Preservation of leather Dr.’s bag

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    • #133345
      Russell Pfau

      We have two leather doctor’s bags from the turn of the century (the last century!)and they are extremely dry and brittle. We’re wondering what, if anything, we can do to prolong their life.

    • #133350

      This is a difficult question – making leather more supple with some kind of dressing, if it works, does not correlate with longer life. Acidity of dressings can cause long term damage. If the bags are currently in the shape they should be, that is, not squashed, then they should stay that way.

    • #133349

      Head Barbara’s advice. Much of the US Army Museum System’s leather accoutrement, including bags and satchels are covered with a white surface deposit –spew, I believe is the term. I am a paper conservator by training, but I have contracted some of out leather artifacts out to Objects specialist who have removed this surface secretion. It is not an inexpensive procedure to reverse!

    • #133348
      Kory Berrett

      There are a lot of leather artifacts out there that were overly saturated with leather “dressings” in the second half of the 20th century. These dressings are mostly mixtures of fats and oils, applied to keep the leather flexible and looking “cared for.” Too much of this material can congest the fibers and prevent the leather from keeping its balance of moisture content and its proper pH value. As the dressing ages and breaks down it moves back to the surface as “spew,” disfiguring the artifact. The leather also can shrink and distort under these conditions, problems that cannot be reversed. If the doctors’ bags have good form, as Barbara said, leave well enough alone. There are a few ways to clean them without doing damage and a few surface treatments to either retard powdering and flaking or to provide a better looking and more repellant finish, but these should be determined and applied by an experienced objects conservator.

    • #133347
      Ella Rayburn

      Yes, leather and enthnographic conservators did once encourage applications of Br. Museum Leather wax. I carefully followed their advice. I believe they now suggest a do nothing approach. Keep the artifacts dusted, clean. Keep them stored with specifically designed supports. Others on this board can respond to this approach — is it correct? Make polyester batting “pillows” secured in unbuffered, acid-free tissue. The tissue will prevent the polyester from catching on tears and rough spots. Put the pillows inside the bags to support the shape and ensure the shape doesn’t collapse.

    • #133346

      Blaschke, Kristina
      I just saw an abstract of this article:Blaschke, Kristina, Lubricants on vegetable tanned leather: effects and chemical changes.

      Restaurator: international journal for the preservation of library and archival material 33, 1, ( 2012 ) [eng w. eng; fre; ger summary] , pp. 76-99: 9 figs. (7 color), 7 tables, refs. It’s a study of commonly recommended leather dressing and their aging. Conclusion: they all age badly – don’t use them

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