Morocco and Thin Leather Entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica MDCCCLXXXII

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Morocco and Thin Leathers. –Originally morocco leather was a product of the Levant, Turkey, and the Mediterranean coast of Africa, where the leather was made from goat skins tanned with sumach, and finished either black or various bright colours. Such leather was peculiarly clear in colour, elastic, and soft, yet firm and fine in grain and texture, and has long been much prized for bindings, being the material in which most of the artistic work of the 16th century binders was executed. Now, in addition to genuine morocco made from goat skins, we have imitation or French moroccos, for which split calf and especially sheep skins are employed, and it may be said that, as the appearance of morocco is the result of the style of graining, which can be artificially produced on any leather, and of the finish, morocco can be made from all varieties of thin leather. The Germans distinguish between saffian and morocco, including under the former term leather tanned with sumach, and dyed bright colours without previous stuffing with fats, while as morocco proper they reckon leather which may be prepared with mixed tannage is stuffed, and afterwards is finished black. Saffians are, according to this classification, the leathers principally used for bindings and fancy purposes, morocco being more especially devoted to shoe work. The preparation of skins for morocco leathers must be conducted with much care. The skins, being usually hard and dry when received, are first soaked and softened by milling in the stocks and working on the tanner’s beam. They are next limed, unhaired, fleshed, and trimmed in effect as already described in the section on sole leather, and they are pured or bated in a preparation of dog’s dung.

After undergoing the influence of this preparation, the skins are washed and slated with a knife-edged piece of slate to removed from their surface fine hairs and adhering dirt, and then they are put into a drench of bran and water, heated to about 185º Fahr., after which they ought to be perfectly free from deleterious impurities and ready for tanning. Several processes are adopted in tanning, but that most approved is based on the original Easter practice, which consists in first treating the skins with an already used sumach infusion. Next they are, in pairs, sewed up as bags, grain side outwards, and these bags are filled with concentrated sumach liquor and a proportion of powdered sumach, and by the exudation of the liquor through the skins, partly aided by pressure, the tanning is quickly completed. After ripping out, the skins are thrown into vats containing sumach liquor, to tan the edges and shanks, which are not reached by the liquor in the bags. The fully tanned skins are now struck out on the beam with the striking pin, and hung in the loft to dry, when they are ready for the finishing processes. A large proportion of the goat skins imported into western Europe from the East Indies, whence they are exported in enormous quantities, are received in the fully tanned condition, and ready for the morocco finishing operations, after a short treatment with sumach liquor. For finishing, the leather is first damped in soap-suds, and shaved on the flesh side to equalize the thickness of the leather, and next on a table worked over repeatedly with slickers, which renders the skins firm, smooth, and uniform. The skins are next blacked on the grain side with a solution of acetate of iron, and from this point the methods of finish diverge in an endless manner according as it is desired to finish the leather as “kid,” “levant,” “peebled,” “bright,” or “dull,” &c. The bright-coloured moroccos are dyed in two different methods, the dyeing being done as a preliminary to the finishing operations. In the case of genuine moroccos, the skins are dipped and drawn through small troughs containing the dye liquor ; two skins are taken, placed flesh side to flesh side, and so worked through the liquor by hand, the operation being repeated as often as necessary to bring up the requisite strength of colour. Imitation morocco, on the other hand, is usually dyed by stretching the skins on a table and brushing the dye liquor over the grain side. After the dyeing the skins are shaved and dressed, the dyed surface is rubbed over with an emulsion of white of egg, linseed oil, and dye liquor, and afterwards grained and glassed, or finished smooth and glossy, according to the purpose for which the leather may be required. In recent times aniline colours have been very largely employed in the dyeing of all bright leathers.