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Lewis Ballard




Location: Houston, TX
Joined: 27 Dec 2009

Posts: 66

PostPosted: Tue 12 Jul, 2011 10:15 am    Post subject: Leather scarcity in pre-17th century Europe?         Reply with quote

Gentlemen:

In reading posts in the Historical Arms forum regarding the emergence of the buff coat, I have seen references to a (previously unsuspected by me) scarcity of leather in Europe prior to the 1600s, and a speculation that the increase in cattle raising around that time led to the greater availability of leather.

Although general questions of agriculture are of scant interest to me, for some reason this intrigues me. (Here I use agriculture in its broader sense, to include both the planting of crops and animal husbandry.)

Does anyone have any information as to why cattle raising became more common and widespread around the turn of the 17th century? My only speculation would be tied to climate change, i.e. the end of the medieval warming period and the commencement of the Little Ice Age. (As a side note, I have in the past speculated that climate change was responsible for shifts in animal husbandry among the Scots, resulting in a shift away from linen production to the more widespread use of wool and thus leading to the development of the kilt.)

Any information would be greatly appreciated.
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Mikael Ranelius




Location: Sweden
Joined: 06 Mar 2007

Posts: 252

PostPosted: Tue 12 Jul, 2011 10:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Don't forget that cattle did not constitute the only source of leather, as also pigs, goats, sheep, game and other animals could yield that material. In Scandinavia by the way, the preferred material for buff coats came from moose a.k.a. european elk.
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Michael Curl




Location: Northern California, US
Joined: 06 Jan 2008

Posts: 486

PostPosted: Tue 12 Jul, 2011 11:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I do know if there is a link, but the enclosure problem was going on about this time, where (in Britain at least) people found it more profitable to raise sheep rather than farm, such a switch to livestock may have happened in other fields and may have led to the increase in leather.
E Pluribus Unum
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Lewis Ballard




Location: Houston, TX
Joined: 27 Dec 2009

Posts: 66

PostPosted: Tue 12 Jul, 2011 11:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikael Ranelius wrote:
Don't forget that cattle did not constitute the only source of leather, as also pigs, goats, sheep, game and other animals could yield that material. In Scandinavia by the way, the preferred material for buff coats came from moose a.k.a. european elk.


Tripped up by my preconceptions and prejudices again! And dadgum those Sassenach that settled North America for confusing a wapiti with a moose!
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Lewis Ballard




Location: Houston, TX
Joined: 27 Dec 2009

Posts: 66

PostPosted: Tue 12 Jul, 2011 11:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
I do know if there is a link, but the enclosure problem was going on about this time, where (in Britain at least) people found it more profitable to raise sheep rather than farm, such a switch to livestock may have happened in other fields and may have led to the increase in leather.


Very good, sir! I am almost always amazed at the way seemingly small changes can ripple and spread throughout society, resulting in the most unusual and unexpected outcomes. A slight amount of "non-research research" (i.e., wikipedia) shows that enclosure was a significant issue in the British Isles at this time. Many thanks!
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Michael Curl




Location: Northern California, US
Joined: 06 Jan 2008

Posts: 486

PostPosted: Tue 12 Jul, 2011 4:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

No worries, though I am not sure how much that contributed to the leather business, I know it increased the wool trade.
E Pluribus Unum


Last edited by Michael Curl on Wed 13 Jul, 2011 11:35 am; edited 1 time in total
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Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
Joined: 07 Jun 2006
Reading list: 5 books

Posts: 2,094

PostPosted: Wed 13 Jul, 2011 5:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well.... not sure if this really works. Where I'd start is the tax on fells and hides which exist in many places but in England show up often in royal records. Having read all royal records I could find, likely most of them, I can say it seems to increase in the late medieval period. So clearly more are being produced or the levels of tax revenues on them would decline. I have to say this is just an overall and general view but I know of little evidence to support a lack in leather production.

RPM
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Lewis Ballard




Location: Houston, TX
Joined: 27 Dec 2009

Posts: 66

PostPosted: Wed 13 Jul, 2011 6:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
Well.... not sure if this really works. Where I'd start is the tax on fells and hides which exist in many places but in England show up often in royal records. Having read all royal records I could find, likely most of them, I can say it seems to increase in the late medieval period. So clearly more are being produced or the levels of tax revenues on them would decline. I have to say this is just an overall and general view but I know of little evidence to support a lack in leather production.

RPM


Randall:

Thanks for helping this to move forward. Perhaps I shouldn't have used the word "scarcity" in my initial post and title. I was keying off this comment from Elling Polden, "there seems to have been a general surge in the use of leather around 1600, not only for buffcoats but also for boots, wide belts, and so on," in this thread on the buff coat. http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=20704

Once more, I may have been working from incorrect premises. The development of "buccaneer boots" and wide belts and buff coats, which my reviews of artwork seemed to place in the 17th century (roughly), led me to assume an increase in leather production/availability.

Where are all the easy answers? The more I study, the more questions I am left with!
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E. Storesund





Joined: 10 Jan 2011

Posts: 101

PostPosted: Wed 13 Jul, 2011 9:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Is it likely the value and need for parchment affected the prices of leather in literate societies? Parchment was expensive and calf skin was preferred, which seems to me ton suggest that a lot of resources were put into and industry that gave relatively little yield volume-wise, therefore it required extensive ammounts of animals.
If raising young cattle for parchment was a good way to earn a little, perhaps this had negative effects on the general production of leather for other purposes?

If so, did maybe the introduction of paper have an impact on the price of leather?

Edit: Then again, I'm basing this on the context of greater Scandinavia (Iceland included, or perhaps even with an emphasis on Iceland, where literacy was definitely greater and more common than many other countries)
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