In late November 1786 the 53 ton Danish Brigantine ‘Metta Catherina’ slipped her moorings in the Russian port of St. Petersburg bound for Genoa in Italy with a cargo of leather hides and hemp.
On December 10th 1786 a strong gale blowing from the SW forced her to seek shelter in Plymouth Sound. By 10pm that evening – the Sound became a maelostrom of waves and spray and the ship struck Drakes Island before being blown across towards Mount Edgcumbe and being wrecked on the Cornish side of the Sound.
The ship and its cargo were lost for 200 years before being discovered 30 metres below the surface of Plymouth Sound. The ship’s bell identified the vessel as being the ‘Metta Catherina von Flensburg’.
Further investigation by the British Sub Aqua club revealed that some of her cargo of leather was in a remarkably good state of preservation after 2 centuries immersed in black anaerobic mud beneath Plymouth Sound.
Much of the leather was identified as being Reindeer hide which is the leather which we use and had been tanned in the traditional Russian way based on using willow bark and birch oil which gave the leather a lovely smoky aroma – which can stll be smelled today !
At that time the world was in awe of Russia leather which was of a quality never equalled before or since.
The quality of the leather used to make cavalry boots and saddles could be decisive in winning a battle which could win or lose a kingdom.
Rather like the old story of the horseshoe nail where the kingdom was lost for the want of a horse shoe nail …….
For the want of the nail the horse was lost……….
For the want of the horse the rider was lost…..
For the want of the rider his message was lost…………
For the want of the message the battle was lost…….
For the want of the battle the kingdom was lost…………….and all for the want of a horseshoe nail .
Of such importance was the quality of this leather that England sent spies to Russia to try to determine the exact process of how the leather was produced .
The spies were never heard of again .
The secret of how the Russia leather was produced was never discovered and the secret was finally lost for ever during the Russian Revolution of 1917.
We were very lucky to secure some of this leather almost 20 years ago .
The leather features a cross hatched grain which would have been applied by the Russian curriers at the time.
The same diced grain can be seen on upholstery and book binding from the period.
And the strong smoky smell is still there !
The photos include images of a booklet on the subject of the wreck which was published in 1987 .
Plain keyrings made using this Russian Leather Hide are available in the website shop in the Russian Leather section in the alphabetical list.
Keyrings in Russia Reindeer hide can be ordered in the online shop – see Russia Leather Key Rings ‘ in the shop drop-down menu .