Maintenance Stop: Caring for 75 Year-Old Fielding Leather
Proactively managing a collection of artifacts that are decades old is necessary in maintaining and stabilizing pieces from decay and deterioration. Proper storage is required in order to prevent deterioration caused by environmental conditions; however, most collectors lack climate-controlled storage, the financial capacity for preservation and the required space to provide museum-grade protection for these treasures. Perhaps the baseball memorabilia most vulnerable to environmental harm are those made from animal hide such as baseballs and gloves.
The Chevrons and Diamonds Collection houses numerous gloves and mitts that either are associated with service teams or were used by service members during World War II. When each glove is acquired, its present condition is analyzed in order to determine immediate preservation steps and prepare for an ongoing plan.
Cleaning 75-year-old (and older) leather is not an undertaking for the faint of heart and must be done with the utmost care. Each glove must be analyzed for its condition and the approach to cleaning and conditioning must be uniquely tailored to mitigate damage to an age-compromised artifact. In some situations, leaving the glove as is may be the best option. Products used for the Chevrons and Diamonds collection are devoid of petroleum-based substances. Anecdotes describing the oiling of gloves (to include a wide array such as olive, vegetable and even motor oil) may have been applicable decades ago; however, time has proven that such substances should be avoided. Our products of choice for cleaning include Horseman’s One Step (for basic cleaning), Fiebing’s Saddle Soap (for intermediate soiling) and Fast Orange Smooth (for heavy, stubborn grime accumulation). It is important to remember that following the application of the cleaning product, it must be lifted away with a dampened clean cloth, rinsing frequently as the cloth becomes soiled.
1943 GoldSmith “DW” Elmer Riddle model U.S.N. fielder’s glove (before):
We have received gloves in many different states, ranging from dry rot, stiff and brittle and caked with filth up to clean, hardly used and pliable soft leather. The condition of each piece dictates the steps that we take prior to adding it to our collection for display or storage. The first glove in our collection remains the worst one we have seen. Covered with mold spots and horribly brittle, the U.S.N.-stamped GoldSmith piece lacked its webbing and the lacing was disintegrating inside the zip-seal bag that it arrived in. It smelled horrible and took weeks of airing out to mitigate the odor enough to handle it (see: A War Veteran Who Never Served). While we were able to reduce the impact of the damage and stabilize the deterioration, the glove could not be restored as the horsehide was too heavily damaged.
1943 GoldSmith “DW” Elmer Riddle model U.S.N. fielder’s glove (after treating):
Another piece that we acquired a little more than a year ago was an early 1940s Rawlings “MO” model Mickey Owen signature catcher’s mitt bearing the “U.S.” stamp, indicating its use in the armed forces. The condition at arrival was quite good, with the cowhide being soft and very pliable; however, it was very dry and in need of conditioning. One troublesome region on the mitt was a small area of water damage located in the palm. Black staining surrounded the portion of the hide that had tissue separation, with the surface of the hide having eroded away. While unsightly, the damage didn’t dramatically reduce the aesthetic qualities of the mitt. After a round of cleaning and conditioning, the mitt was stabilized (see: Vintage Leather: Catching a Rawlings Mickey Owen Signature Mitt).
These two gloves are at opposite ends of the condition spectrum, each requiring an individual approach to preservation and stabilization. The water-damaged U.S.N. GoldSmith glove, once it was ready to be handled, required a delicate and deliberately methodical approach to re-hydration and removal of the soiling and some of the more severe mildew and mold. In addition to the initial treatment, the pre-existing water exposure necessitated multiple reapplications of the conditioner as the hide continued to absorb it. At present, the glove is far better and requires only an annual conditioning as the horsehide has become much more stable. In the year since we cleaned and conditioned the Mickey Owen mitt, the leather dried out once again, though not to the degree that it had when it arrived, though it was notable.
To re-treat the Owen mitt, we did a brief cleaning with Horseman’s One Step to remove dust and any debris that had settled onto the leather. With the surfaces being quite stable, a soft and damp terrycloth towel was used to apply the Horseman’s, with methodical attention focused from one small area to the next until the entire surface of the glove was addressed. The cleaning was followed by a generous application of Nokona Glove Conditioner applied directly, using a finger while gently massaging it into the hide and leaving the surface with a shiny, “wet” appearance until it was fully absorbed.
Our management plan includes scheduled intervals with reminders for visual inspection of each glove. While some gloves, such as the aforementioned U.S.N. Goldsmith glove, require quarterly inspection and the potential for subsequent treatments, most of our gloves are relegated to annual evaluation.
1945 MacGregor GoldSmith “DW” Joe Cronin signature model fielder’s glove:
With the end of the first month of 2021, we have competed the reconditioning of three gloves and one mitt from our 10-piece service collection. (In addition, we also have several non-service, vintage gloves.) In the coming months, the remainder of the collection will be checked as part of the normal preservation cycle. The end of the year also prompted us to address any deficiencies in preservation supplies with necessary reordering. With ample cleaners and conditioners, we won’t miss any intervals and we will be able to tend to any additions to the collection as they arrive.
- Horseman’s One Step (for basic cleaning)
- Fiebing’s Saddle Soap (for intermediate soiling)
- Fast Orange Smooth (for heavy, stubborn grime accumulation)
Sea also these Chevrons and Diamonds related stories:
- An Intercontinental Wartime Veteran – S/SGT “Chick” McRoberts’ Rawlings “Bill Doak” Model Glove
- Catching Corpsman: The Search for a Ball-Playing WWII Pharmacist’s Mate
- Tools of the Trade: Wartime Equipment used by (Former) Professional Ballplayers
- 75 Years Later, WWII Navy Baseball is Still Giving
- Navy Wartime Leather: Extracting History From a Vintage Glove