Rose Lerner

Though the process was vaguely known, Western tanneries couldn’t reproduce it because they could never identify the formula for the mysterious dressing oils. By the time the Russian Revolution came in 1917, the new provisional government shut production down, and secrets of how it was made became lost for good.

Then, in 1973, a team of British deep-sea divers was exploring the waters of Plymouth Sound, where they found the broken timbers of a sunken ship. The ship’s bell identified it to be the Metta Catharina, a 100-ton Baltic ship that set sail from St. Petersburg and for Genoa in December 1786. She never made it, however, as she was sunk during a storm.

Littered around the seabed of the broken ship, the divers found bundles and bundles of hides. They brought the bundles up to surface, and when they untied them, the packages opened up like packs of vacuum-sealed coffee. Apparently, the hides’ immersion in black mud, combined with their mysterious oils, allowed them to go nearly 200 years with very little water penetrating.

At first, the divers didn’t even know what they found. They went to a bar the next night and casually talked about it. A young leather worker, Robin Snelson, overheard and asked if he could see the hides. They agreed.

Snelson developed a cleaning technique to help restore the hides to their original quality. Once cleaned, they beamed with rich colors, varying from deep claret to lighter sienna. They also revealed their cross-hatched surface, and began giving away their distinct sweet aroma. There was no other leather with this aroma, and it was clear these were the famed Russian leathers that was once only a historical legend.

Word spread, and in 1986, two bespoke shoemakers from Cleverly approached Snelson about using the hides for their shoes…


Smart phones are making us antisocial. [x]

[image description: two photos juxtaposed, one very old black-and-white photo of people waiting for the…omnibus? their heads all buried in a newspaper, one recent one of people waiting for the subway absorbed in their smartphones.]


John Simon, after John Verelst

Four Indian Kings

England (1710)

Mezzotint on Paper

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

When Sir Francis Nicholson, career soldier and former governor of Virginia and Maryland, went to England in February, 1710, to plead the New England case for invasion of Quebec, he was accompanied by four “Indian Kings” with various degrees of connection to the Iroquois confederacy who traveled with him as a kind of diplomatic entourage. They were not the first Indians to visit Britain, but the “Four Indian Kings” were the first to be presented as possessing the authority of rulers in a European sense, and whose purposes were clearly diplomatic.

  It was not very easy to recruit Iroquois leaders for the trip.  The confederacy council was dominated by neutralists who wanted to avoid the dangers of too-close alignment with either France or Great Britain, so there was little hope of finding volunteers among leading Indian sachems.  Instead, the colonial organizers found supporters where they could and shamelessly falsified their credentials to make them “kings.”  The Indian “kings” immediately found a place in the imaginative life of Great Britain—they were feted and painted and stared at and memorialized in a variety of ways that created long-lasting, popular images of the event.

1. Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, King of the Maquas

Sa Ga Yeath, also called Brant, was a pro-English Mohawk with no formal claim to a leadership position.

2. Etow Oh Koam, King of the River Nation

One of the “kings,” also called Nicholas, was not an Iroquois at all.  The River Nation was another name for the Mahicans, who were under the influence of the Mohawks, but not part of the confederacy.  Etow Oh Koam may have been important later, but in 1710 was without status.

3. Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row, King of the Generethgarich

Ho Nee Yeath, also called John, was another pro-English Mohawk with no formal claim to leadership status.  “Generethgarich” is apparently a reference to Canajoharie, a western Mohawk town in what is now New York State.

4. Tee Yee Neen Ho Ga Row, Emperor of the Six Nations

Only one of the “kings” could possibly be described as a sachem, and that would be a stretch.  Theyanoguin, whose Christian name was Hendrick, belonged to the council of the Mohawk tribe, but not to that of the Iroquois confederacy as a whole.  Even among the Mohawks he was still, at the age of thirty, a minor figure and hardly an “Emperor.”

[x] [x]

Why maple sugar/syrup never caught on in Europe. 

In 1744 Charlevoix suggested to the Duchess Les diguières that French maples be tapped (like the ones in French Canada); and around the same time, Brissot de Warville forecast a sugar revolution if they could make it work, and noted that M. Noialles had provided proof of concept in his garden in St. Germain. Sadly, De Warville, a member of the anti-monarchy but relatively mild, syrup loving Girondist group, was executed by extremist elements in 1793. 

"Women may not have been able to vote, but even this needs to be seen in context: in the eighteenth century the overwhelming majority of the population could not vote. In terms of electoral politics between 1754 and 1790, hereditary peers could not vote, and overall, only 17.2 per cent of adult males, or 4 per cent of the total population of England and Wales, were enfranchised. Elections were not yet common; contested elections even less so; consequently, suffrage was not yet the kind of issue for eighteenth-century women that it would become for women a hundred years later."

Elaine Chalus, Elite Women in English Political Life, c. 1754-1790.

"[Women of the eighteenth-century elite] were expected to be politically aware and involved. One need only look at the political coverage in a publication such as the Ladies Magazine, with its detailed reports of speakers at county meetings, lists of bills given royal assent, information on taxes and the Budget, and its roster of new Court appointments, among other political occurrences, to have this confirmed.”

Elaine Chalus, Elite Women in English Political Life c. 1754-1790.



Scientists have used a new x-ray technique to produce spectacular 3D images of Roman coins that were corroded inside pots or blocks of soil.

The rotating images built up from thousands of two-dimensional scans are so clear that individual coins can be identified and dated, without a single…




Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the most badass of badass women, Nancy Wake.

RIP NANCY WAKE (30 August 1912 – 7 August 2011)

Ms Wake, who has died in London just before her 99th birthday, was a New Zealander brought up in Australia. She became a nurse, a journalist who interviewed Adolf Hitler, a wealthy French socialite, a British agent and a French resistance leader. She led 7,000 guerrilla fighters in battles against the Nazis in the northern Auvergne, just before the D-Day landings in 1944. On one occasion, she strangled an SS sentry with her bare hands. On another, she cycled 500 miles to replace lost codes. In June 1944, she led her fighters in an attack on the Gestapo headquarters at Montlucon in central France.

Work began earlier this month on a feature film about Nancy Wake’s life. Ms Wake, one of the models for Sebastian Faulks’ fictional heroine, Charlotte Gray, had mixed feelings about previous cinematic efforts to portray her wartime exploits, including a TV mini-series made in 1987.

“It was well-acted but in parts it was extremely stupid,” she said. “At one stage they had me cooking eggs and bacon to feed the men. For goodness’ sake, did the Allies parachute me into France to fry eggs and bacon for the men? There wasn’t an egg to be had for love nor money. Even if there had been why would I be frying it? I had men to do that sort of thing.”

Ms Wake was also furious the TV series suggested she had had a love affair with one of her fellow fighters. She was too busy killing Nazis for amorous entanglements, she said.

Even before she escaped to Britain, through Spain, in 1943 to train as a guerrilla leader, Nancy had been top of the Gestapo’s French “wanted” list. With her husband, she ran a resistance network which helped to smuggle Jews and allied airmen out of the country.

Nancy recalled later in life that her parachute had snagged in a tree. The French resistance fighter who freed her said he wished all trees bore “such beautiful fruit”. Nancy retorted: “Don’t give me that French shit.”