Calf, sheep, goat, or pig. And deerskin?

An advertisement on the back cover of  “A Treatise on internal navigation.” Ballston Spa [N.Y.]: : Printed by U.F. Doubleday., 1817. Image courtesy The Library Company of Philadelphia.
Calf, sheep, goat or pig. It seems 99.9% of leather books are made with one of these these. But other types of leather are always a possibility. For example, deerskin was commercially available for bookbinders in the early 19th century North America. The above advertisement, from D.K. Van Veghten, implies it is a new innovation he is introducing to the market. Given the large numbers of deer — even now — I wonder if this it was all that new. After all,  muskrat or beaver are  not unheard of in the 18th century. It is best not to become blasé with leather identification.

Below is a vegetable tanned deerskin, with two bullet holes. It was shot by my Grandfather between 1946 – 1954, and he had it vegetable tanned. He also had a couple of heads mounted on the wall of his living room.  Deerskin is softer and stretchier than sheepskin, and the grain is more pronounced in this example. Because of the stretch, it is difficult to pare, even with the best paring knife in the world. Possibly different vegetable tanning methods would have made it look more like calf. Most of the examples I’ve seen on books are very similar to calf, and a delaminating grain layer is often a clue that it is in fact sheep. D.K. Van Veghten’s advertisment also mentions it is quite similar to calf, but 25% cheaper.

I don’t think of the deer when I look at the deerskin below, but of my Grandfather. The bond between things and memories is strong. I can’t bring myself to use this partial skin. The familiar curse of a precious material; it’s too nice to use. So it languishes, only to be written about.

Sample of tanned deerskin shot by my Grandfather. Note the two bullet holes.


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