A brief history of leather

The art of leather production, i.e. the preservation of animal skins, is as old as mankind itself. Even our oldest ancestors were able to produce leather and used it as protective clothing, tent canvas, water containers, boats and much more.

Production and use of leather in the Stone Age

Even in the Stone Age, people recognized that the hides and skins of the animals they hunted provided very good protection for the body, in the form of clothing or tents, for example.

At that time, hunters and gatherers tried to utilize everything from the animal and made leather from the animal skins. How our ancestors managed to tan the animal skins and thus make them durable was probably a lengthy process involving a lot of chance discoveries. If they simply left the animal skin to dry, it became as hard as a rock. If the skin was left moist, it decomposed.


At some point, humans discovered that animal hides became soft, durable leather when treated with natural products such as tree bark or alum stone. Or the animal skin was chewed and softened with oils and fats.

This method is still used by the Eskimos today. Other cavemen covered the entrances to their caves with animal skins for protection and discovered (probably by chance) that the smoke from the campfire made the skins soft and durable.

The fact that vegetable tanning was already known in ancient Egypt in the 4th millennium BC is known from decorations on a sarcophagus depicting scenes with tanners. And (alum-tanned) leather in good condition was also found in Tutankhamun's tomb. The tanning profession was highly respected at the time and leather items were considered very valuable. Egyptians from higher social classes wore leather sandals, for example.


People in the Stone and Bronze Ages also wore garments made of various types of leather. The famous glacier mummy Ötzi, 5300 years old, already wore a leather belt and loincloth. The Iceman's belt consists of a 4-5 cm wide strip of calfskin. It was wrapped twice around the hips and knotted. A sewn-on leather strap forms a belt pouch, the opening of which could be tied shut with a narrow strip of leather. The loincloth is a square piece of leather, approx. 33 cm wide, made from narrow strips of goatskin.

Leather in antiquity & the Middle Ages

Or think of the equipment worn by legionaries during the Roman Empire, where a lot of leather was used.

At the time, Carthage was an important trading center between the markets of North Africa and those of the Mediterranean and thus held a monopoly position for the leather trade in Europe and the Mediterranean region.

New tanning processes were developed in the Roman Empire and leather goods were easier to produce. This meant that even ordinary people could now afford leather sandals.

In the Middle Ages, the Middle East and North Africa were far ahead of the European tanning trade. From stories told by the world traveler Marco Polo after his return from Asia, we learn of the art of leather production there - for example, of a grandson of Genghis Khan who lived in a leather tent covered with ermine skins and wore gilded leather clothing.

In Europe in the Middle Ages, the profession of tanner was hard physical labor. Tanneries were usually located by rivers or streams where the hides were processed. In many larger cities, there were entire tanners' quarters that could be recognized by the mere smell of their trade.

Constantly standing in cold water, dragging the heavy hides and the constant stench characterized the trade - and made the tanners ill. Anyone who has seen the movie “Perfume” can well imagine the situation of the tanners at that time.

Back then, master tanners had a high reliance on apprentices and other cheap labor, as the manufacturing processes often involved harmful substances and catastrophic working conditions.

Development of the tannery until today

By the beginning of the 17th century, the number of tanners had risen sharply and the craft, which until then had mainly been practiced in larger cities, also spread to the countryside. From 1750, when large-scale craft businesses and manufactories gradually emerged, leather production in Europe was approached from the scientific side in order to optimize the tanning process.

The invention of industrial chrome tanning at the end of the 19th century made it possible to produce very pleasantly soft yet stable leather that could also be dyed very well.

Leather is still very popular today as a noble natural material. Whether upholstered furniture, car seats, clothing, accessories and much more, leather has become an integral part of our lives.

“In the history of leather
the main thing is the stench.
Lime, alum, flour and arsenic
make it white and beautiful.
Egg yolk, pee, dog shit
give it a special quality.
So it always remains a delight
A gentle kiss on the glove

- Old tanner's saying

to the top

Please select:

product filter:

Please make a more detailed selection so that we can recommend the right products for you.