Copper in the Arts

February 2009

Fit for a King's Dog: Collier Leeds

By Jackie Gately

Mary with Copper Leeds Mary Oswald, owner of Collier Leeds

Photograph by Paul David

When Mary Oswald decided to hand-weld high end dog collars inspired by history using elaborate brass accents she designs herself, she knew little about soldering or running her own business. But that didn't stop her.

She had a good artistic eye and an appreciation for art, but admits "I never considered myself artistic, and I was never crafty." Oswald was no slouch, though. She had ten years' experience in an auction house, and a background in the fashion jewelry and headwear industries.

She created Collier Leeds, an up-and-coming business in Virginville, PA. And the story of Oswald's history-inspired collars is, well, inspiring.
The brainstorm to create hand-welded, high-end dog collars occurred to Oswald while on a family trip to England in 2005. A bit of a history buff and always interested in an adventure, Oswald learned of a dog collar museum at Leeds Castle in Kent and was intrigued.

The museum housed elaborate collars, adorned by gems and metal work, worn by dogs of days gone by. She admired the dog collars, which were from the last four centuries and ranged from spiked, medieval hunting collars that protected dogs from boar attacks to lovely, delicate collars for beautiful dogs of the elite.

One Piece at a Time

Oswald noted that today's market placed no emphasis on "spectacular collars." This, she knew first hand, because she was always searching for a great dog collar for her own pups, Lizzie and Louis. Examining the brass components soldered together on the antique collars, she wondered, "How hard can it be?" It was then that the idea for Collier Leeds blossomed. Oswald searched high and low for brass pieces at a reasonable price without going offshore to establish the building blocks of her business. The Internet led her to sources including Providence, Rhode Island and she began combining the brass findings she collected.

"I pick out shapes that I find interesting and piece them together," explains Oswald. She uses stamped pieces in decorative shapes, filigree, and even genuine semi-precious stones to design the unique medallions on Collier Leeds collars.

When Oswald first attempted to solder the pieces together, she says it was very crude and messy. As she refined her skills, she learned that the brass needs to be hot enough to accept the solder as well as for the solder to melt to form a bond. "It's a little like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich the way it meshes together, " she laughs. With guidance from jewelry designer friends, Oswald discovered she needed an Acetylene and Oxygen mix from her local gas dealer and a special torch to create the right conditions for the fine work. She refined her skills to create the beautiful pieces she'd envisioned.

Collier Leeds Brass collar adornments, Collier Leeds

Photograph by Paul David

Oswald solders Chicago screws, traditionally used in book bindings, to the decorative pieces. She prefers to use the screws rather than rivets even though they are harder to find because the screws are durable, functional and attractive. They also make for an easy repair with minimal loss of materials. She attaches each medallion and screw to the hand punched latigo and English "bridal" leather, which she cuts herself.

Oswald attaches stunning 2nd century A.D Roman Military and 12th-13th century A.D Russian reproductions cast to complete her design. The buckle, dee rings and medallions are electroplated and lacquered in Massachusetts to ensure a lasting finish.

Going Forward

Oswald offers eight collar styles - each named after a favorite "pooch" - in eight color and metal combinations for under $100. Her collection is available online at selective craft shows, and at the gift store of Godfreys of Mohnton, PA (a Dogdom in Berks County, Pennsylvania). She also contributes products to live auction and animal fundraisers, such as the Alabama Weimaraner Rescue League.

Several new designs are on the horizon. One is a half-inch wide collar for very small dogs. Another is a wider, two-and-a-half inch collar for long-necked dogs. Oswald is also exploring the use of turquoise and soldered brass charms.

She's also considered creating collars for our own local "royal" dogs, like incumbent Vice President's pooch, Chester, and the promised incumbent Presidential puppy. As for what's next for Collier-Leeds, much like Oswald herself, she says, "It's ever-evolving." But, Oswald has been garnering a lot of attention for her ornate collars, with regional press and an article in Traditional Home magazine later this spring. So, now pooches around the country will be getting the collars they deserve.

Resources:

Mary Oswald demonstrating her handmade brass ornament fabrication process.

Collier Leeds, Virginville, PA, (610) 349-5460

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