From the Scientific American Supplement

The Tanning Materials Of Europe

The tanning materials of Europe are of an altogether different type from those of the United States. The population is so dense that the quantity of home materials produced is not nearly proportionate to the amount consumed, and consequently they must draw upon surrounding lands for their supply. The vegetation of these adjacent countries is of a much more tropical nature, and it naturally follows that the tanning materials are also of a different species.

Tanning materials may be divided into two great classes, viz.: Physiological and pathological.


The first class includes those tannins which are the results of perfectly natural or normal growth, and a growth necessary to the development of vegetation, for instance, bark, sumac, etc., whereas the second class contains those which are the results of abnormal growth, caused by diseases, stings of insects, etc. An example of this is the gall. Both of these classes are used to a great extent in Europe, while only the first division is in general use in the United States. We will first consider the physiological tannins.

Oak Bark

This material was, is, and will be for some time to come the main tanning material in use here in Europe. The advantages of the oak tannage are as fully appreciated here as in the United States. The European oak gives a light colored, firm leather, with good weight results, is comparatively cheap and of an excellent quality. The varieties are numerous, each country having its own kind. Those in most general use are:

Spiegel Rinde (Mirror Bark)

This bark is well distributed throughout Europe, and is peeled when the tree has attained a growth of from 12 to 24 years. It is marketed in three grades.

Reitel Rinde – Is obtained from the same tree as the spiegel rinde, but after the tree has attained a growth of from 25 to 40 years.

Alte Pische (Old Oak)

Obtained from the aged tree. It is not as valuable as the younger bark, and consequently brings a much lower price.

Spiegel rinde may be judged by small warts which appear on the shining surface of the bark. The presence of a great number of these, as a rule, indicates a high tannin percentage.

Bosnia has fine oak trees, the bark containing 10 to 11 per cent. tannin.

Bohemia has the trauben eiche (grape oak).

France uses the kirmess oak, which grows in the south of that country and in northern Africa. Two grades are made, viz., root and trunk.

Tyrol has the evergreen oak – 12 to 13 per cent. tannin.

Sardinia possesses a cork oak, which yields 13 to 14 per cent.

White oak is found throughout Europe, yielding 10 per cent. The price of oak bark varies a great deal.

The assortment is much more strict than in the United States. In Austria it brings 4 to 5 fl., equal to $1.60 to $2 per kilo. (2.24 lb.); in Germany, 11 to 16 marks per 100 kilos.1

The above mentioned varieties are all used for both upper and sole leather. In Germany a great deal of upper leather is pure oak tannage, but one seldom finds a pure oak tanned sole leather; it is almost always in combination with other tannics.

Pine Bark – Is well distributed and is a very important tanning material. It bears the same relation to oak bark here as does hemlock in America, but its effects are quite different from hemlock. The best Austrian sorts are those of Styria and Bohemia, but that of Karuthen is also of good quality. The German pine comes from Thuringia to a great extent. The countries that consume the greatest amount of pine bark are Austria, Germany, Russia and Italy. The tannin contained varies from 5 to 16 per cent. Its use is almost wholly confined to the handlers, as its weight returns are not so satisfactory as oak or valonia. In case it should be used for layers it is always in combination with some better weight-giving tannic. For upper leather its use is limited.

The bark is always peeled from the felled tree, and often the woodman accepts the bark in part payment for his labor; he then sells the bark to the tanner or agents who go about the country collecting bark. It is generally very nicely cleaned. I would here like to correct a mistake which tanners often make in their estimations of the value of barks. A tanner usually buys the bark of southern-grown trees in preference to that of trees grown in northern countries, as it is a common idea that southern vegetation contains more tannin than that of the north. This is a fallacy, as has not only been proved by careful analyses, but may also be found to be an incorrect conclusion after a moments’ thought. Those trees which flourish in southern countries grow very rapidly, and as tannin is necessary to the development of leaf structure, etc., it is absorbed to a greater extent than is the case with the slower-growing tree of the north. The tannin contained in the sap does not increase in the same ratio as does the rapid growth, and it follows that the remainder in the bark is less than in the tree of slower growth.

Birch Bark – Is at home in Russia, Norway, and Sweden. It is used for both upper and sole leather, but seldom alone. The bark is usually peeled from the full grown tree, and contains 4 to 9 per cent. tannin.

