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Subject: Refurbishing leather

Refurbishing leather

From: Nicholas Pickwoad <npick>
Date: Friday, January 28, 1994
Part of the problem it seems to me with leather dressing is that is
designed to do different but very specific things, some of which apply
to some leathers but not to all. Some people regard it as a restorative
process--which it is not. Leather remains flexible through moisture, and
the leather dressing helps lubricate, through the oils and fats in it,
the fibres in the leather. It does not in itself give flexibility.
Putting it on desiccated leather is therefore damaging, especially as it
may inhibit rehydration of the fibres in the future. It will not restore
chemically damaged skins, though it can easily make a real mess of it.
The wax in the dressing obviously has a cosmetic function but also a
protective one, in giving the leather a surface which reduces abrasion,
absorption of airborne pollutants etc. However, where a leather-covered
book has split joints, it may well be that no part of the covering is
required to flex any more, and the application of a traditional dressing
may serve no useful function. Where the leather is chemically degraded
(by light, industrial pollution or whatever) a consolidant and a wax
dressing are more likely to be useful. Leather dressing is best used to
keep leather which is in sound condition in that condition--which it
does well if applied sparingly to the right books and in the right
formulation for the leather being dressed. It should only be applied to
leathers which have been either kept in sufficiently high RH conditions
or have been conditioned in them prior to dressing. It should always be
tested to see that it will not result in discolouration of the
skin--chemically damaged skins will typically turn black with leather
dressing on them, and some 19th century skins with a dry matt surface
are particularly vulnerable. It isn't a cure-all, it isn't simple, but
it can help in the right place at the right time on the right skins.

                  Conservation DistList Instance 7:55
                 Distributed: Friday, January 28, 1994
                        Message Id: cdl-7-55-001
Received on Friday, 28 January, 1994

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