Guide to the Sawyer Tannery Collection, 1879-1990

Collection processed and description prepared by:

Heather L. Caldwell, Intern, Napa, CA, August 2014

Descriptive Summary

Collection Title
Sawyer Tannery Collection, 1879-1990
Span Dates
Bulk Dates
Collection Number
Sawyer Tanning Company
24 Archival boxes, 72 folders 12 Binders 179 Ledgers
The Sawyer Tannery collection contains many accounts of the daily operations of the Sawyer Tanning Company. This includes leather tanning process notes, chemical composition notes, and skin tanning notes. There are many advertising, marketing and PR materials including photographs and negatives. Styles for men and women’s coats from 1970-1990 are displayed in brochures and in pricing information. There are 179 ledgers and journals from the late 1800s up through the early 1900s. These include detailed notes about various financial transactions. The overall condition of the collection is excellent barring a few mildewed notebooks and one ledger. Most of the accounts books are free from dirt or debris and have been conserved. The collection was donated by the Napa Valley Museum on behalf of the Sawyer Tannery Company.
The collection has been mostly conserved, needs some repair for spines, but is currently available. Delicate materials need supervision from a NCHS volunteers or staff member.

Administrative & Access Information

Napa County Historical Society
Goodman Library
1219 First Street
Napa, California 9455

Sawyer Tannery Collection, 1879-1990, [Box/Series #, Folder #], Napa County Historical Society.
Acquisition Information
Donated by Napa Valley Museum

Access Restrictions
Collection is open for research. Some folders in this collection may be restricted. See container list for more information.

Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.Researchers are advised that violations of the copyright law may have legal ramifications for whichNapa County HistoricalSociety assumes no responsibility.

Collections may also contain sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications for whichNapa County Historical Society assumes no responsibility.

Usage Restrictions
Appointments are not required for accessing collections, but are strongly encouraged so as to ascertain availability of materials.

Duplication of materials is on a case-by-case basis, and permission can only be given by the Research Librarian. Charges may apply.

The donor may have placed additional access/usage restrictions on this collection. The user is responsible for adhering to those restrictions; NCHS is not liable for any misuse.

Approval must be explicitly given by NCHS or copyright holder for publication.

Finding Aid prepared by
Heather L. Caldwell

Biography / History

Biographical / Historical Note

The story of Napa Leather begins in 1855 when B.F. Sawyer’s son French Albert Sawyer, and Loeb Manasse’s son, Emanuel Manasse, met and formed a friendship in San Francisco in 1871. Both of their fathers worked for tanneries in New Hampshire and Germany. Their friendship lasted for seventy-six years and their business association launched a successful tannery in Napa, California. A relative of B.F. Sawyer came to Napa and witnessed local butchers discarding sheep pelts that had wool on them. He recognized the value of the wool and purchased the pelts and the business using pelts began. In 1870, F.A. Sawyer sold the tannery to James W. Miller whose wife was a niece of B.F. Sawyer. They began the business of wool pulling from sheepskin. Emmanuel Manasse arrived in Napa in 1871 as a superintendent of the new tannery. He introduced new methods of tanning and the product became known as “Napa Patent Leather.”

The company continued from 1875 to 1879 when B.F. Sawyer died. Edward Manasse, one of the sons, served as President and Vice President as well as the Treasurer and Product Manager. From 1899 until 1944 he was in charge of the buying and production part of the business. Henry J. Manasse retired in 1937 after fifty years of service for the tannery. The name “Napa or Nappa Sheep” became a trade name of a type of sheepskin leather all over the United States and Europe. It was considered a mark of leather quality. The stock of the Sawyer Tanning Company was divided among the four original families – Sawyers, Manasses, Nortons and Holdens.

From 1909 until 1910 the company product was mostly sheepskin and buckskin with a bit of horsehide and cowhide glove leather. In 1908 the Company discontinued sheepskin and specialized in cattle and horsehide leather that was mostly glove leather and a percentage of shoe leather. The company patented the famous NAPATAN Waterproof leather, which later was produced in NAPATAN shoes. The building was reinforced and grew to a larger concrete office building. The Company sold $150,000.00 worth of preferred stock in 1917. A plant was constructed in 1918 that produced ten times as much tanning material.  In 1920, the Company was reincorporated in the State of Delaware with preferred stock that valued $400,000.00.

The company was founded in 1869, and incorporated in 1886, 1920 and 1925.

Scope & Content

Scope & Contents Note
The Sawyer Tannery collection contains an impressive amount of historical papers both financial and administrative. The Manasses and Sawyers founded the company, and the Holdens and Jamisons were also prominent and on the Board of Directors. The collection includes marketing and public relations material about their leather garments and company events. The leather industry and trade accounts are part of the ledgers and journals series. Employee records and workers compensation claims are part of the collection, including payouts and other pertinent information. There are notes of analyses including leather chemicals and skin-tanning ledgers used in the tannery. A complete collection of financial records and ledgers are included as well as accounts payable/receivable records. There are some interesting marketing and public relations materials significant to the leather fashion industry from the 1960s through the 1980s. Sawyer Tannery coats, hats and gloves were sold in international and domestic exclusive garment stores. The NAPATAN leather patent was awarded to the Sawyer Tanning Company and was used to produce the first baseball glove that was sold internationally.

Indexing Terms / Controlled Heading Access

Subject Headings

Leather garments–North America—California–Napa

Leather industry and trade—California–Napa



Sawyer Tannery Company

Container List

Series 1: Administrative

Subseries 1: Workers Compensation

Subseries 2: Sawyer Tannery Insurance

Subseries 3: Policies and procedures – insurance

Subseries 4: Amendment

Subseries 5: Patent sides: Beam house

Subseries 6: Leather Process/Pricing

Subseries 7: Operation and maintenance

Subseries 8: Building construction

Subseries 9: Meeting Minutes

Series 2: Company events and PR materials

Series 3: Financial Documents

Subseries 1: Stocks and bonds

Subseries 2: Appraisal and invoices

Subseries 3: Exports

Subseries 4: Price Waterhouse Statements

Series 4: History

Series 5: Ledgers and Journals

Subseries 1:  Accounts Books

Subseries 2:  Cancelled Shares Book

Subseries 3:  Employee Record Book

Subseries 4:  Ledgers & Journals

Subseries 5:  Notes on analysis

Subseries 6:  Other Notebooks

Subseries 7:  Record Books

Subseries 8:  Stock Certificates

Subseries 9:  Transfer Ledger

Series 6: Legal Documents

Subseries 1: Patents

Subseries 2: Sawyer Corporation Papers

Subseries 3: Deeds of trust

Subseries 4: Trademarks

Subseries 5: Minutes

Table of Contents

Table of Contents