Perhaps you know that one of our favourite and very special leathers we use here at Tanner Bates is our Russia Kip Calfskin Leather produced at our local tannery in East Devon. It has a fantastic story behind it - which you may already know. However for those of you who don’t, we’d love to share this with you.
The Story of Russia Kip
This story began in 1786. The Metta Catharina was on its way from St Petersberg, to Genoa, laden with a cargo of hemp and leather. A storm forced her to seek safety, anchor in Plymouth to sit out the storm.
Overnight the conditions worsened, the winds changed and the Metta Catharina broke free from her anchor. She crashed into the rocks, struck Drakes Island and sank just off the Cornish coast. Thankfully the crew were saved.
She rested here, quietly forgotten. For almost two centuries her cargo was covered in silt.
Until in the 1970s divers stumbled across the ship’s bell. After more dives and investigation, it was discovered that all of the hemp had been destroyed, however, the leather was still there in large quantities, neatly rolled up!
Aside from the outer hides, the leather was in fantastic condition, preserved by layers of thick mud and silt.
The Dutchy of Cornwall granted permission and the leather was brought up.
The Russian leather was very special, highly sought after and regarded a luxury item in its time. None of the European tanneries had been able to replicate it. With the original recipe lost to time, this leather was even more precious.
There was much confusion at the time as to what the leather was and how it was made. Initially it was believed to be reindeer leather. However, after much close inspection and analysis it was proved to be Kip. Kip comes from a young cow, bigger than a calf, but smaller than a cow.
Russia Kip is strong and durable. Its unique smell comes from the layer of Birch oil applied during a process called currying. The notable pattern of criss-crossed lines is rolled into the leather whilst still damp from tanning and aids the Birch oil getting into the leather.
J&FJ Bakers & Co now make their Russia Kip Leather using as close to the original Russian recipe as possible. The leather is carefully tanned with a specific three bark tan. Oak from the Lake District, Willow from Somerset and Birch from France. It is then dressed with Dubbin and Birch oil – just the same as it always was.
The result is an extraordinary smelling calfskin leather that is luxurious to the touch.
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