A Passion for Leather: USA Made, Vegetable Tanning


At Black Bear Leather we are passionate about our leather, where it comes from, and how it is made.

Watch this video about leather tanning, from Wickett and Craig: one of two American tanneries that we purchase our leather from. 

  

 

Black Bear uses American Made, Vegetable Tanned Leather. 

What is the benefit of USA Made, Vegetable Tanned Leather? -- In short it is: 

  • USA Made: Environmentally Conscious
  • Vegetable Tanning: An Artisanal Craft
  • The Natural Smell of True Leather
  • Real Leather: A Vintage Patina

USA Made: Environmentally Conscious

Our Vegetable tanned leather uses only naturally occurring vegetable tannins, these tannins are procured from a variety of kinds of tree bark.

The vegetable tanning process can take weeks to properly condition the animals hide.

On the other hand, chrome tanning is a chemical based animal hide tanning process, using a variety of chemicals, acids and salts to rapidly condition the animal hide to create leather.

Chrome tanning only takes several hours to properly condition a hide (as opposed to weeks for vegetable tanning). Chrome tanning leaves chemical waste water. 

Virtually all mass market leather goods are produced in developing countries using the
Chrome tanning method. These countries have little to no environmental controls,
leaving the resulting toxic waste water to be dumped into the environment.

Nay Aug Glen, Scranton Pa. C. 1890-1901.

(Vintage Photo: Nay Aug Glen. C, 1890-1901. Detroit Publishing Company)

 

Vegetable Tanning: An Artisanal Craft

Vegetable tanning creates a higher quality leather product than chrome tanning. But it takes a much higher degree of skill and a much longer time, to create the finished leather. Many vegetable tanneries are heritage based trades, meaning that the practical knowledge and tannin recipes used to treat the hides are passed down through generations of tanning artisans.

Globally, vegetable tanning has been on a rapid decline. The ease and efficiency of using the chrome tanning process, as well as the fact that there is no consumer awareness about the differences in the finished product, has made vegetable tanning almost obsolete for mass producers of leather products. 

Luckily, several heritage American tanneries and a consortium of heritage Italian tanneries still practice the vegetable tanning trade. 

The Cobbler. C, 1901. Courtesy, The Library of Congress.

(Vintage Photo: The Cobbler. C, 1901. George H. Van Norman)

 The Natural Smell of True Leather

Do you enjoy that sweet leather smell? The sweet leather smell only comes from vegetable tanned leather. The leather aroma is actually the natural tannins that are used to treat the hide in the vegetable tanning process. The next time you smell a piece of vegetable tanned leather, take joy in the fact that you are smelling a delicate bouquet of tannins that have been extracted from natural materials such as tree bark, wood, fruits, and leaves.

On the other hand, chrome tanned leather does not have the leather smell. When selling chrome tanned leather products, retail stores will actually use vegetable leather scented spray to imitate the leather smell to manipulate customers. The chemicals used in Chrome tanning do not create any form of a naturally pleasant aroma. Any chrome tanned leather product that seems to have a the traditional leather smell, has been chemically altered to create that illusion.

 

Real Leather: A Vintage Patina

You have seen items and pictures of vintage leather products, from a time since passed. Map bags from WWI, saddle bags from the old west, briefcases from another era, these truly vintage leather bags have a worn look, a patina, where after years of use, they have acquired even more character. This character is a result of natural oils in your hands and the environment being absorbed into the leather.

These vintage leather products were made using the vegetable tanning method. Chrome tanned leather cannot absorb oils. Chrome tanned leather will not ever acquire the vintage leather patina. The chemical process locks the molecules in the hide, creating an impenetrable barrier, disallowing any further evolution of characteristics in your product. The grain of chrome tanned leather will never become more pronounced. This impenetrable quality is undeniably good for some types of products, but if you are looking for heirloom quality items, only vegetable tanned leather will provide a vintage patina after 20 years of use. 

black bear leather smart bear