JF Baker’s Leather is a reproduction of the legendary and coveted original Russian Leather.
For this, people have thoroughly studied the only known surviving 18th-century bundles of leather recovered from the ‘Metta Catherine’ (see also Stories -Russian Leather 1786). This with the aim of replicating this world-famous leather known for its unique colour, print, thickness, texture, smell and durable properties. In the process, people researched what was known about the techniques used at the time and the naturally available materials, which the original Russian craftsmen had at their disposal at the time.
See further below for the complete story.
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The tannery, J&FJ Baker & Co, based in the small town of Devon in England with generations of knowledge, has been around since 1862 and is the best in the world at tanning with oak bark (incidentally, even the only, surviving oak bark tannery in England). Familiar with historical tanning techniques, they have used a variety of techniques and materials to revive the lost art of Russian Leather while retaining, among other things, the strength and abrasion-resistant properties that have made the original Russian Leather so sought-after and appreciated around the world.
For this, J&FJ Baker & Co uses only Calf skins, sourced from beef cattle sourced locally, then they soak the skins with lime seeds and peels and water. This process loosens the hair follicles, after which each skin is then depilated by hand, as before, in the traditional way. Namely over a beam and using a hair removal knife, before the skin is soaked in pits of three different bark of oak, willow and birch. Each hide is then hung on a wooden pole over a pit and gently washed in oak bark for 3 months. The skins are then laid flat on top of each other with oak bark spread between each skin for another 9 months.
Various fatty liquids and oils are used to strengthen and nourish the fibres. Then the leather is soaked in tallow and greases, this promotes the leather's durability. After this, the hides are smoothed by hand and hung in a drying shed, where a natural drying process is used. After this lengthy process, each leather hide is hand-stained and printed with the characteristic cross-structure and hand-rubbed with a 'secret' balanced blend of natural oils; blended to preserve scent, flexibility, strength and longevity of the leather and, of course, stay within the limits of its historical origins.
The birch oil, in particular, is essential to the success of this leather, as it makes it both water-repellent and insecticidal and gives the leather an aroma that immediately stands out, making it world-famous at the time within high society from the 17th century to the early 20th century.
It has taken JF&FJ Baker & Co more than six years, after very many trials and variations - to detail and perfection - to revive the Russian Leather and prevent this historical heritage from being lost.