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Leather Identification

January 19, 2009

As part of my studies at West Dean College I participated in a “Professional Conservators in Practice” course (taught by Aline Angus and Roy Thomson) where we had a bit of a crash course on leather conservation. My favorite part was learning how to identify different types of leather–i.e. what kind of animal it was, and how it was tanned. After a basic briefing on what to look for, we were given 13 unlabeled specimens and a list of the 13 types of leather, and then we went to work identifying them. Here are the leathers with their answers:

Vegetable tanned cattle hide:


Vegetable tanned goat skin:

Chrome tanned sheep skin:

Chrome tanned calf skin:

Chrome tanned pig skin:

Chrome tanned sheep skin:

Alum tawed goat skin:

Vegetable tanned cattle hide:

Chrome tanned deer skin:

Alum tawed calf skin:

Semi alum goatskin:

chrome tanned cattle hide:

Chrome tanning is a newer type of tanning–it has only been around for the past century or so. Bookbinders tend to favor vegetable-tanned leathers (I find that they are easier to pare), and conservators will often use alum-tawed skins, because they last a long time and have incredible strength.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2008 8:08 am

    I’d really like to add your blog to my feed reader but can’t find a subscribe button… (only one for comments. Am I just being dozy? :)

    • lalit permalink
      June 18, 2011 8:25 am

      You have done a great job, but had you mentioned here some points of identification then it would have been so good. This is my opinion so don’t mind it.

      • Lili permalink*
        June 18, 2011 8:34 am

        Lalit, you’re right. And I always meant to. Hopefully some time I will pull out my old notes and put more emphasis on how to actually identify the species/skin.

      • Lili permalink*
        September 20, 2011 1:56 pm

        Lalit, you are absolutely right. I always meant to and just never got around to it.. Oh boy. Too much to do!… ;-) Hopefully some day…

  2. lilbooks permalink*
    June 5, 2008 10:32 pm

    I’m sure you’re not being dozy–
    I’m quite new to blogging and not sure what to say! Is there something I need to set up on my blog so that people can subscribe? You’re a WordPress blogger, no? If you’re logged in, can you subscribe by clicking “blog info” in the upper righthand corner? I use google reader to watch blogs; I just figured it out a couple weeks ago but it’s brilliant.

  3. June 7, 2008 1:37 am

    Hi Lili, I saw your comment over on Diane Aldred’s blog, and had to stop by and say hi. I live in Utah County, too. Lehi, to be exact. I absolutely adore bookbinding, but have nowhere near the experience you have! You’re living my bookbinding/printmaking dream! Currently my education is limited to classes at the San Francisco Center for the Book when I can convince my husband that I need a weekend away from him and the kids! Your work looks beautiful! Anyway, I’m glad to know you’re out there close by!

  4. Anneke permalink
    January 21, 2009 10:30 pm

    This is so cool. I love that you had to identify leathers.

    We used to have goats, and when they would die we would tan their skins. My mom had an Indian friend who showed her how to do a brain tan and we did that on the hide of this little kid who died a couple weeks after it was born. It was really sad but that was the softest, most luxurious little skin ever. My mom made moccassins for babies with it.

    See, my life has all these wacky experiences like this – like the time my dad bought a teepee and my mom painted horses on it and we put it up on our land down by the pond and when we had the missionaries over for dinner my dad made us all eat in the teepee. There was also three feet of snow outside. But then all these stories end with “and then we had to sell our house and now my mom lives in an apartment in town.” And no one buys my wild west past.

  5. Lili permalink*
    January 21, 2009 10:48 pm

    I’m speechless. You have tanned goat skins. You know what brain-tanning is. You know that goat leathers are simply and wonderfully luxurious. You ate dinner in a hand-painted teepee with 3 feet of snow outside…
    Um, not to impose or anything, but do you think that perhaps you could maybe marry my brother or something so that we can be sisters? Because that would really be ace.

  6. July 22, 2009 2:24 pm

    Dear Sir,

    How to know a pigskin lining in Tony Lama Cowboy boots?

    Hope you can help me.

  7. fawad permalink
    July 31, 2010 9:49 am

    i am intrested to know , how we can idetify the leather when we have made up boot. thart it is of coe , buffalow or deeply sunffed.

  8. June 7, 2011 6:46 am

    Hi – I love your blog and have seen your stuff before on Etsy.. I am new to working with leather but my new job is teaching me all about it so I read your identifications with great joy. We stock tools and leathers and there is so much to learn – never a dull day! It is an amazing medium.

    • Jan permalink
      April 13, 2015 6:05 am

      I am looking to collect samples (approximately 2″x2″) of all different kinds of leather and reptile skins for a project on identifying them. Do you know where I could find such a thing?

  9. hasmawi permalink
    April 11, 2012 4:38 am

    Hi Lili, quite interesting info you ‘ve shared here and very useful for me..need your favour to identify the pigskin lining inside my smartphone pouch leather.. just wanna confirm either its a pigskin lining or it ok with u?

  10. astonbooks permalink
    March 21, 2013 2:26 pm

    Im about to come in to veg tanned pigskin or my handmade books. Would you like a picture when I get it?

  11. July 8, 2013 9:30 am

    hi lili…can i e-mail you some pictures of a leather belt that i wuld really like you to help me identify…

  12. aim permalink
    October 5, 2013 7:30 am

    Hey there. Thanks for the pics.. But yes it is very difficult to identify whether it is a pig skin or not , just by looking at the pics above.. Can u please share some signs for its identification in leather products. I got 2 hand bags from coach, can’t differentiate the type of leather in them 😞.. Can u help in that please? Thanx

  13. April 27, 2014 6:32 am

    hi..ive read ur blog and finding that the other animal skin seem similar with the triple dot of pigskin… well…can u give a spesific type of the diffrence between pigskin lining and the other skin lining? thank you.. please send me ur reply on my email directly on

  14. March 12, 2015 8:01 am

    Most Muslims are interested to know the pig skin identification. Here is the answer…Pig skin has 3 dots pattern throughout the skin. The 3 dots can be seen clearly if close up pictures are taken.

  15. Dartmoorlass permalink
    November 25, 2015 10:20 am

    Hi, this is a good blog. Wonder if you can advise me on something. Just recently, the UK is being flooded with leather being sold as “sheep leather” or “lamb skin” from China, when it is, in fact, made from dog skin. How could I tell if the gloves I have bought are made from the skin of a dog? I would hate it if I was helping to support this industry. Thanks!

  16. ADR permalink
    August 5, 2016 7:59 am

    Very helpful — thank you!

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