I have an OLD OLD mink pelt here. From 1956 or so.
I suspect it was alum tanned.
It is severely dry-rotted. The fur is tight and intact but the leather is disintegrating.
Can re-tanning save it?
I would re-tan the traditional way: rehydrate, pickle, neutralize, tan, oil.
Whaddya think, should I try? I am doing this for knowledge, not because the mink hide is special to me. I want to know if this is a viable way to save old skins.
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Your 44 year old skin is exceptional! Obviously it hasn't received any real wear or tear along the way. Thats good - however, the acid in it seems to have finally weakened it to the point where it is literally disintegrating!
Do Not rehydrate it and try to retan it. It can probably be torn like a piece of paper, so that rehydrating it may cause you massive disintegration, and very possibly it will fall apart on you. If you are intent on saving it - then you are facing immobilizing it, and adding a backing to it. Ideally you should somehow impregnate the flesh side with some flexible (once dried) neutral material and then use a backing to lend strength to it. Have I done this? No! But then some of the regular readers on this category may offer some suggestions as to what type of materials to use, drawing on their own experience with similiar situations in rugging or in handling extremely light skins. I have however, rehydrated old skins and had them fall apart in the rehydration soak.
Ugh, I contaminated my pickle solution then.
I rehydrated a small peice of the fur last night, which caused it to rip in one small place. (the peice is actually from a "dead" fur jacket - I could rip it like paper!) I then popped it into the pickle, where it has been floating precariously since.
I immobilized and backed a gorgeous red fox fur wrap, which was from 1910!, with hide glue and The 5th Element of Nature: Duct Tape! It is a wonderful display peice.
I guess I'll go fish that fur out of the pickle now. I thought maybe re-tanning the hides would save them; guess not.
Thanks for your help.
I read an older piece in SAMAB = South African Museums Association Bulletin, about saving an older rare leopard skin by using latex, the kind you paint on. I think that the skin had been shaved thin in areas and came through in places, besides having the skin falling to pieces. The South Africa Taxidermist painted the inside with latex and was able to mount it - the hide even became flexible. I have not tried this though, so don't know how well it works.
That sounds like a good idea.
Now where do I get paintable latex which is not a fume hazard?
Would any flexible glue serve the same purpose? How about "clear paint-on silicone", you know the kind that strippers use for "clothes" to circumvent nudity laws? (I saw it on like A Current Affair or some other trash TV, hehe)
Thanks for the brainstorm session ;)