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Preserving McClellan 1918 Saddle

Started by Jet Rooster , Jul 29 2009 10:27 PM

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#1 Jet Rooster

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Posted 29 July 2009 - 10:27 PM

This is my first post aside from intro. I have recently been given some items from my Wife's grandfather. They include a 1918 McClellan 12 inch saddle. US Issue Saddle Bags with complete muslin(??) liners. Spurs (origin unknown). M1918 Rifle Scabbard. Some bits and halters. I'm wondering how to best proceed with stabilizing the leather and metal, before attempting to preserve. The leather is in fairly good shape, but covered with mold.
I know I will get several opinions, but that is what I am looking for. I'm a newbie at inserting photos, so I am including a link to a public Picasa album with high res photos of the stuff. If anybody wants better/different pics just let me know.
Thanks in advance,
Rooster

Photos here:
http://picasaweb.goo...feat=directlink


NSDQ
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#2 SGM (ret.)

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Posted 30 July 2009 - 02:22 AM

Hey Rooster,

Welcome to the Forums. Those are some very nice artifacts and certainly worthy of your efforts to conserve them and your wife's family history.

A couple of suggestions: If you use the search feature looking for "leather" you'll get a passle of topics to read over. Then check the sticky at the top of the Preservation section and check out the conservation supplies.

You'll find several recommendations for leather dressings, the most favored is Picards, but there are others. At the very least, as you're researching the subject, you can use a vacuum with a dust brush attachment to clean the gross dirt and dust, insect cocoons, etc. off the surface and from the crevices. Be careful and judge your progress on how well the leather seems to be holding up from the handling. I assume from your photos that the leather is sound with no surface flaking or powdering, but that's just me looking at you pictures.

If the items are in a condition that allows you to handle them, you can disassemble the saddle and harness items. The individual parts will be easier to work with if this is possible. However, if in doubt, it's better to leave them intact rather than break straps and buckles, etc. You should record how the items are assembled as you take them apart (camera, notes, etc). Obviously, you'll want to reassemble everything properly when done. (Which may or may not be the way they're put together now - research is part of the game.)

You can safely follow-up the vacuuming with a damp, lint-free cotton rag and pure water (distilled is optimal, but just potable would work) and wipe down the exterior of all the items. This includes the leather, metal, and wood.

As long as you're not soaking the leather, a damp cloth will not harm it. Be sure to rinse / use clean rags as you remove the dirt so that you're not just spreading the dirt from one spot to another. Follow the damp wiping with a dry cloth if you feel that you're leaving too much water on the surface.

Saddle soaps are not really recommended for antique leather artifacts, so pure water is your best cleaning medium.

After completely drying, you can then apply the leather dressing of your choice. Neat's Foot Oil or another linseed oils are not recommended for conservation purposes even though they may (probably) have been used on the items in the past. As I mentioned, Picards is a well regarded product, but there are others. (British Museum Leather Dressing is one that comes to mind.)

Once you have used the leather dressing per instructions, you should consider applying a coating of a micro-crystalline wax to all of the surfaces (leather, metal, and wood). Renaissance Wax is the most common, but again, there are others. They are all somewhat expensive, but they go a long way, so to speak and only small amounts are needed or desired. The micro-crystalline waxes form more or less air-tight coatings (not really, but close enough for discussion purposes). They are better than bees wax products and will not yellow with age and can be easily removed by wiping with mineral spirits. They are not "hard," however, and will show finger prints, etc. with handling. These will easily buff out, though.

As for the metal parts, the steel will be handled differently than the brass or copper. If the spurs are German Silver (actually a nickel compound), they can be handled like the brass. For the metal parts that are manufactured onto the leather, the best you can do is simply clean and coat with Renn Wax. The brass will stand light cleaning with Brasso-type cleaners, but you must be careful not to get them on the surrounding leather (won't hurt to touch it, just don't soak or leave). Cotton swabs and wooden toothpicks (cocktail sticks) can be used to careful clean crevices, etc.

For steel items (the bit in your photos looks all steel maybe), you might consider Electrolytic Rust Removal. This is a technique that I have not personally tried, but one that I will use when I next have a chance.

Electrolytic Rust Removal aka Magic

If you have buckles with rollers, you can put very small drops of a light machine oil into the rollers where you can't reach with the Renn Wax. You want to be careful that you don't have too much and that the oil is not running onto the leather. This may help stabilize the rusting inside the rollers. The wax will protect the outside metal surfaces from future corosion.

You will probably find that even after cleaning, in a few months you need to go back and re-visit some of the metal parts to stop corosion around the edges (leather to metal) or from crevices that you missed.

Sustainment cleaning is mostly vacuuming, dusting and occasional re-application of wax.

Good luck with your project. I can remember cleaning and maintaining my wife's tack when she had horses, and just cleaning and leather dressing a modern saddle is a big chore. I think you'll find that cleaning and conserving your saddle will be a bigger job than first look.

