Leather production in Russia: historical review

Since ancient times, leather has not only been considered a practical and functional material for manufacture of a variety of products, from clothing to technical details. Genuine leather has always been valued as a unique material with some sacred meaning in Ancient Russia, it has always been endowed with mystical properties.

If we look back into the distant past, we can trace an interesting tendency. In ancient times, genuine leather and fur were used as a cash equivalent, both in Russia and abroad. And it was not just because they were rare and valuable goods. The kind of animal used to be of great importance for our ancestors. Cattle, sheep, goat or cow skin was common. But the skins of dead animals killed on the hunt were quite a different matter. Vital force and energy of the animal, that required hardship to get, remained in its fur and its skin, and wearing clothes made of this material was akin to the ritual of devouring the bodies of their enemies by American and Indonesian tribes. Putting on the clothes made from Buffalo, tiger or moose fur, a man acquired unique qualities inherent of these wild animals.

Therefore, it is impossible to consider the history of leather craft in Russia apart from the particular cultural component of this "industry."

So, what did the process of leather manufacturing look like many centuries ago at the territory of modern Russia?

Actually it looked about the same as it does now! The fell was processed in a certain way, they made either fur or leather, and the waste was also made use of. The fat was used to make adhesives, and hair was used for making felt, stuffed in mattresses and thread was twisted out of it as well.

By the middle ages more and more items of clothing and various accessories were made of genuine leather. Leather gloves, wallets, bags, pouches for tools and weapons, belts came into existence. Leather craft itself progressed and became more complex, the craftsman had to possess a number of special skills and abilities, as well as biological and physiological knowledge. Shoe production developed really actively - after al what else, except leather and wood, it was possible to produce shoes of in the Middle Ages. That was leather and shoe production that was the prevailing tendency in the leather industry in the middle ages. The techniques were perfected, new technologies were created and the ways were sought to provide a unique method of leather processing that would later become the basis for the development of the leather industry in the form that it is present now. And however, unique national schools of leather craft were starting to appear. In the 11th-13th centuries, there was a real flourishing of leather industry in Russia. Professional urban workshops were opening across the country where professionals were working at shoe and clothes manufacture without the division of labor. Only in the 15th century tanning and tailoring ceased to be the busyness of the same craftsman and leather processing technology has came up to a new quality level.

By that time to correctly produce leather, first it had to be washed, cleaned of tendons and meat remnants, then limed (soaked hides were placed in a special box filled with lime and salt), then again washed, hair and scrapings were removed with a blunt knife. As a rule, hides of livestock were used to produce leather.

The end of the 13th century in Russia was marked by another technological twist in leather industry. The advent of tanning technology had opened up new opportunities .Now, thanks to this new technology, it was possible to manufacture perfect goods made of leather, which was soft, elastic, resistant to break, durable and undoubtedly beautiful!

There is scientific opinion that the development of the leather industry in Russia in the middle ages was so active only because of its geographical proximity to oriental countries for whom this leather industry was almost the first priority in their normal life. Why? Linguists have an answer: it was at this time when Russian vocabulary was enriched by the words like "labaz", "tupluk", "shaksha", "shadrick", "bashmak", "chyulok", "karman" - the words clearly of Turkish origin and clearly of direct relevance to leather production.

And in the 17th century leather craft in Russia passed from the category of "craft" into the category of "specialization", on industrial basis. Such economic transition contributed to the opening of the country's large tanning yards, or "factories," as Alexei Mikhailovich (Russian Tsar) called them in the Secret Order of 1668. This document clearly regulated the internal arrangement of leather enterprises: availability of the decks for soaking leather, copper boilers, oak barrels, tubs, troughs, knives etc. was prescribed. The amazing thing is that the whole set specified by Alexei Mikhailovich has not lost its relevance to this day and technically little has changed since that time.