dyeing or coloring follows, which is nearly always black, the color consisting of a compound of bichromate of potash, stale urine, logwood extract, and copperas. It is applied either by brushes on a table, or by dyeing the leather in small vats. The dyed leather is washed with pure water, dried, ironed, polished between glass rollers and finally oiled on the flesh side with a mixture of oil and wax. Morocco leather (in its wide meaning) was originally of the Levant and Turkey. Formally all this sort of leather was tanned with sumac, and to-day sumac tanned goatskins are tanned as they were a hundred years ago. Ten years ago the largest American morrocco factory only turned out a few hundred dozen skins a day. Now establishments in Philadelphia and elsewhere turn out 3,500 dozen every twenty-four hours. The great impetus given to morocco manufacture in this country lately is due to science and invention- the discovery of improved methods of tanning and the developement of modern machinery. The sumac process so long used, has been superseded by alum tannage. Owing to this new method, New York City has become the greatest goatskin port in the world. In round numbers more than 30,000,000 untanned goat skins were imported by this country in 1891. To secure this immense number of skins buyers for New York houses have visited and made permanent homes in the uttermost parts of the earth inhabited by human beings. These historic and valuable animals are always found in greatest numbers where civilization is at its lowest ebb. The New York importers find their supplies among the savage hill tribes of the northern and southern slopes of the Himalayas, in the valleys of Persia, on the steppes of Asia, and among the semi-barbarous people of the Andes; they get them from the sandy wastes of Arabia and the Sahara, from the slave caravans from the head waters of the Blue Nile, and from the Kaffirs of South Africa. They scour the remotest pampas of South America and the Indian pastoras of Central America and Mexico, and all the islands of the sea contribute to the total. The following table shows where most of the goatskins brought to this country during 1890 and 1891 come from:
European, Asiatic and African ..................
Texas and Mexican Frontier .........
Rio Hache, Maracaibo, Porto Cabello, Laguayra, etc
Payta (Peru) .........................
Buenos Ayres .................
West Indies ......................
Angostura, etc ......................
One of the chief depots of supplies tapped by these world-sweeping New York searchers for goatskins is the great fair of Nijni Novgorod in Russia. Immense numbers of skins are brought to this point, coming, many of them, by ancient trade routes over the Ural Mountains, from far in the interior of Asia. Here they are assorted and baled for shipment to America. Other great markets for goatskins are Calcutta, Aden and Ber-beyrah, in North Africa, and Ceara, in Brazil, Buyers of goatskins need peculiar qualifications. Not only must they be shrewd business men, knowing thoroughly the people they are dealing with, and be able to drive a trade and talk the language of barter, but they must have iron constitutions likewise. It is said among the importers of the "Swamp " that a buyer who can stand the climate of Arabia can go anywhere. But this precept is never put into practice. A man sent out from America to Arabia to buy goatskins usually makes that inhospitable country his home, and remains there after being acclimated. So, those buyers whose constitutions can stand the ordeal of yellow fever in Brazil, or the insidious climate of India, are kept in those countries as long as they are willing to stay. Then it takes time and patience to traffic in goatskins in some quarters of the earth. The Arabs are the shrewdest traders in the world. They know to a farthing the commercial value of the article they want to sell, and they will stick half a day for a penny. They bring skins over the mountains to Aden from the interior of Arabia. At Aden a broker is employed to bring about a conference between the American buyer and the Arab seller. He gets the two together in a room, coffee is drunk, they are ready for business, and then the fun begins. Arabs are suspicious in trading, and no one but the buyer and seller are permitted to know what the terms are. They clasp right hands and a scarf is thrown over the hands, that none may see. Not a word is uttered. The offer is made in sign language. The buyer grasps the seller's fore-finger at a joint. The first joint indicates an offer of so much; the second joint so much more, and the knuckle joint so much, all the time their hands being hidden by the scarf. Invariably the first offer is rejected. The men part with words of scorn, walk around the room and turn their backs on each other. Then the broker intervenes, more coffee is drunk, and presently they get together again, clasp hands under the scarf and the negotiation is resumed. This goes on about half a day before an agreement is reached. Then the buyer, if he was inexperienced enough to buy by weight, is lucky if he don't find a half-pound or so of valuable Arabian sand sewed up in the shank of each goatskin.
"Dongola and " Tampico" are trade names for tanned goat skin. "french Kid'' refers to the soft and flexible skins of young goats tanned by the kid-leather process. [See Gloves] " Pebbled goat and "straight grain" goat refers to the style of finishing the leather. The indentations or pebbles are produced by the leather being passed between rollers having the pattern cut on their surface. Roan leather is sheepskin tanned in sumac, colored and dressed throughingly in the same manner as morocco, used largely in bookbinding. Skivers are the split grain sides of sheepskin. The flesh sides are shamoyed and finished as inferior grades of wash leather.
