Includes interesting stories from the world of leather and updates on the Museum. Issued periodically.
I took this curious object, along with several others, to the AGM of the Tools & Trades History Society in Walsall last weekend. My thanks go out to Jane Rees, their President, and all who helped organise the event. It was a pleasure.
I hope my talk on the variety and eclecticism of tools used for creating and crafting in leather went down well. I tried to take along some curiosities such as the above, to test their expert knowledge. As you might have guessed, nothing was too obscure for them.
What surprised me most in planning the talk was how leather gets into everything. Leather is everywhere! Think bellows for a minute.. We have several pairs in the collection from large wall mounted industrial bellows, through Nigerian buffalo skin hand bellows, to powder bellows for that must have deathly white pallor, for an 18th century gent. Were it not for the unique airtight (well almost) quality of leather, combined with its malleability and resistance to breaking – man could not have super-heated the materials that have forged weaponry and jewellery since the dawn of time. Leather is so ubiquitous we often take it for granted. Yet the inventive uses we have put this manufacture to underpin the most significant advances in civilisation. The industrial revolution, for example, simply would not have turned machinery at all, were it not for the miles upon miles of leather belting and cabling designed to transfer the power.
Another thing that stood out for me at the conference was ‘craftsmanship’; To be honest, waving tools around that I have never used in anger made me feel a fraud, especially when the likes of Richard Arnold were effortlessly demonstrating how to make sash windows based upon over 30 years of experience. The way Richard added his own notes to the tips and skills of his masters got me thinking about the true nature of craftsmanship. It can never be learnt, it is rather the cumulative knowledge handed down over generations, of the best way to do something; Knowledge that can only ever be hit upon through years of ‘doing’ day in day out, as a trade, as a career. Simplicity is often the key, how to take the effort and ‘faff’ out of a process or action. Tools in the hands of craftsmen can make the most complicated activity look like so natural that anyone could do it! We can’t.
None of my challenges ‘beat’ the TATHS lot in the end. This one however gave them the most pause. It’s an oak mould for used in the construction of fire buckets dating back to the 1700’s.
I look forward eagerly to the year to come, when, as we open our new museum to the public, we can at last put some of our tools and knowledge back into practice. I am sure I will rue that day when I first slice my finger or stamp my thumb!