Hides and Skins from Leather Entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica MDCCCLXXXII

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Hides and Skins – The skins of all mammalians may be made into leather, but in practice it is only from a few of the larger animals, readily obtainable in sufficient numbers, and reared and slaughtered for other objects, that commercial supplies are obtained. The term hides is by tanner restricted to the large and heavy skins of full-grown oxen, horses, and other large animals – all the lighter stock being known as skins (calfskins, sheep skins, goat skins, &c). Of all hides and skins used by the tanner, by far the most important and valuable are those obtained from oxen. Not only do these yield the most useful and valuable hides, but they are slaughtered in all civilized countries in enormous quantities ; and, while in Europe the skins of cattle are only of secondary importance, the vast herds which roam practically wild in the plains of South America are valuable more on account of the hides and other products than as sources of animal food. Ox hides are imported into Europe and the United States of America in enormous quantities, and come principally from South America, the Cape, Australia, the East Indies, and North Africa. The main centres of the import trade in hides are Antwerp, Liverpool, Havre, and New York. For tanners’ purposes calf skins are distinguished from ox hides, and the kinds of leather into which they are manufactured are entirely distinct.


Intermediate between the heavy ox hides and calf skins are East Indian kips, a medium weight skin which comes both raw and tanned from Calcutta and Madras in such large quantities as to form a distinct branch of the leather trade. Horse hides and the skins of the other Equidae – the ass, zebra, quagga, &c. – have in modern times become important raw materials of leather. The various breeds of sheep, on account of the vast numbers in which their skins come into the marker and the numerous applications of sheep and lamb skins, come near in value to oxen as sources of leather. As a rule the importance of a breed of sheep for the purposes of the tanner is in inverse proportion to its value as a source of wool. Goat and kid skins come next in order of importance, the products they yield being beautiful in texture, of high value, and of varied usefulness. Goat skins are obtained chiefly from the East Indies, the Cape, North Africa, South America, Mexico, Asia Minor, and the hilly regions of Europe. Seal skins, obtained from the arctic regions, are an important material, while hog skins are of value for the purposes of the tanner almost exclusively for making saddle leather. Among the skins which are only occasionally or locally used may be enumerated walrus, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and elephant hide, yielding very thick leather used for buffing wheels in cutlery manufacture, &c., and the skins of the numerous species of deer and antelope, dogs, kangaroo, and other Australian marsupials, porpoises, alligators, and occasionally boas.