Shagreen is a type of leather
Leather is a durable and flexible material created via the tanning of putrescible animal rawhide and skin, primarily cattlehide. It can be produced through different manufacturing processes, ranging from cottage industry to heavy industry.-Forms:...

 or rawhide consisting of rough untanned skin
-Dermis:The dermis is the layer of skin beneath the epidermis that consists of connective tissue and cushions the body from stress and strain. The dermis is tightly connected to the epidermis by a basement membrane. It also harbors many Mechanoreceptors that provide the sense of touch and heat...

, formerly made from a horse's back or that of an onager
The Onager is a large member of the genus Equus of the family Equidae native to the deserts of Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel and Tibet...

 (wild ass). Shagreen is now commonly made of the skins of shark
Sharks are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a highly streamlined body. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago....

s and rays
Batoidea is a superorder of cartilaginous fish commonly known as rays and skates, containing more than 500 described species in thirteen families...


The word derives from the French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 chagrin and is related to Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 zigrino and Venetian
Venetian language
Venetian or Venetan is a Romance language spoken as a native language by over two million people, mostly in the Veneto region of Italy, where of five million inhabitants almost all can understand it. It is sometimes spoken and often well understood outside Veneto, in Trentino, Friuli, Venezia...

 sagrin, derived from the Turkish
Turkish language
Turkish is a language spoken as a native language by over 83 million people worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken of the Turkic languages. Its speakers are located predominantly in Turkey and Northern Cyprus with smaller groups in Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo,...

 sāğrī / çāğrī 'rump of a horse' or the prepared skin of this part. The roughness of its texture led to the French meaning of anxiety, vexation, embarrassment, or annoyance.

Uses and preparation

Shagreen has an unusually rough and granular surface, and is sometimes used as a fancy leather for book bindings, pocketbooks and small cases, as well as its more utilitarian uses in the hilts and scabbards of sword
A sword is a bladed weapon used primarily for cutting or thrusting. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographical region under consideration...

s and dagger
A dagger is a fighting knife with a sharp point designed or capable of being used as a thrusting or stabbing weapon. The design dates to human prehistory, and daggers have been used throughout human experience to the modern day in close combat confrontations...

s, where slipperiness is a disadvantage. In Asia, the Japanese Tachi
The is one type of traditional Japanese sword worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan.-History and description:With a few exceptions katana and tachi can be distinguished from each other if signed, by the location of the signature on the tang...

, Katana
A Japanese sword, or , is one of the traditional bladed weapons of Japan. There are several types of Japanese swords, according to size, field of application and method of manufacture.-Description:...

, and Wakizashi
The is one of the traditional Japanese swords worn by the samurai class in feudal Japan.-Description:...

 swords had their hilts almost always covered in undyed rawhide  shagreen, while in China shagreen was traditionally used on Qing dynasty composite bows. Typically the ears and the spaces above and beneath the grip were covered by polished shagreen (in which the calcified papillae are reduced to equal height and form a uniform surface), sometimes with inlay work of different coloured shagreen. Shagreen was a very common cover for 19th century reading glasses containers as well as other utensil boxes from China.

The early horse-skin variety of shagreen was traditionally prepared by embedding plant seeds (often Chenopodium
Chenopodium is a genus of about 150 species of perennial or annual herbaceous flowering plants known as the goosefoots, which occur almost anywhere in the world. It is placed in the family Amaranthaceae in the APG II system; older classifications separate it and its relatives as Chenopodiaceae, but...

) in the untreated skin while soft, covering the skin with a cloth, and trampling them into the skin. When the skin was dry, the seeds were shaken off, leaving the surface of the leather covered with small indentations. Sources are not clear whether this was being done to imitate pearl ray-skin shagreen from East Asia or the technique was developed separately.

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, the term "shagreen" began to be applied to leather made from sharkskin or the skin of a rayfish (probably the pearled ray, Hypolophus sephen). This form is also termed sharkskin or galuchat. Such skins are naturally covered with round, closely set, calcified papillae called placoid scales, whose size is chiefly dependent on the age and size of the animal. These scales are ground down to give a roughened surface of rounded pale protrusions, between which the dye (again, typically green vegetable dye) shows when the material is coloured from the other side. This latter form of shagreen was first popularised in Europe by Jean-Claude Galluchat (d. 1774), a master leatherworker in the court of Louis XV of France
Louis XV of France
Louis XV was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1 September 1715 until his death. He succeeded his great-grandfather at the age of five, his first cousin Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, served as Regent of the kingdom until Louis's majority in 1723...

. It quickly became a fashion amongst the French aristocracy
French nobility
The French nobility was the privileged order of France in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern periods.In the political system of the Estates General, the nobility made up the Second Estate...

, and migrated throughout Europe by the mid-18th century.


In medicine, a shagreen patch is a patch of shagreen-like rough skin, often on the lower back, found in some people with the genetic condition tuberous sclerosis
Tuberous sclerosis
Tuberous sclerosis or tuberous sclerosis complex is a rare multi-system genetic disease that causes non-malignant tumors to grow in the brain and on other vital organs such as the kidneys, heart, eyes, lungs, and skin. A combination of symptoms may include seizures, developmental delay, behavioral...


External links

  • "Ramsden Shagreen Opera Glass" — photos of a magnification device partly covered in green-dyed, polished shagreen (circa 1770)
  • "Adams shagreen etui" — photo of a utensil case covered in green-dyed, polished shagreen (circa 1800)
  • Definition of shagreenBookbinding and the conservation of books: A dictionary of descriptive terminology, 1982
  • Obituary for Karl SpringerNew York Times, December 6, 1991: "credited with reviving shagreen, the rough skin of an Asian shark, which had been popular as a fabric in the 1920's but had fallen out of favor."
  • "Fish-Skin Veneer is Costly Covering"The Cincinnati Post
    The Cincinnati Post
    The Cincinnati Post is a discontinued afternoon daily newspaper that was published in Cincinnati, Ohio. Distributed in Northern Kentucky as The Kentucky Post, it was owned by the E. W. Scripps Company. Since the 1980s, its editorial stance was usually conservative. The Post published its final...

    , September 15, 2001
  • "Can't Find Nemo? Try Stingray"Time Magazine, February 2, 2004
  • "It's Stingray, Dahling! A Species In Danger"International Herald Tribune
    International Herald Tribune
    The International Herald Tribune is a widely read English language international newspaper. It combines the resources of its own correspondents with those of The New York Times and is printed at 38 sites throughout the world, for sale in more than 160 countries and territories...

    , November 26, 2005
  • "Shagreen swims into sight again"Houston Chronicle
    Houston Chronicle
    The Houston Chronicle is the largest daily newspaper in Texas, USA, headquartered in the Houston Chronicle Building in Downtown Houston. , it is the ninth-largest newspaper by circulation in the United States...

    , September 3, 2008
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