Willow Bark – May also be found in the above mentioned countries and also in Germany. This material is used for both upper and sole leather, and contains 6 to 9 per cent. tannin. It is a very delicate material to use, as its tannin decomposes rapidly.

Erlen Rinde – Is also a native of Germany, but is not used to any great extent. The same may be said of the larch, although this variety is also to be met with in Russia.

Mimosa Bark – Is obtained from the acacia of Australia. It is a favorite in England. The varieties are as follows: Gold wattle, silver wattle (blackwood, lightwood), black wattle, green wattle. The gold wattle is a native of Victoria. Its cultivation was tried as an experiment in Algeria and met with some success. The trees are always grown from seeds. These seeds are laid in warm water for a few hours before sowing. The acacia may be peeled at eight years’ growth and carries seeds. The Tasmania bark is very good; that from Adelaide likewise good.

Sydney does not produce so good an article, but Queensland better. The bark is marketed in the stick, ground or chopped.

Madagascar and the Reunion Islands have also a mimosa bark.

The mimosa barks give a reddish colored leather, pump well and contain a high tannin percentage, 10 to 35 per cent.

Now we will consider the fruit tanning materials.

Valonia may truly be called one of the most generally used tanning agents at present employed in Europe. All countries consume it more or less. Valonia was first used in England about the beginning of this century. A few years later Germany began using it, and still later Austria introduced it. It is the fruit of the oak tree and is obtainable in Asia Minor and the adjacent islands. In form it resembles the American acorn, but in size it nearly trebles it. The fruit may be divided into two parts, namely, the cup and acorn, and the cup again divided into trillor and inner cup. The acorn only contains 10 per cent. tannin, whereas the cup contains from 25 to 40 per cent.

The percentage depends altogether upon the time of harvesting and the place of growth. The best valonia is derived from Smyrna, and is naturally the highest priced article. Valonia is worth from 22 to 28 florins ($9 to $11) per 100 kilos. (224 pounds) at present. The other provinces and islands from which it is obtainable are Demergick, Govalia, Idem, Ivalzick, Troy (this is the best); Metelino Island, the vicinity of Smyrna. The material sold in three grades – prime, mazzano; seconds, una aqua; thirds, skart.

The product of Smyrna generally averages:

Tons. Price.
Prime. 2,000 to 3,000 28 florins.
Seconds. 5,000 to 10,000 25 florins.
Thirds. 20,000 to 30,000 22 florins.

The Metilino valonia is a product of a neighboring island, and is a very good article. It may be easily distinguished by its thin cup. It is harvested in September.

The Candia valonia is nearly as long as it is wide, in contrast to the Smyrna, which is much wider than long. The recent harvest showed a return of 800 to 1,000 tons, but no assortment is made. A grade called the Erstlige is sold, this being the first which has fallen to the ground before maturing.

A peculiarity of the valonia is that it often strikes out a sort of sugar sweat, which gives the cup a less attractive appearance, but denotes the presence of large quantities of tannin.

Valonia is used almost wholly for sole leather, either alone or in combination with pine or oak bark or knoppern and myrabolams. The union of valonia and knoppern is that in most general use. Valonia gives the leather a yellowish appearance, as it deposits a great deal of yellow bloom. The leather is very firm and of good wearing qualities. The weight results are also excellent, as will be seen below. To sole leather there are usually given from one to three layers of valonia. The demand for valonia is increasing more and more every year, and the present outlook does not indicate any relaxation of its popularity. Its use for upper leather is very limited.

Myrabolams are mainly used in England and Austria, and give a nice light-colored leather, both upper and sole, although rarely used alone. Their main use is for dyeing purposes. They are indigenous to the East Indies.

Sumac is so well known that treating of it is superfluous. Its use is very extensive, and it is a general favorite for light, fine leather, which is mostly used for colors.

Gambier – Is in general use in England and to some extent in Germany.

Catechu – Obtained from India, resembles gambier greatly. Its use is almost wholly confined to England. It is also consumed by the silk manufacturers in preference to gambier, for weighting purposes.

Pathological Tanning Materials Of Europe

We now leave the physiological class and take up those tanning materials included in the pathological class, or those of abnormal growth.


