Hello fellow members
I recently wrote a posting called "how I display my Great war uniform collection" in which I briefly discussed leather care.
Since last November I have been a volunteer at one of our locate military museums. Here I have helped conserve and display
many of the artifacts. In this short time I have been able to learn much more about leather conservation.
Here are my new thoughts based on what I've read and learnt since then. (Here is a photo I took of some of the products I discuss below)
It is now commonly accepted amongst leather conservators that application of leather dressings on very old leather should be avoided. ..BUT..read on
Here is a quote taken from the Conservation institute
"The application of leather dressings and saddle soap, as was recommended in the first edition of this CCI Note, is now not
generally recommended as a treatment for leather. Dressings, which consist of oils, waxes, or oil emulsions, were applied in
an attempt to make stiff leathers softer and more flexible. Many leather dressings are available on the market: British Museum Leather Dressing®,
neat's foot oil, lanolin, etc. Research has since shown that dressings are generally not effective in preserving leather (McCrady and Raphael, 1987).
Unless the oil content of the leather is known through chemical analysis to be too low, applied oils from a dressing can cause further stiffening by
dehydrating the leather (Stambolov et al., 1984). Furthermore, many oils and fats used in leather dressings lubricate in the short term but oxidize
with time, resulting in additional stiffening of the leather. There are many other problems created by applying a leather dressing, including the
darkening of the leather's surface, the staining of surrounding materials and the risk of attracting dust or insects. Saddle soap used in the
past as a "cleaner and conditioner," although originally developed as only a conditioner has the additional problem of being very alkaline, which
causes degradation of the leather. The soap can also react with the oils in the leather and leave a white scummy deposit on the surface"
If after reading the above you still feel that your artifacts need some sort of dressing then ask yourself a this question
Does this leather still need to be soft and pliable whist in my collection?
Museum objects do not need to be rendered flexible since their function is no longer the same as the original intended use. If objects are
stored, displayed, used, and handled properly, flexibility no longer plays an important role. Care of stiff leathers should therefore not include
the application of saddle soap or a dressing, but should instead be focused on handling procedures and proper support of the artifacts"
Now I understand that many of us are collectors and not museums so here is my personal approach.
The most important think you as a collector and caretaker can do to conserve the leather artifacts
is to control the amount of RH (Relative humidity) and direct sunlight on your Great war leather items.
Humidity will cause mould to grow and deteriorate leather.
Get yourself an inexpensive humidity gauge, and keep the RH between 40%-60%
Anything over 65% will cause mould, and anything under 30% will cause dryness and embrittlement.
Red rod is mostly found in leathers that have been vegetable tanned (Barks, leaves, twigs)
Depending on the type of tannin in the vegetable matter used, the leather may be prone to a condition known as red rot,
a degradation of the leather that eventually produces a red, powdery surface.
If red rot is the situation, the only thing I suggest is CELLUGEL©
I have tried this product and it is excellent ..BUT should only be used on items that suffer from dry or red rot
"Cellugel uses cellulose ethers (specifically hydroxypropylcellulose) and isopropanol to treat red rot by penetrating the
surface of the leather. It consolidates the leather depositing a thin film which provides resistance to atmospheric conditions
but does not darken or discolor leather surfaces. It will not stain other materials it comes in contact with"
This product will not make the item flexible, only consolidate the redrot. I suggest this product for brodie helmet chinstraps
were the red rot is at such a stage where the chinstrap is in danger of breaking off. If this is the case, the helemt should not be displayed with the strap hung loose.
I suggest the helemt rest on a shelf.
if you have mould which normally appears in the form of a black or white powdery residue then there are certain things you can do.
The cheaper approach is to use a soft toothbrush and gently brush away the spores while using a vacuum nozzle to gently remove them.
Then treating the leather directly with a light application of isopropyl alcohol should kill some of these internal spores.
The isopropyl alcohol should be at least 40% volume/volume.
The product I have tried and suggest is "TALAS leather protector"
it is a deacidifier and anti fungicide "A dual-action solution that neutralizes acids caused by polluted atmosphere.
