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  • A somewhat obscure and ambiguous term which seems to have been used, at different times, for very different materials. The word, along with its French and German equivalent, chagrin, is said to have been derived from the Persian expression saghari, which applies to a leather produced from an ass, and which had an indented grain surface caused by spreading seeds of Chenopodium (goose foot) over the surface of the moist skin, 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. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, however, the term "shagreen" (or "chagrin") began to be applied to a leather made from sharkskin having a curious grain surface of lonzenge-shaped, raised and spiny scales of minute size, the character of which is difficult to perceive without optical assistance. This material will most often be found on almanacs and liturgica, without gold-tooling and often with silver, furniture and clasps. The term was also applied to the skin of a rayfish (probably Hypolophus sephen), which is covered with round, closely set, calcified papillae resembling small pearls. In its natural form it has been used for many years in both the East and the West for a variety of purposes, including bookbinding; however, in the early years of the 18th century it became the practice to grind the surface flat and smooth, leaving only the pattern of small contiguous circles. The skins prepared in this way are more likely to be found covering small boxes, instrument cases, etuis, etc. than books on which the material appears to be used very rarely. This is the skin which for a century has been called "shagreen"; how confusion arose with sharkskin, which is completely different both in character and in appearance, is not clear.
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