You will find shell cordovan used in many leather goods from high-end shoes to watch straps, and if you follow Outlander Supply Co. on Instagram, you have probably seen a few of my creations that are made with it as well. Let's talk about what makes shell cordovan such an excellent selection for leather goods and why it benefits you to select shell cordovan products.
A brief history of shell cordovan.
Shell cordovan gets its name from its place of origin—Cordova, Spain, where the Visigoths and later the Moores produced it. The earliest versions of shell cordovan were thick and stiff, much like rawhide and very suitable for armor plating. That's not a joke, among the first applications of shell cordovan was its use as a material for making armor. That should give you some indication of its expected longevity and durability. Later in the 18-1900s, when shaving with a razor became popular, the highest quality razor strops would be made from shell cordovan. It wasn't until well into the 20th century that it became a popular material for making what are arguably the most exquisite shoes on the planet. Today many makers of leather goods, including myself prize shell cordovan for making wallets and other goods we want to have a more refined aesthetic and feel.
What makes shell cordovan special?
Shell cordovan is an equine leather that is made from the sinewy flat membrane between the flesh and muscle of the horse's hind. Most people refer to this part of the horse as the shell. Because of the shell's fibrous nature and material density, shell cordovan has a unique non-creasing property that other leathers do not. Also, because of the shell's location slightly beneath the flesh, shell cordovan typically has a very smooth top grain.
Customarily shell cordovan is produced using a long and challenging vegetable tanning process that has the additional steps of separating the shell from the rest of the hind. Today there are only a few significant tanneries that produce quality shell cordovan in a few countries. One of which is the world-famous Horween tannery in Chicago, Illinois, along with several other tanneries in Italy and Japan. Because of both its scarcity and its difficulty in manufacturing shell cordovan carries a hefty price tag, usually averaging around $100 per square foot, making it expensive for both makers and consumers.
Perhaps the most appealing quality of shell cordovan as a material is its ability to stand the test of time. When taken care of, shell cordovan not only lasts indefinitely but continues to keep its luxury appearance well into its life. Many people who, at one point in their lives, bought a pair of shell cordovan wingtips have 30+years later turned around and sold them for a profit.
Is it worth the price?
Ultimately that is up to the discretion of the buyer. I can say that it is impossible to get the same fit and finish into a product that is not real shell cordovan. It provides a refined aesthetic and quality that can not be repeated by other materials. I'm always proud of the goods I make with shell cordovan, and I'm sure my customers will be delighted when they receive them.