Leather Screens: Functional and Decorative

By Anne Gilbert
   Millenials are finding vintage leather screens the answer to their small spaced dwellings. Other generations have long found practical uses for many types of folding floor screens. While when we think of screens Oriental examples mostly come to mind, however many other types have a long history that began in medieval churches and were made of carved wood. By the late 17th century they were used in homes. The earliest were Coromandel lacquer screens imported from the east. Next were leather screens made in Spain and Holland. By the 18th century French paneled and carved screens were made. They were often covered with tapestry, embroidery or other textiles that matched furnishings or wall coverings. Also popular were screens of painted canvas that featured the then fashionable pastoral scenes.
   CLUES: When you see leather standing screens at antique shows they look very, very old. So how old is old? Consider the earliest were popular as the mid 15th century. Beginning in 1600 and into 1800 they were made in England and the Netherlands. The most decorative examples were made in England in the mid 18th century. However, shortly thereafter London tastes changed and buyers were from overseas.
   Leather screens continued to be made but the subjects changed to match the popular motifs of the day.
   A revival of medieval designs during the Arts and Crafts period brought back the craft of making leather screens. This time around there were figures of knights and ladies. These are often sold as being hundreds of years old for thousands of dollars. However, Arts and Crafts motifs were also made.
   Art Deco motifs were also created for leather screens.
   Many vintage leather screens are reasonably priced while fakes, made in Spain and Mexico cost thousands of dollars. There are also bargains at Flea markets for a few hundred dollars. Look for signs of wear on the bottom and other signs of age.
   PHOTO CAPTION: Leather screen. Art Nouveau tooled leather. from Danelaw Vintage, Etsy

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