These are not consumed to any great extent at the present period, but formerly they were used quite extensively. The galls are found upon the leaves of the oak or sumac, etc. The direct cause of their growth is that a certain wasp (cynips galles) stings into the leaf and after depositing its egg, flies away. The egg develops into a larva and then into a full-fledged wasp, boring its way out of the gall which has served as a protection and nourisher. This accounts for the hole noticed in almost every gall. The different varieties include Aleppo. It is found upon the same trees as the valonia and contains 60 to 75 per cent. tannin; Istrian galls, 32 per cent. tannin; Persian, 28 to 29 per cent. tannin. Chinese galls, giving 80 to 82 per cent. tannin, are the results of the sting of a louse, and make a very light-colored leather. The dyers also use this material for coloring.

Knoppern – Belongs to the family of galls, and is a most important factor of commerce in Austria. The knopper is generally found on the acorn or leaf of the oak tree. The greatest quantity is derived from the steel oak of Hungary. The tannin contained varies from 27 to 33 per cent. Knoppern are not being used so much now as formerly, and consequently the amount harvested lessens from year to year. Its main use was and is in combination with valonia as layers for sole leather. Valonia gives better weight results than knoppern, and is replacing knoppern more and more every year. The combination of knoppern, valonia and myrabolams is also quite popular, and gives good results. Knoppern are seldom used alone, being generally combined with some other tannin. Austria is almost the only consumer at present, but Germany used it extensively formerly.

Bark and Wood Extracts – Are becoming general favorites throughout Europe, partly because of their weight-giving qualities and partly as the transportation costs so little; they can be used to strengthen weak bark liquors.

Oak Extracts – Are well liked, both wood and bark, and are used extensively. Slavonia furnishes a great deal of it.

Chestnut Oak Wood Extract – Is manufactured in quantities, and easily finds purchasers.

Pine Bark Extract – Is also consumed in goodly amounts.

Quebracho Wood Extract – The wood is shipped from Brazil to Hamburg and other ports, and the tannin extracted there. Hamburg furnishes quantities of it.

Hemlock Extract – Is used in Russia, and seems to have taken a hold on the shoe buyers’ fancies, as they now make imitations of it in color. The hemlock that is consumed is imported from America.

As most leather is sold by weight in Europe, the leather manufacturers aim to obtain as good weight results as possible, and often, I am sorry to say, do so at the sacrifice of quality. This is common to both upper and sole leather. Sole leather is nine times out of ten given false weight by forcing entirely foreign substances into the leather, such as glucose, barium chloride, magnesium chloride, resins, etc. Glucose and resin are also used for weighting upper leather. Leather is also weighted with extracts by overtanning. Leather buyers have become very wary of late and do not purchase large quantities before an analysis is made of a fair sample.

One more word before I close. The governments and private individuals in Europe cultivate and raise trees for both lumber and bark purposes. The forests are excellently cared for by efficient foresters, and the result is that the tanners obtain much cleaner and better bark, and of a very even quality. Would it not be a good idea if some individual, who would certainly earn the everlasting gratefulness of the tanners, would look into this matter, and see that not only the lumber side of our forest cultivation is not neglected, but that the bark also is preserved and cared for? Of course, we can obtain all the bark necessary at present and for some time to come, but the time will come when we shall certainly regret not having taken these steps, if the lumbermen and bark peelers go on devastating magnificent forests. Below will be found a table of weight results. Sole leather tanned with these materials gives for every 100 lb. green hide the following quantities of finished leather:

Oak bark 48 to 54
Oak extract 55 to 56
Pine bark 44 to 46
Pine extract 48 to 50
Willow 45 to 46
Birch bark and oak extract 49 to 51
Quebracho wood and extract 48 to 49
Valonia 52 to 56
Knoppern 51 to 53
Myrabolams 50
Knoppern, myrabolams and valonia 52 to 53
Hemloc 55

6 thoughts on “From the Scientific American Supplement

  1. i think you meant 2.24 pounds, you missed the decimal, nice post! and the lastest post of the machines had one labelled show instead of shoe, thought just to let you know, you always post such a great deal of information, keep it up!

  2. Hi Andre, thanks for proofing πŸ™‚
    Yep, I just edited the show to shoe.
    Regarding the 224 pounds, I think it is the correct exchange to 100 kg – it sounds a little much, but this is late 19th century pricing πŸ™‚

  3. I actaully meant the one before that, there was a “equal to $1.60 to $2 per kilo. (224 lb.)” where the 224 lacked a decimal i think, nice evo on the roys agree to the mmm-ing and umm-ing hahaha it will be the same when i put my flathead through the contest, prob with rogue territory rks for the weekends with my girlfriend if my flathead has a light ‘fragrance’ to it

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