Leather Treatments

Here are some recommendations for treating leather such as that found on some older cameras.

Hello folks-- as both a budding cameramaker/tinker and learning book & paper arts @ columbia college chicago, I have come across some useful things, among them what to do with old/badly damaged leather in bindings. to prevent the evil things that oxidation and just plain drying out can do, a thin layer of Neat's foot oil is good, also a wee bit of glycerin keeps things good, too.

If you have bellows which have cracked, etc., you can repair them with japanese paper (much like what is used with an old page that has been torn), usually using the inside as your glue-to side. If your leather has red powdery stuff on it, chances are it is a wash-- this is called red rot, and is usually seen in 19th early 20th century bindings when productions weren't exactly archival minded. the rot spreads, there isn't any way to treat it, washing it out won't work-- it will just spread the spores. I would suggest before slathering your bellows with the above mentioned oils to put some on a small area, as you might upset the adhesion properties of these old things... of course, the leather in bellows and the leather on bindings have most likely been treated differently-- bellows leather probably has been calendared-- running it through a press that may or may not have been heated, or mixed with some other varnishes, formaldehyde... So the leather is really not leather so much anymore, and acts like patent leather, etc.

For more info, there is a vast store of info that is archived on the book arts list serve (do you really need to subscribe to another list!? of course you do!!) at http://palimpsest.stanford.edu

For what it is worth, here it the leather dressing formula used by the British Museum:

"Highly flammable so do not make this mixture up near an open flame or use the dressing near an open flame. Dissolve the beeswax in the hexane - no heat is required - add the lanolin and blend well - lastly add the cedarwood oil"

This is from a small volume titled "Restoring Junk" by Susanne Beedell ISBN 0 356 02858 5

Hexane, if I recall, is a kissing cousin to lighter fluid. I have not tried this concoction, so if you have trouble with it, contact the British Museum.