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7 May 2021

Pinning the tail on the donkey: the conservation of an Omersa donkey- Part II of II

You might have read our recent blogpost all about two wonderful objects that came into the lab for treatment (if not check it out here!). There we detailed the history of the company that made the charming kangaroo and donkey- Omersa- and now, we’re going to briefly tell you about how we approached the conservation of the aforementioned donkey.

Condition before treatment

The leather used to construct the donkey was, generally, in pretty good condition. There were some small areas of abrasion and cracking, which were nothing too alarming and rather relate to the donkey performing his task as footstool and show that he has been (and still is!) well-loved. The biggest areas of concern were the tail, ears, and eyes which had experienced some damage.

Condition of tail and ear before conservation treatment.

A closer look at the tail and ears revealed that they had been repaired at some point in the past, using a much finer thread compared to the original. The cutting action of the finer repair thread was damaging the leather which combined with the previous damage, left the stitch holes weakened and the ears and tail in a sorry state. Both areas had experienced loss of leather and were insecurely held in place- one small tug would certainly have de-eared the donkey! The tail had actually begun to tear away from the donkey’s body and was only held in place by its tip.

The eyes of the donkey were also experiencing their own ill-health. They were loose and as with the tail and ears, vulnerable to snagging and further damage.

Loose eye before conservation treatment.


Once the donkey had received his diagnosis, we began with a light surface cleaning and consolidation of the leather.

The original stitch holes were employed to secure the donkey’s damaged ear, however the previous failed repair had to first be removed. Once this was done, the ear could be seperated from the donkey’s head and its own issues addressed.

Removing the donkey’s ear during treatment.

The stitch holes were reinforced using a colour-matched leather patch adhered over weakened stitch holes using a reversible, conservation grade adhesive. This imparted strength and allowed for a much more secure and safe repair. A cotton thread of comparative size and colour to the original was then used to re-stitch the ear back into the donkey’s head.

Ear following treatment.

Now onto the eyes! Research revealed that the eyes were connected to each other through the head by a piece of string- in the same way as with teddy-bears. To secure the eyes, it was necessary to remove them first. This left the donkey looking a little concerned…

Donkey following removal of eyes.

The donkey’s concern need not last long as employing the same technique used when originally constructed, it was a painless affair to return the eyes to their correct location, now tightened and much more secure.

Donkey’s eyes following re-introduction.

The tail was slightly more problematic as it had begun to tear. A reversible conservation grade adhesive was used to adhere the tear edges and areas of loss filled with a paper pulp fill. This worked very well to create a level surface over which a colour-matched leather patch was adhered. This successfully strengthened the tail and stitch holes, making it possible to safely return the tail to its owner.

Tail successfully ‘pinned’ back on!

Conservation treatment successfully addressed the issues that the donkey was facing and in such a way that retains the character and the original material of his construction. It was a pleasure to work on these sentimental objects, and while it was sad to see them leave, we were very happy to reunite them with their owner- now able to be safely enjoyed for many more years to come!

The Leather Conservation Centre
Grosvenor Chambers
Grosvenor Centre
Union Street

01604 719766