One of the first inventors to produce a leather that was waterproof also obtained a patent covering the method of production and because this new type of leather was made through a patented process, it was commonly referred to as “patent leather”. You’ll instantly recognize patent leather's shiny surface that’s created by the application of varnishes, lacquers, and other composite resins. Let’s take a closer look at how this type of leather is made.
A Brief History of Patent Leather
In the 1790s a gentleman named Hand from Birmingham, England obtained a patent for preparing leather in such a way that it was waterproof. One of the earliest references to ‘patent leather’ with its high-gloss finish was in a British periodical called The Bee, or Literary Weekly Intelligencer that recognized Mr Hand as having obtained a patent for the process which then inspired other inventors around the country.
Six years later Edmund Prior of London received a patent for a method of painting and coloring leather with dyes and finishing it with an oil varnish. In 1805 another patent was awarded to London inventor Charles Mollersten for a leather chemical finish that was glossy. In 1818 patent leather was introduced to America by New Jersey inventor Seth Boyden who improved the original formula and created a linseed oil based lacquer coating but never patented his process.
After World War II advancements had been made in materials technology and there was an increased demand for consumer goods. The Space Race and space-age fashion were on the rise and shiny, glossy leather looked futuristic and quickly became all the rage. After the surge in the 1960s patent leather is still popular today and used in outerwear, shoes, boots, and bags.
What is Patent Leather?
Patent leather originated in the late 1700s when layers of oils were applied to dyed leather then dried and the resulting surface was durable and water resistant. Modern patent leather isn't quite as resilient because much of this type of leather made today is coated with plastic and synthetic materials instead of the original linseed oil lacquer, making it more susceptible to scuff marks so it needs to be cared for.
The lower production costs of faux synthetic materials allowed patent leather to surge in the 1960s and today it can be made in virtually any color and is used across all sorts of leather goods including boots, handbags, purses, pants, skirts, costumes, belts, watch bands, hats, backpacks, glasses cases, wallets, etc. When considering types of leather that are water resistant and have a high-shine patent leather is often first to mind.
This fine grain leather is characterized by having a clear, shiny, polished surface that is generally water resistant or waterproof and helps provide durability by protecting the leather underneath. Patent leather is beautiful on it’s own or mixed with other types and textures of leather.