(I did notice those cowboy boots in your photos, though, so you may know more about all this than you're letting on. In which case, you might be familiar with the Lexol leather care products. If you are, and the saddle is in really good condition, then you could probably just carefully clean it using products that you already know. If you just keep the amounts of water used to the very minimum, you'll be OK with the Lexol cleaners and conditioners.)

Last but not least, be sure you interview your wife's family and the story of her Granddad while you can. I have some items that I've come into, but unfortunately, the uncle who owned them has passed and the details and history have been lost.

Take care and keep us all up on your progress,
Mike

#3 SGM (ret.)

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Posted 30 July 2009 - 02:32 AM

I forgot the linen saddle bag liners. They can probably be removed carefully and hand washed in cold water using a Ph-neutral soap like Woolite. Completely dry them laying flat on a clean wash towel and then reinstall.

You could create some forms to hold the saddle bag shapes using foam rubber (like for home made pillows) cut to shape and size then covered with a couple layers of plastic food wrap (Cling-wrap). The reason for covering with the wrap (buffering) is to prevent out-gassing byproducts from the foam affecting the leather.

You could also used balled-up acid-free tissue paper, but will need a lot of it. The tissue paper should still be buffered from the leather.

Mike

#4 jagjetta

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Posted 30 July 2009 - 05:11 AM

I

You could also used balled-up acid-free tissue paper, but will need a lot of it. The tissue paper should still be buffered from the leather.

Mike


Very good suggestions, Mike (well, up to that remark about Pecards....if you want to significantly drop the value and speed up the deterioration, use Pecards. It WILL look nice for a couple of years, but if your concern is PRESERVATION, stay away from the magic goops. Most museums with TRAINED conservation staff are even steering away from Renaissance Wax, which, for years was considered "acceptable".)

However, one thing I will comment directly on is the use of acid-free tissue. "Acid-Free" is a buzz term that the general public picked up from the museum world about a decade ago. People use as a synonym for "safe" or "good practice". The fact of acid-free tissue is that it is great for some materials and HARMFUL for others. Leather is in the latter group. Acid-Free tissue actually leaches the natural acids (remember, leather is the flesh of an animal) from the leather, thereby speeding the natural deterioration of leather. Leather actually requires an acidic material that won't compete with the leather for the acids. Back when I was a curator, we actually used unprinted newspaper. Very nice and acidic and does not compete with the leather for the leather's acid.

Conservation advice and techniques are like medical advice...everyone thinks they have the answers, but very few actually go through the efforts to get the degree to practice it. And like home-readies, it doesn't stop the untrained from practicing it--always with the best of intentions and sometimes with good results, but often, causing the death while treating a symptom.

What's the best the lay-person can do? As Mike stated, clean it, keep the bugs and mice away, keep it out of bright lights and away from windows, maintain a constant temperature and humidity (i.e., keep it out of the basement, attic or garage), relax any stresses on it (support the weight of the stirrups, for example. Don't rely on the leather straps to support the weight of accessories) and enjoy it.

The important thing is, it is yours. If you want to slather it with magic goop, that is your own business. Other than speeding up the natural deterioration of the leather, the only harm it does is to the monetary value. A knowledgeable collector / dealer will pay less for something that has been treated than an item that is left in its original state. So, the only advice I can add to Mike's great post is: Decide what this saddle is going to do for you. If you aren't planning to sell it and don't really care what it looks like beyond your life, by all means, smear on the goop and feel good because you "did something".

Otherwise, clean it, support it, display it and enjoy it, knowing that when the time comes, you can maximize your sales results or pass it on to another generation to enjoy.

And finally, Mike is right. This topic has been covered many times but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be covered again. New folks, such as yourself, are always entering the hobby and the questions remain the same: What can I do? Until folks fully realize that magic potions don't exist for leather preservation, it is important to try to educate them and not just brush them off with "It's been argued before".

Leather treatment FOR PRESERVATION does not exist. Pecards, as it was originally manufactured many many years ago, is WONDERFUL as a WATER REPELLENT (ever wonder why a DUCK is the logo? It isn't because ducks are great leather preservationists!). It was part of a late 1980s-early 1990s marketing effort to broaden the company's market when they hatched the notion that they could sell the stuff to museums. The formula didn't change, just the marketing effort.

Before you smear stuff on your historic leather and decide, "Gee it looks nice", take the time to actually contact people who have been trained in conservation, read reports and actually research (beyond asking opinions). In the meantime, clean it, support it, enjoy it.

