Category Archives: Tanning

Tanning methods in St Louis

The below is a question an answer session from some AMM brothers about “German tan” in St. Louis . . .

Question – Does anyone know if “German tan” using fish oil was common in St. Louis?



Answer: The process has been used in Europe for some time. However, I’ve never found any solid information pertaining to its use in the states. There was commercially produced “brain tan” clothing sold in St. Louis at the peak of the western fur trade, but no specification as to what tanning process was used. Texas was exporting around 90,000 “Indian dressed” deer skins a year to St. Louis between 1821 and 1835, the customs records start to disappear after the revolution. If you break the brain or other natural solution tan such as soap or fish oil down chemically it necessitates an oil that will produce an emulsion to tan the hide. So in my opinion there is no difference between the fish oil and brains other than the origin and smell. It produces the same product chemically. The only real difference is the hide itself, North American cervid species such as white tail, mule deer and elk vs. red deer, stag, etc… So unless you want to be that picky use what you have, what’s available or what you can afford. It all beats chrome tan any day.

What was for sure used in St. Louis and the states was the old word bark and vegetable tans. Which uses an acid or protein to tan the hide vs. an oil. This makes excellent tool leather but not always the best clothing. And of course alum tan, also acid based, has been around for centuries and would have used. But again it makes for much better tool leather than clothing.

– Taylor Tomlin

More perspective:
Here’s a good link to a fair amount of brain-tanning and smoking being done by whites in rural Pennsylvania.

Fish-oil tanning is labor extensive, and demands a source for the oil. It makes more sense that brain would be more efficient as it could be widely had. Most of the fish-oil tan was imported and likely could have only been seen around the upper aristocrats.

– Allen Harrison

More perspective:
Great info, Taylor and Allen! Here’s a conversation on a tanner’s list that tells a little about the German tanning process, says it IS labor intensive and takes about a year:

– Patsy Harper