Fine leather deserves good care. The appropriate treatment of a leather item
depends upon its condition, or the degree of deterioration when treatment is
Leather deteriorates largely by four means:
Oxidation is most readily seen in very old dry leather, with surface cracking
and flaking, and over-all weakness. Oxidation will eventually turn leather
to dust. It is inhibited by a thorough impregnation with an inert dressing
which coats the fibres. Leather items should not be sealed in a display case
and forgotten - they must be kept full of dressing.
Chemical damage can be through the effect of ultraviolet light, ozone, acid
from sulphurous and nitrous pollutants in the air, or through chemical action
following treatment with tallow or neatsfoot oil compounds. Both oxidation
and chemical damage occur faster at higher temperatures. Leather should be
stored away from heat, and not needlessly exposed to sunlight.
Internal chafing or breaking of fibres occurs when dry leather is flexed.
A lubricant is essential to allow the fibres to slide one against the other.
Dry leather should not be flexed prior to thorough lubrication.
Abrasion can be external, from rubbing on the outside, or internal from
dirt particles ground into the leather.
Pecard Leather Dressing
We recommend Pecard Leather Dressing for care of your fine leather goods. Pecard
Leather Dressing, quietly manufactured in Wisconsin since 1902, is the unrecognized
jewel among the many leather dressings on the market. It is based on a petroleum
lubricant similar to vaseline, with additions of selected waxes including
beeswax. It is a dressing which penetrates the leather, allows the fibres
to bend and move without chafing and breaking, coats the fibres to inhibit
oxidation, and helps maintain a desirable level of moisture in the leather.
It is chemically neutral, carrying neither salts nor harsh solvents, and
does not decompose to form damaging chemicals. With low volatility it is
long lasting. It is an economical dressing - there are no volatile carrier
agents such as water or kerosene to dilute the lubricant. Pecard Leather
Dressing is the dressing used by the knowledgeable collectors of leather
items and museum conservators. We offer Pecard Leather Dressing in five
convenient sizes: 6
oz. tub, 16 oz. tub, 32
oz. tub and case lots of 6-32
The majority of leather dressings are based on tallow or neatsfoot oil. Tallow,
even kidney fat, contains salts which build up with repeated dressing and attack
the leather fibres. Neatsfoot oil compounds, long recognized for damage to sewing,
also weaken and blacken the leather. Both these animal fats provide a culture
for the growth of bacteria and fungus, and turn rancid, resulting in further
attack on the leather. The more liquid formulations also evaporate quickly,
leaving the leather dry and open to rapid deterioration by oxidation and mechanical
The following guide may be used to determine the best regime for conditioning
and preserving leather items.
New unused leather, still flexible with oils put in by the tannery. A light
coating of Pecard Leather Dressing every six months will maintain the lubrication.
The exceptions are boots and shoes, and other items subject to repeated wetting
and drying. These should be dried (without heat) when wet, and then given a
good coat of dressing. Boots which are dirty should first be washed. Boots and
all leather used in hot dusty conditions should be dressed more frequently.
Greased used leather which has been kept greased with tallow or neatsfoot oil,
or has developed a white deposit on the surface indicative of tallow dressing,
but which shows no surface cracking or noticeable weakness. This leather should
first be well washed with warm (not hot) water and soap, with gentle brushing
and repeated rinsing in clear water. Washing will remove salts, tallow, neatsfoot
oil compounds, and products of decomposition. The leather should then be dried
slowly, without heat. When dry a heavy coating of Pecard Leather Dressing should
be applied, and allowed to soak in over several days. A second or third coating
may be necessary to ensure the leather is saturated. The excess can then be
removed and the surface buffed with a soft cloth. Subsequent maintenance should
be a light coating of dressing every six months except as noted above for boots
or other items subject to repeated wetting or hot dusty conditions.
Dry used leather which has been let dry out over only a short period where
deterioration by oxidation is negligible. This leather may be treated as greased
used leather but care must be taken not to flex the leather before it has become
soft with the soapy wash water.
Old leather which has become very dry, or where deterioration of surface or
strength is evident and where conservation for display is the prime consideration.
This should not be subjected to the stresses of washing. One or more liberal
coatings of Pecard Leather Dressing should be applied and allowed to penetrate
with minimum flexing of the leather until the leather is saturated. Excess dressing
can then be gently removed, and, if the surface is not a problem, the leather
can be very gently buffed with a soft cloth. Maintenance thereafter should be
storage away from sunlight, heat, and dirt, and a light coating of dressing
every six months to renew any losses from evaporation on the surface. The dressing
will not restore strength to deteriorated leather. It will inhibit further deterioration
and enhance appearance.
Rawhide should be treated as leather. Rawhide absorbs much less lubricant than
leather, but has the same requirements of protection and lubrication.
Allow Pecard Dressing ample
time to soak in -- there are no thinners, solvents, or water to hurry penetration.
Several days or a week may be required for full penetration into thick or dense
A full discussion of the conservation of antique military leather items, much
of which applies to other leather artifacts, may be found in: Antique Leather
and its Care, by Stephen Dorsey - the Gun Report, Volume 35 No. 10 March 1990.
P.O. Box 38, Aledo, IL 61231.