Shamoy or Oil Leather. - The process of preparing leather by impregnating hides with oil is probably the oldest system of leather manufacture. Well shamoyed leather requires the exercise of much skill and numerous manipulative processes. Hides and skins of all sorts may be prepared by shamoying; but sheep, goat, deer, antelope and small calf skins are those usually treated, an enormous number of flesh splits of sheep being shamoyed for common purposes. The extensive employment of deer skins in shamoying gives the product the name of buck leather, and from the use of the " chamois " skin of the Alps, is derived the name of the process of chamois or shamoy. At present none of these latter skins are obtainable. From the fact that shammy skin, or shamoy leather, may be easily washed like cloth it is also sometimes called wash leather. Skins for shamoying are in the preliminary stages treated almost as for ordinary tanning. After unhairing, the surface of the grain (the cuticle) is shaved off in all except the small thin skins. They are then treated with a lime solution and repeatedly washed to bring the pelt to a somewhat open and porous condition, drenched with bran to remove all lime, and rinsed in an acid liquor. The skins are now taken to the fulling machine, where, after being rubbed over individually with fish oil, they are hammered for about two hours to force the oil into the substance of the skin. They are then stretched, hung up for some time, again oiled and fulled. These operations may be repeated from six to twelve times, according to the thickness of the skins treated. After thorough impregnation the skins are dried, then heaped up in a heated room, where a process of oxidation is quickly set up. So soon as the skins assume a yellow color and give off a peculiar odor (not at all like the fish oil with which they have been treated), the process is complete and the fermentation is stopped. It is now found that about one-half the oil is oxidized within the skin and combined with the tissue to form leather; while the remainder is present only in the condition of mechanical impregnation. This uncombined oil is washed out with a warm potash solution, and the fat so recovered, forms a valuable material for the dressing of common leather by curriers. The skins are next smoothed out and the shamoy leather is ready for market. It is used extensively in the manufacture of gloves and underclothing; many druggists sell shammy skins under the impression they are off the backs of the genuine chamois animal of the Alps, whereas in reality they are the flesh-split of a sheepskin.
Alligator Leather. - Since 1860 leather has been tanned from the skins of the alligator, procured principally in Florida, and the tanning a considerable industry at Jacksonville. The parts of the skin used for leather are the belly and flanks. These portions arc steeped in lime and tanned by any of the processes already mentioned. The leather has the great advantage of being absolutely waterproof. Good hides are worth $10 each. This sort of leather is becoming rarer of recent years, on account of the increasing rarity of the animals. In some respects the alligator is peculiar and dilatory. The female exhausts fifty years in flirtation before commencing the serious business of her life as the mother of a family.
Kangaroo Leather. - So popular has kangaroo leather become since 1880 that the Australian government, which began by offering bounties for kangaroo scalps, have now decreed a close season, six months long each year, to prevent the total extermination of the animal. Since the demand has become so great kangaroo farms have been started in Western Australia to keep up the supply of skins. The skins come to this country via Calcutta at the rate of about 6,000 a week, and furnish a leather pleasant to the foot, durable in quality, but liable to stretch out of all shape if wet and not carefully dried. These skins are both tanned and tawed, the principal tanning agent being the mimosa bark, which abounds in Australia. The leather is very similar in appearance and texture to fine goat.
Patent leather was first made at Newark, New Jersey, in 1820, by Seth Bayden. It is made of calfskin and also of kip and large hides, split and skived down to the proper thickness. The leather, after tanning, is finished especially for the making of patent leather, great care being observed to keep it as free as possible from grease or oil. The skins are first tacked on frames and coated with a composition of linseed oil and umber, in the proportion of eighteen gallons of the former to five ounces of the latter, boiled till nearly solid, and then mixed with spirits of turpentine to the proper consistency. From three to four coats of this are necessary to form a surface to receive the varnish. The coats are laid on with a sort of knife or scraper. To render the leather soft and pliant, each coat must be very light and thoroughly dried in between each application. A thin coat is afterwards applied of the same composition, of the proper consistency to put on with a brush, and with sufficient lamp-black boiled into it to produce a perfect black. When thoroughly dry it is ready to varnish. The principal varnish is made from linseed oil and Prussian blue, boiled to the thickness of printers' ink. This is then reduced with spirits of turpentine to suitable thickness to work with a brush and is applied in two or three separate coats, which are scraped and pumiced until the leather is perfectly filled and smooth. The finishing coat is laid on with especial care in a room with the door kept closed and with the floor wet to prevent dust from settling on the leather until it is dry.
Russia Leather was originally, as the name implies, a specialty of Russia, where it was made from the hides of young cattle, and dressed either brownish-red or black in color, being used for upper leather, book-bindings, purses and similar objects. Russia leather is now made throughout Europe and the United States. Horsehide, calf, goat and even " splits " are now finished as Russia leather; but most of these are decidedly inferior in quality, and, as they are merely treated with birch bark dye to give them the odor by which Russia leather is recognized, they scarce deserve the name under which they pass. Genuine Russia leather is tanned like other light leathers, except that for the tanning agent, willow bark or spruce fir bark is used. After tanning, the skins are treated on the flesh side with an empyreumatic oil obtained by the dry distillation of birch tree bark and buds, to which the peculiar smell of the leather is due. The brownish-red color, commonly seen in Russia leather is given by dyeing with a preparation of Brazil wood rubbed over the grain-side with a sponge. The black color is produced by repeated stainings with acetate of iron. The leather if genuine is very waterproof and strong, and owing to its impregnation with empyreumatic oil, it wards off the attacks of insects. [See Gloves, Boots and Shoes, Pebble]