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DateOriginal Topic
15th April 2004Shield Preservation
By Peter Weedon
I bought a contemporary cow hide Zulu shield from the Rorke's/Fugitives' Drift area a little over 2 years ago. It was bought from one of the villages and I assume it will not have been treated in any way.The shield is braced vertically but it showing signs of curling in from the sides.

Can anyone suggest a means of curing the curling that has already taken place and preventing any further deterioration.


Peter Weedon
15th April 2004CLIVE DICKENS
Have you got centeral heating? it will play hell with your shield, The same happened to my shield .so I put out in a secure outbuilding and it has gone back to shape on i9t's own.
16th April 2004Robert Jones
I have the same problem---would it do any good to spray them lightly with water now and again just to keep them a bit supple?
Many regards,
16th April 2004Mike McCabe
I've owned several of these since I lived in Natal in the 1950s. You need to achieve two results. First to rehydrate the shield to correct the shrinking and distorting effect caused by it drying out. If this is not done soon enough it could lead to irreversible cracking or splitting of the hide, or even eventual hair loss. Secondly you need to restore its suppleness, rememberimng that they were traditionally stored (and sometimes carried) rolled up.
How the hide has been cured is also important, but it now seems unlikely that you will discover that.
So, the best approach is gentle trial and error and a start can be made by 'wetting' a small area on the skinned side. But, leave the central staff of the shield in place at this stage. To do this, spray as suggested above, but gently rub the sprayed on water to ensure that it actually wets the hide itself - rather as you would wet a chamois leather for window cleaning, but do not saturate it. Otherwise, the water will not penetrate and will just dry off the surface. You can slowly build up the wetting, until it is obviouis that the skin has begun to soften throughout most (say two thirds) of the layers. Once you have developed that technique you can extend it to the rest of the shield. If, with the staff in place, the shield retains its basic shape, but will now flex without cracking, then the next stage is to let it dry naturally at room temperature, with ventilation. Then, the next day, repeat the wetting - which should now penetrate more quickly, and repeat the process for (say) 3-4 more days. By now, the hide should have absorbed a reasonable amount of water, and lost its brittleness. If you want to test that, you can remove the staff and bring the two pointed ends of the shield gently together, perhaps rolling around the surface of a large enough cylindrical container, or even the outer tread of an old car tyre. Do not force it, it could still split.
Once it is soft enough to do that, then replace the staff and let it dry so that it is only lightly damp to the touch, and regains its overall shape and most of its stiffness with the staff in place. At this stage if there are any dents of bent edges, then these can be put between two large books (or whatever) to press them into a flatter shape as they dry. When you are happy that the shield s supple and the right shape, then you need to treat it with some sort of animal fat, that will help it to retain its moisture. Before proceeding, let it dry naturally in room temperature air. Then, try dressing the skinned side with animal fat - gently rubbing in beef dripping will do nicely, being organically similar to the original fat content of the skin. Take it slowly at every stage, and don't force the skin about in the early stages. Also, do not dress it with fat while it is too damp, or it might start to moulder.

16th April 2004Peter Weedon
Thanks for all the advice. There do not appear to be any cracks so hopefully it can soon be restored.

Mike - how often should the beef fat be applied? Would once a year be sufficient or too frequent? I will endeavour to locate it even further from the ubiquitous radiator in future.

16th April 2004Mike McCabe
It will depend on how warm/dry the conditions are where you store it. The best thing to do is just look at it every three months or so and see if it's still OK. Don't be tempted to use any oils - they may penetrate through the hide and show as drak stains on the hair-covered parts of the shield. Also, don't use the dripping from your frying pan or roast tin - it needs to be pure and free from any impurities that might generate mould. You might do just as well with saddle soap, but it's worth experiementing first. Don't put too much fat on, or it will discolour and form a greasy surface layer. It needs to go into the leather.

18th April 2004Marc Jung
Peter, (and all!)
Just curious, how much did/do the shields 'commonly' cost? Thanks.
19th April 2004bec
Ditto with the mould - once it sets into leather, it's practically impossible to stop without some pretty unpleasant chemicals.
If you can store the shield in a room where the temperature and humidity is relatively low and constant (a north facing room perhaps?) then that can really help. However, it's not quite as nice as opening the front door to find it displayed proudly above the fireplace ;o)

20th April 2004Peter Weedon

From memory it was 500 Rand, in February 2002. Size is 51 inches by 24 inches across. You could expect to pay half or twice as much depending on the size and quality of the hide.

I am now 2 days into the restoration and some of the suppleness has returned but it still needs to be pressed back into shape.

21st April 2004Marc Jung
Thanks for replying, Peter - and best of luck with the restoration.