What Is Dry Rotted Leather?

With vintage leathers, especially shoes, we see a lot of items in difficult condition.  One of the death knells in terms of sturdy wearability is dry-rotting.  Dry-rotted means a material has disintegrated without the specific aid of moisture; it has rotted away while in a dry state.  Often a dry-rotted leather will have copper-colored areas, sometimes lightly and slowly powdering from a solid piece of leather into a sandy residue.

The upper edge of a dry-rotted Victorian boot.  Note that the edge begins to flake into small squarish bits, similar to the worn edges of antique paper.

Dry-rotting is inevitable if leather is kept in relatively warm, dry conditions, or highly changeable conditions.  Dry-rotted items can have areas of strength to the leather, and other areas that are fragile.  Applying saddle soap and leather conditioner to dry-rotted leather will not strengthen it, although it may become relatively more flexible.

Dry-rotted leather is fragile and could be torn quite easily.

Dry-rotted items are still interesting for display and remaking.  Often their fine hairlines and ragged edges create character apropos to an antique style.