Leather Research

From Wiki

Leather is frequently encountered in cultural artifacts, and conservators are working to increase their understanding of the material, its aging properties, and preservation options. This page is intended to collect and summarize research of interest to conservators on leather. If the work is published, citations are available in the Bibliography. We also welcome descriptions of ongoing research projects.

Other related pages in the AIC Wiki include BPG Animal Skin and Leather in the BPG Wiki, which describes the chemistry of skin and its tannage, Leather and Skin in the OSG Wiki, and a page on Stabilizing Wet Skin and Leather during emergency response, and BPG Use of Leather in Book Conservation in the BPG Wiki.

Wiki Compilers: Katherine Wagner and Kristi Wright
Wiki Contributors: Firstname Lastname, your name could be here

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Past Research Initiatives

19th century leather research

Athenaeum Club, London

Sulfur in Gas Theory
Date: 1842
Participants: Michael Faraday, William T. Brande, Mr. Aiken, Mr. Brown, Dr. Prout
Premise: Widespread decay in leather bookbindings was noted. In some libraries, bindings would deteriorate in just 2-3 years. Circulating books would not deteriorate as much as companion volumes left on the shelves.
Sulfur In Gas Theory: The Sulfur in Gas theory focused on the assertion that gas lighting raised the sulfur content of interior air in libraries. The theory postulated that moisture containing sulfuric acid was condensing on books, especially in the upper levels of the stacks, and depositing sulfuric acid on the bindings. As the acid accumulated it accelerated decay. Faraday attempted to solve the problem at the Athenaeum Club by collecting the gas lighting’s combustion products in glass cylinders and carrying them away in connected tubes so that the sulfuric acid would not enter the room.
Impact: The theory was corroborated by similar observations from multiple libraries across the country and alternatives to gas lighting were explored.


Conference of Librarians in London

Birmingham Library

20th century leather research

Society of Arts on Leather for Bookbinding

Sound Leather Committee

British Leather Manufacturers Research Association (BLMRA)

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)




21st century leather research


Ongoing Research Initiatives

Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT)

The Institute for Creative Leather Technologies is based at the University of Northampton in Northhampton, UK.
The Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT) is a research and education center. Their research responds to the scientific and technological needs of the automotive, fashion, footwear and allied leather industries. The ICLT works in partnership with external organizations such as the Leathersellers' Company, the National Leather Collection, and the Leather Conservation Centre
The ICLT maintains a research page containing ways to access their publications.

Leather Discussion Group

The Leather Discussion Group was formed in 2016 by four book conservators:
  • Holly Herro, Senior Conservator, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine
  • William Minter, Senior Book Conservator, The Pennsylvania State University Libraries
  • Katie Wagner, Senior Book Conservator, Smithsonian Libraries
  • Kristi Wright, Contract Book Conservator, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine
The Leather Discussion Group aims to acquire a better understanding of leather and the leather dyes traditionally used in conservation. The initial goals were to determine the best products available to meet the needs of conservation, to make those needs more apparent to leather manufacturers, and to identify effective methods to evaluate a skin’s quality and longevity. Since that time regular, leather-focused, meetings have furthered these goals.

Ongoing conversations with and survey results from leather chemists, tanners, and conservators in multiple disciplines continues to provide valuable feedback. The group gave a panel presentation at AIC’s 2018 pre-conference symposium entitled “The Current Use of Leather in Conservation” covering changes to the tanning process, previous leather research, and the group’s current activities and goals.
Research topics include:
  • The beginning of the leather process – the quality of the raw skin - with an exploration of changes in North American animal husbandry from the colonial era to the modern day.
  • The influence of bookbinders' and conservators' choices when selecting and using leather
Do you have an interest in leather usage and longevity? Please contribute to the Leather Discussion Group's conversation by participating in this Leather Survey!
Changes in North American Animal Husbandry from the 17th Century to the Present Poster presented at both the 2019 AIC Annual Meeting in Uncasville, CT and the 2019 ICOM-CC Interim Meeting of the Leather & Related Materials Working Group in Paris, France.

Quality Tests for Leather

Historical timeline of leather testing

Printing Industries Research Association (PIRA) Test

The PIRA test was developed to ...

Shrinkage Temperature Test

The Shrinkage Temperataure Test was developed by...


Please follow the BPG Reference and Bibliography Protocols.

Here are templates for book and article citations.

Lastname, Firstname. Year. Book Title in Italics. Location: Publisher.
Lastname, Firstname. Year. "Article Title in Quotations." Journal Title in Italics (volume). page number range.
If you link to an online version, embed the link in the article title, include a DOI if available, and the date you accessed the online version. Omit the page number range.

And examples:

Clapp, Anne F. 1979. Curatorial Care of Works of Art on Paper. Oberlin, OH: Intermuseum Conservation Laboratory.
Horton, Richard 2000. “Glossary of Terms Relating to Photo Albums” in Conservation of Scrapbooks and Albums: Postprints of the Book and Paper Group/Photographic Materials Group Joint Session at the 27th Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. 21-28. AIC, Washington, DC.
Ogden, Sherelyn. 1991. “Preservation Options for Scrapbook and Album Formats.” Book and Paper Group Annual 10. Accessed October 9, 2014.

History of This Page

This page was created in 2019 within the BPG Wiki, but the compilers intend for it to become a more general topic page across specialty groups.

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