The Glorious History Of Leather

Alligator, Croc, Snake, Stingray, Ostrich… If Bear Grylls has eaten it, we’ve probably made a wallet out of it.

We may be a tad biased, but we think leather is one of the most useful inventions man has ever created. For thousands of years, it’s been used to build shelter, fashion clothing and, most importantly of all, help shape the character of the Fonz!

But when did leather become such a valuable and useful commodity, we hear three of you ask? OK, so three might be a little optimistic…

Like most of the things you learned about in school, we have the ancient Egyptians to thank for introducing us to leather. There are wall paintings dating back to 5000 B.C. that showman using leather for all manner of cool stuff like clothing, shoes and weaponry.

They used it for plenty of non-cool stuff too, like burying the dead.

And we know what you’re thinking – sadly, none of the images depict ancient Egyptians paying for some cedar wood with an Amex card from their croc wallet – we checked.

Not to be outdone, the ancient Greeks also got in on the leather game. 

Besides putting leather to fantastic use, they also concocted some fabulous ideas for getting the most out of it. They came up with a cocktail of soaked tree bark and leaves in water that was used to help preserve the leather.

As weird and disgusting as this sounds, this is how vegetable-tanned leather started and, by 500 B.C., vegetable-tanned leather was a roaring trade. It was 500 B.C.’s version of Bitcoin. 

In fact, they must have been on to something, as vegetable-tanned leather is a process that’s still extensively used today.

Obviously, when it comes to all things leather, we’re going to be a little bit one-sided in our appreciation of it, but it turns out the Romans were pretty big fans of leather too. They had some epic uses for it – making all manner of practical goodies like saddles, harnesses and even shields from leather.

(Top Tip – Don’t use our wallets as a shield, unless you’re being attacked by spitballs… it won’t end well)

Besides using it as a shield though, when it comes to durability and strength, leather can’t be beaten. Whether it’s croc, ostrich or alligator skin, its ability to withstand wear and tear is what makes leather the perfect material to make a wallet from. And we should know, we make some awesome wallets.

As time went on and society got more sophisticated, leather evolved in its number of applications. The middle ages brought different challenges (hellooooo dysentery!), but leather helped civilization meet those difficulties. Cutting back on germs in an era rife with illness was pretty useful. Providing covers for dining chairs and eating areas that didn’t absorb all the food was a new development which made leather pretty popular.

Skipping ahead a little to the Industrial era, the 19th Century created a whole new need for leathers of varying kinds. All the machinery fueling the industrial age needed leather belts to keep them working. Lots of industries were literally held together by leather!

Let’s not forget one of the Industrial ages most significant creations though – the automobile. 

Yep, the Industrial age brought us the car. 

Though slightly less refined than the Bugatti Veyron that presently resides in your garage (we have to be honest, we took a bit of a guess there), 19th Century cars still had many of the same fixtures as our present-day vehicle.

  • Seat covers,
  • Backrests,
  • Pioneer MVH S110UB car stereo with Bluetooth connectivity

(OK, we won’t lie… one of those things wasn’t a massive priority in the early 1900s)

Not only were folk in the 1900s moving around faster, but they also had a new sense of style and fashion. Early 20th Century folk wanted lighter, softer and more comfortable footwear but, more than that, they wanted it to look good too. Leather, with it’s soft and supple ability became increasingly useful. 

This wasn’t the old vegetable tanned leather of the Egyptians though. The original leather was too hard and thick to be manipulated into fashionable footwear, so something needed to be added to make it work. The world needed a new kind of leather tanning.

It turns out that salt was the key. Chromium salt to be exact. 

Chrome tanning was invented by the German technologist Friedrich Knapp and Hylten Cavalin from Sweden (thank you Google), so, the next time you’re kicking a football, wearing shoes in a pain-free manner and peeling your skin off leather upholstery, you know who to thank.

As technology improved, processing methods helped us improve the look and feel of leather, as well as increasing its applications.

Which we’re pretty pleased about, as you don’t want to trash expensive alligator leather with medieval manipulation methods!

Talking of expensive leather, it’s interesting to note that back in the 1900s, China ran out of metal money, so they temporarily introduced leather squares made out of the rare white stags hide. The squares made from the skin of this rare beast were decorated by the treasury and, … wait for it, measured 1ft by 1ft. Imagine being ‘in the money’ and carrying that wad around with you!

To be fair, each ‘note’ was equivalent to 400, 000 copper coins, so you really were flashing the cash if you got your twelve inches out back then. Money guys – get out of the gutter! 

Though we’re definitely now wondering if the stag hide is where the association with bucks came from, but that’s possibly another riveting post for us to revel in creating for you.

In the meantime, if you want to make an impression equally as memorable as getting your well-loved foot-long out for the sales ladies, take a look at what we offer. If aiming to impress is the name of the game, check out our range of 100% authentic alligator leather wallets – with those beauties in your arsenal, it’s only a matter of time before you and your exotic ways are snapped up.

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Co-owner of Real Mens Wallets, Xavier uses his vast knowledge of exotic leathers to source the best possible skins from tanneries and local farms.

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