Replaces natural salts that are used in the tanning process, but later washed away. Protects against molds and
mildew. Contains potassium lactate and p-nitrophenol. British Museum formula."
I have two ww1 spats that I wanted to display on a mannequin, problem was the leather was so stiff that it would not flex onto the boot.
So in this case I decided it was best if I apply a dressing to make it pliable. If your WW1 holster or leather 1914 webbing needs to be flexible then
I suggest trying a combination of "TALAS leather protector" and then another product called TALAS leather dressing"
The TALAS products were mainly developed for old leather bound books that are opened and closed so flexibility is in important.
The Leather dressing is a good product in that the leather will darken a little and not feel stick or greasy afterwards.
There is another product that museums have used called Triple crown aka FREDLKA FORMULA
I have tried this on a few spots but found it to be a little greasy but does buff into a nice shine...so you decide!
See it being applied in the video below
I have also included below a portion from a LEATHER CONSERVATION conference that took place at the University of Texas on March 12-14 1997.
It is an interesting read that again echos the thought that dressings should be avoided but adding lubricants is appropriate under certain conditions.
"The subject of leather dressings and surface coatings was of particular interest, since most of the class deals regularly with questions from collectors, friends, members of the public and other institutions concerning what can be safely used to coat or lubricate leather objects. Most of us say "nothing", having seen some of the incredible damage that has been done in the past by over-application of these products. Chris felt, however, that adding a lubricant is appropriate under certain conditions, and with an understanding of potential drawbacks. Most leathers are stable at an oil content of about 5% by weight, and many historical leather objects have survived very well without any lubrication other than what was originally added when the skin was manufactured.
Before adding a lubricant to any leather, it is important to decide if it actually needs more flexibility, and to understand why it is stiff. If the fibers themselves are deteriorated and brittle, lubrication will not help. If the object must be used, and the fibers are still reasonably strong, addition of a lubricant can add flexibility by increasing the space between the fibers and allowing them to move against each other more freely. Neatsfoot oil is a very effective lubricant, but darkens the leather substantially. Most commercially-available neatsfoot oil is now made up of lard, whose excess fatty acids can cause spew on the surface of the treated item. If neatsfoot oil is used, it must be "cold-tested" against solidification of fatty acids at low temperatures. Since application of a concentrated oil can increase the oil content of a skin by up to 10%, Chris recommends diluting neatsfoot oil to a 5/10% solution in mineral spirits, Stoddard's solvent, or petroleum ether before applying.
Avoid aggressive solvents that might strip out the oils already present in the leather. Over-application of oils can disrupt the moisture content of the leather, by taking up space that would otherwise be occupied by water. Lanolin, another traditional component of leather dressings, can cause problems because it is hygroscopic and may rob the surrounding leather of its natural moisture content. Lubricants afford no protection against the penetration of SO2, although they can form a sticky surface layer that attracts lint and dust.
Consolidants are also problematic, since they are usually polymers with molecules too large to penetrate well into the structure of the skin. The cellulose ether Klucel G is currently in favor, particularly among book conservators, as a relatively benign surface consolidant. It is usually applied dissolved in ethanol, which, although it is a polar solvent does not affect leather as drastically as water. Olivia Primanis of the HRC described the use of repeated applications of very dilute (0.5-1.0%) solutions of Klucel G with an airbrush as a successful method for consolidating reverse calf, though an increase in the stiffness of the surface nap was noted. Higher concentrations of Klucel can cause color change. Chris suggested that isopropanol rather than ethanol as the solvent might reduce this effect. END
So what I now have done is moved away from picards and lexol
and have invested in the products below. They are fairly inexpensive.
I hope this has answered some of your questions.
I am still in the learning process and hope to learn more as time goes on.
I am in no way affiliated or receive any payment from these companies.
TALAS leather protector (Anti fungal and deacidifier)
TALAS eather dressing
TRIPLE CROWN (Dressing)
CELLUGEL (red rot)