Tuesday, August 03, 2004

History Of Leather Goods Continued

I left of last time with the development of Cabin Trunks This side of travel goods blossomed and then failed to expand in any other direction and is now a very small part of leathergoods, indeed it has all but died out. To find the real beginning of leathergoods as we now know them we must go back to the Saddlers and Harness Makers. Around the 17th century wealthy merchants and their families began to travel between cities by Stage Coach as well as traveling around their cities and country areas. Apart from shipping and canals the horse as a mode of transport reigned supreme.

Saddlers, Harness Makers and Coach Makers became wealthy people supplying the countries needs. It is those stage coaches however that we owe the development of leathergoods to, Once some people could travel more freely and faster than before they needed to take a change of clothing with them as well as other belongings. At first the wooden box on similar lines to those used on ships were adopted but they were smaller and square so that they could be strapped to the roof of a coach. However they did not prove durable as unlike their counterparts on ships they needed to be unloaded for every overnight stop. Being thrown of dropped from the top of a coach by some local yokel at the inn where they were stopping meant that a rigid sided box would split at the corners

At some stage an enterprising Saddler or Harness Maker tackled this problem by making a case from leather which had its sides stiffened with thick cardboard and added locks. This proved lighter and far more durable than the wooden boxes as the board being flexible would bow outwards if dropped and resume it's shape. In fact the worst damage these cases could suffer was a dented corner if actually dropped directly on a corner. Saving the embarrassment of travelers having their belongings strewn on the street or the Inn yard. These Cases developed into a style with a shut over lid (That means that the lid closed over the sides of the body).
The hinge of the lid was formed by the leather covering. These type of cases persisted right up to the second World War and were only ousted by the emergence of Air Travel which needed much lighter cases due to luggage restrictions.

Those old Shut Over Lid Cases were very heavy but in their hay-day labour was cheap and the wealthy were still the main travelers & could easily hire a porter to carry their luggage. So we again have large containers (this time Luggage) involved in the start of the Leathergoods industry being made originally by Saddlers and Harness Makers who already had their own industry but were much more versatile than the trunk makers. That was understandable because they would have been making special equipment for farmers, and other people, such as bags for powder (early Guns) Saddle Bags for travelers and military, game bags, etc. That other people may have designed for their own use originally. Some saddlers in large cities found it more lucrative to switch from saddlery to making luggage. As people traveled more, carried more things, the arrival of the trains, The Royal Mail and letter writing, the advent of paper money, Ladies need to carry cosmetics, This saw an explosion of leather goods to fill all these needs. Business bags and folders, writing cases, wallets, handbags, etc. Instruments needed cases to protect them, binoculars, telescopes, cameras, etc.

Nowadays a lot of these items are made from material or plastic as leather is more expensive and scarcer. But the same basic skills are required and the same workers are involved. That is the basic history of Leathergoods. I have omitted dates as for this short explanation they are not relevant. There is also a lot more detail that could have been gone into, but I don't wish to bore my readers. So how do we know the Saddlers & Harness Makers started all this? Well there are just a few old leathergoods companies left and their old records show that they were originally saddlery makers. But like the Trunk Makers the terminology used gives it away. Saddlers and Harness Makers call the Buckles, Squares, Bits, Stirrups, etc. 'Fittings' The same term is used by leather Craftsmen when referring to the, hinges, locks, buckles, studs, buttons, catches, bag frames, etc. We also describe these as 'Fittings' A lot of other terminology is the same or very similar and likewise the making methods which I will not go into here. This ends this series of 'Bloggs' on leathergoods and how it evolved.
Regards to everyone. Francis. I hope you all found this informative.
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Sunday, August 01, 2004

History Of Leather Goods Continued

Leathergoods did not start to evolve until we started to travel. A bland statement, mankind has always moved around, armies traveled, tribes migrated, lone travelers undertook journeys by horse. But people did not travel on a regular basis. In early & late Medieval times most people lived and died in their own village it would have been an event to visit the nearest town. If people were forced to move they did it by cart uncomfortable and slow.

The First of the two branches of leathergoods developed in the large Seafaring cities as people started to travel abroard and populate the new developing colonies in America Canada and later Australia. The Cabinet Makers in these large Ports around the coast of England began to make 'Trunks' these ranged from the simple rounded toped trunk mainly used by seamen to larger square one and big 'Wardrobe Trunks' in which clothes could be hung. Quite an industry emerged devoted to the production of trunks and cabinet makers changed over from making furniture to just producing trunks to satisfy the demand. But that is all they did just make trunks for people to go on long journeys.

The trunks were made from wood using similar construction methods as they used to make items of furniture and the edges and corners were bound with metal strips, cheap ones with iron more expensive with brass. They were heavy and had handles at each end as it would need two people to carry them, labour was cheap in those days, so the wealthy could pay to have them carried for them. Few records relating to this part of history exist but we can trace this by the terminology used by cabinet makers. The handles, locks, etc. They put on trunks were referred to as 'Furniture' just as they were when fitted to chests, wardrobes, etc in fact the name migrated, as the pieces of home equipment made all began to be referred to as Furniture. The few trunks that are still used today still have this distinction as all additional attachments to the main box are referred to as furniture. They are also covered with a rexine type material or plastic coated cloth instead of the original painted finish it is not clear when this change of finish took place. To be continued.