09 December 2019

Guest post: 1786 reindeer skin vintage de Villiers - by Harry from Bucklehurst Leather

Thank you, Harry, for this guest post about his de Villiers vintage 1786 reindeer skin super rare binder. Thanks to Monika for sharing the Instagram post in the Facebook group as well. 

We also have some other posts about the de Villiers brand:

I have recently acquired a rather interesting organiser and Anita suggested I might like to share some details. I am not a collector, but a leather worker, however when I saw this one for sale I could not resist it, even though it was expensive!

What drew me to it was the Russian hatch grain leather covering, as this came from the wreck of a ship called the Metta Catharina, that sunk in a fierce storm off Plymouth Sound (UK) in 1786.The actual recipe for tanning Russian hatch grain leather seems to have been lost with the Russian Revolution, however the discovery of this ship off Plymouth Sound in 1973 rekindled interest in this leather, as the ships hold had rolls of the leather, and much of it was still perfectly usable, despite having been under the sea for over 200 years.

Russian hatch was treated using birch oil which is a great preservative, and that combined with the leather being in tight rolls helped to keep it from rotting away. The Duchy of Cornwall gave permission for the leather to be raised from the wreck and sold, and over the years it has been used for a wide variety of special projects. It is now extremely rare, and London shoemaker George Cleverly still has a small supply as they offer wallets, watch straps and key rings made from the last of this leather.

As well as the organiser, I have about 20 postage stamp pieces of this original leather, and it's fascinating looking at the hand rollered hatching on the different samples, that are all similar but different, as the leather is believed to have been made by various village communities across Russia.

My binder is stamped inside "de Villiers" and "Made in England", and I understand de Villiers used to have a small shop in Villiers Street alongside Charing Cross station in London. I have been told this model was a top item when sold with a retail price of $895. I have not been able to corroborate this, and I hope that some of the members here may be able to add more detail.

This organiser measures approximately 235mm x 200mm when closed. It has six black Krause 3 cm rings, 10 card pockets and two full length pockets and a flap on the inner left hand, and a flap and an expanding pocket with pen holder on the right hand side. The rings are compatible with Filofax A5 ring configuration and inserts, and I am using it for my leather belt making records.

I have a watch strap that I've made from this leather and I posted a film on YouTube, my channel name is Harry Rogers. I do also sell lovely vegetable tanned leather belts and my website is Bucklehurst Leather. There have been attempts to recreate this lovely leather, and after considerable research and experimentation the F J and J Baker Tannery in Devon have managed to make a very good version, that I use to make compact wallets.

I do hope that sharing some of these details is of interest to some of you, and I would naturally be delighted if anyone can add any information about this binder and de Villiers.


  1. Interesting post thanks Harry.
    I found mention from 2012 of what seems to the be same leather consignment being used by Filofax. It was in an interview with the City Organiser shop in London, which has sadly closed down since.
    “We have one of the limited edition (200 or 500) Filofaxes made from reindeer skins recovered from the two hundred year old wreck of a Danish trading ship and sold in 1988 in support of the RNLI. It’s in a safety deposit box in a bank. Not because it’s especially valuable but because I can be pretty disorganised!”

    1. There were photos of several examples of that limited edition Filofax in the “Japanese Collection” (although the web site is unfortunately no longer available online).
      The cross-hatched leather is evident in those images.
      The binders were of Winchester design, with a model designation 4RHF7/8.
      The highest model number shown was 490, so a run of 500 seems correct.

  2. Thanks very much gmax, that is very interesting.

    1. Hey Harry - take a look at Janet Carr’s website here:
      This seems likely to be the source for the $895 price tag you mention, although the one she references wasn’t the same make or size as the De Villiers A5 model you have.
      “Hand made in London by G. J. Cleverley with two full height pockets, ten card pockets and six nickle binder rings that hold calendar and planner pages from Filofax and others. 6″ wide by 7 3/4″ high (15 cm by 19.5 cm).”

    2. Thanks all this is super helpful, it's very kind of you.

  3. Harry,

    Thank you for sharing this handsome vintage binder and fascinating history.

    I'm amazed at the condition of the leather after so many years underwater.


    1. Hi Mark, I think on recovery from the wreck they nourished it with lanoline etc. and of course the birch oil is a great preservative, but yes it is remarkable.