An 1890 Harper’s Weekly Magazine article

VALLEY VOICE October 27, 2000

After the hides arrived at the tannery, the ropes are cut and the hides are left for a few days to soak in the “water pits” beneath the floor, to soften them and put them in conditions to receive the bark. They each then hung over wooden “horses” and are cut down through the back to separate them into “sides.” After this, the hides are either put in the vats for a warm or cold “sweat” or are soaked for a few days in a solution of lime and water, which is taken off by “beaming” or “fleshing” the hide by hand with an implement like a blunt drawing knife. All the rough parts are trimmed off, and the hide is “green-shaved” to remove the roughness from the flash side. The work of the lime is now accomplished, and the skin is “unlimed” by repeated drenching in warm water until it is almost as white as the new shirt.

Then the real tanning begins. The “liquors,” made by “leaching” water through the ground bark much as old housewives make lye from wood-ashes, is stored in tanks, and the hides are dipped till they get a pale leather-color and left in piles for a day or two. Then part of the floor is removed, and the vats are exposed, and as each hide is spread out in the vat, it is carefully covered with dampened ground bark. In this “first layer” the hides are left for a week, in the “second layer” for four weeks. After hanging out for a few days to dry, they go through an iron roller machine to be “split,” which makes them uniform in thickness, and on the flattening board the thicker parts are pounded out. After another soaking in strong bark liquor, they go through the process of “currying,” which includes scouring, stretching, and blacking. Sole-leather needs no currying and is tanned to a firm condition, instead of being like upper-leather, stretched to firmness.

Prior to shipment, the hides were either “wet salted” or “dry salted.” If the former, each hide was folded separately into about the space of a cubic foot and secured with a rope. If “dry salted,” the hides were laid out flat and tied in large bundles. Each hide weighed approximately 36-38 pounds and cost approximately 10-13 cents each.

Forty railroad cars of hides were required on the average each sixty days to maintain full productive capacity of the three Sheffield tanneries. The smallest tannery, the “Horton,” was capable of processing 200 sides each day. The largest tannery, the “Sheffield,” was capable of processing 350 sides each day. A routine business week for the three Sheffield tanneries would be approximately 124 bales of hides averaging 25 sides per bale.


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society