FWIW,
John A-G
Editor, Military Trader

#5 Jet Rooster

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Posted 30 July 2009 - 07:27 AM

I forgot the linen saddle bag liners. ...
Mike


Thanks Mike, I know that took a while to write. I'm starting the cleaning process this weekend. I've ordered a few books to help along the way and hopefully teach myself not to harm anything. "United States Military Saddles, 1812-1943" Steffen ISBN-10: 0806121025 and "Conservation of Leather and Related Materials (Conservation and Museology)" Kite, ISBN-10: 0750648813.
I'm trying to learn as much as I can about the items history from family and research. There is actually a house full of stuff I'm trying to dig through. Both the Grandfather and the Great-Grandfather. You should see the mint late 19th century wagon I pulled out of the barn! When I make some progress, I will post more.
If anyone has an idea as to whether the spurs, bit and halter are GI, that would be great. Yes, we have horses and I clean the saddles regularly with Lexol products, however I'm not that concerned with preserving them, just keeping them pliable and clean. This equipment I want to preserve or at least protect for the family.
I started researching and hope to acquire the acoutrements for a correct re-enactment of a US Cavalry member of the 7th US Cavalry, Indian War period. (I served in B/4/7 Scouts 77-78). There is a category of mounted shooting competition and the historical accuracy is judged along with the shootin. http://www.cowboymou...g.com/index.cfm Pretty neat!
I just about dropped my teeth when this stuff came my way. I know it isn't period, but WOW! I really feel an obligation to preserve the history.
Thanks again,
Doug

#6 Jet Rooster

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Posted 30 July 2009 - 07:30 AM

Before you smear stuff on your historic leather and decide, "Gee it looks nice", take the time to actually contact people who have been trained in conservation, read reports and actually research (beyond asking opinions). In the meantime, clean it, support it, enjoy it.

FWIW,
John A-G
Editor, Military Trader


Thanks John,
I agree, and I have seen the comments re: Pecards. I've ordered a few books to help along the way and hopefully teach myself not to harm anything. "United States Military Saddles, 1812-1943" Steffen ISBN-10: 0806121025 and "Conservation of Leather and Related Materials (Conservation and Museology)" Kite, ISBN-10: 0750648813.
Any idea if the other items are GI? Spurs, etc.??
Thanks, Doug

#7 noworky

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Posted 31 July 2009 - 08:22 AM

Doug
you have been given some very nice historical artifacts and also with family provenance. I wished I would have known guys like Mike and John when I gave up my scrambled collecting hobby and decided to focus on one area of collecting and that is the US Cavalry. My mentors when I first started collecting the Cavalry were people like Stephen Dorsey and Kenneth McPeeters whose reference books and historical advice has helped me advance and really enjoy what I collect. For many years many advanced collectors swore by products such as Pecards. Living here in Southeast Idaho many of my friends that ride horses almost daily still use the similar products mentioned but they’re not really trying to conserve the way we are they're just trying to protect their gear from the elements. I’m not knowledgeable enough to give conservation advice and hate to say it but try to learn from mistakes and think a combination of what both Mike and John say is fairly good advice. My collecting strategy now is I try to find the best items that need the least amount of conservation that I can afford and give them all TLC.

Edited by noworky, 31 July 2009 - 08:36 AM.


#8 Jet Rooster

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Posted 31 July 2009 - 06:17 PM

try to learn from mistakes and think a combination of what both Mike and John say is fairly good advice. My collecting strategy now is I try to find the best items that need the least amount of conservation that I can afford and give them all TLC.


Thanks, I agree wholeheartedly. I knew my wallet was in for some pain after I saw your collection, though!! If you do come across anything you aren't interested in, I would appreciiate a heads up.
Thanks, Doug

#9 Old Flatfoot

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Posted 11 August 2009 - 02:59 AM

I believe you've had some good advice. I too have both conserved and restored several McClellan saddles over the years, along with other horse related goods. Found condition or the state of condition generally dictates the process and methods of conservation and/or preservation. Good or better found condition usually means a minimum of attention, perhaps just a thorough cleaning. Poor found condition often requires much more effort. I have found that the least harmful products used in moderation on good condition specimens have little impact on the leather. Anything one might use to clean or preserve does to some extent, alter it's original appearance. But on the other hand, it would be an exception to find an authentic MCClellan in new unissued condition. My point being that as many as I've seen, bought or worked on, each patina of the leather varied greatly. Issued McClellans were routinely cleaned with glycirene soaps and oiled. My recollection of the US Cavalry manual for the care of saddles and tack specified that the way to determine if an adequate amount of oil was used, was to press the finger nail into the leather until oil appeared at the surface. Generally, conservators seem to agree that oil ultimately deteriorates leather and should not be used. Some leather preparations contain petroleum distillates, like Neatsfoot Oil Compound. Pure Neatsfoot oil does not. In any case, the chances of acquiring a McClellan that has not been oiled at some point during it's service seems pretty slim to me.

Here's a 1904 in it's found condition.
Posted Image
Here it is after cleaning.
Posted Image


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