The role of leather science and technology in heritage conservation

  • Roy Thomson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Hides and skins have been used since before the evolution of homo sapiens and some form of skin working technology has been employed by most human cultures throughout the world. As a result, artefacts made from the different materials that can be made from hides and skins are found in collections of artistic, cultural or historic value: the Cultural Heritage.

Before any preservation treatment is applied to an artefact, it is necessary for there to be an understanding of the materials from which it is made. Using as a basis twelve of the author's previous publications, this thesis discusses the essential knowledge and understanding of leather science and technology required before objects of leather and other materials made from skin can be treated safely and effectively.

All the author's previous publications had been appropriately peer reviewed. The papers from Transactions of the Newcomen Society, Post Medieval Archaeology, Journal of the Society of Technologists and Chemists and The Bookbinder. had been considered by their editorial committees and reviewed by an external referee before acceptance for publication. The book The Conservation of Leather and Related Materials, was published as part of the Butterworth-Heinemann Series in Conservation and Museology, after consideration by a panel of prestigious, international Editors and Consultants. Contributions are only accepted for presentation at Conferences of the United Kingdom Institute of Conservation and the International Council of Museums- Conservation Committee after they have been scrutinised by technical committees. They are then further reviewed by international specialists before publication in the post-prints.

The study is set in context by considering briefly the nature of Cultural Heritage, preservation, restoration and conservation. The role of leather science and technology in Heritage Conservation is examined by discussing their contribution to an understanding of

• The nature and properties of the material from which the object is made (Materials Science)
• How it was manufactured (Historical Technology)
• The causes and processes of its decay (Deterioration Mechanisms)
• How this deterioration can be mitigated (Conservation Methods)
The interactions between these separate but interlinked subjects are evidenced and the fundamental nature of the core topic of Materials Science around which the other subjects can be built is demonstrated.

Points that arose during the preparation of this thesis are discussed. These include: the lack of scientific understanding of a significant minority of conservators, the paucity of literature relating the science and technology of leather to its conservation, the imprecise nature of the nomenclature employed by many Heritage professionals when discussing the manufacture of leather and skin based products and the difficulty in successfully challenging accepted orthodoxy in this field.
Date of Award2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorJon Stobart (Supervisor) & Tony Covington (Supervisor)

Cite this