turkey leather

Preferred label
turkey leather
Alternative label
Note (en)
The name given to high-quality vegetable-tanned goatskins, often said to be tanned with sumac, but possibly bagaruwa (acacia) imported into England probably from sub-Saharan Africa from the early 18th century, but used in Italy and Spain in the late 15th century. They got their English name from being imported through Smyrna (modern Izmir) in Turkey, while what appear to be identical skins were known in France as maroquin, and in Italy as marocchino as they were imported from Morocco. The skins imported into England directly from Morocco for Lord Harley’s library in the early 18th century, and known in England as morocco leather, were taken from hairsheep and are of inferior quality. The distinction between Turkey leather and Morocco leather was maintained within the English booktrade until at least the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when the English term morocco began to be applied to the same African goatskins tanned with sumac/bagaruwa that had been called turkey leather up to that point, and this is now the general modern usage. The confusion resulting from this can be reduced either by using the French word for the skins used in France (maroquin) or by qualifying the word morocco as French morocco where relevant. Where it is possible to distinguish them, the simplest answer is to refer to the higher-quality skins as tanned goatskin, but the terminological distinction between Turkey leather and Lord Harley's (i.e. hairsheep) morocco leather is as complex as identifying the skins themselves can often be, especially as so many bindings described as 'morocco bindings' in library and booksellers' catalogues from the nineteenth century onwards may or may not actually be covered in goatskin.
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