20+ Year Old Horween Shell Cordovan
April 21, 2017
I recently stumbled upon some NOS (new old stock) Horween Shell Cordovan from a supplier. The first thing that was immediately apparent to me was that this shell was old. Not based on the quality or dryness (it was still quite supple!) rather the Horween Shell Cordovan stamp on the interior. It certainly isn't the same stamp Horween currently uses so I inquired with some folks at Horween.
Horween Unglazed vs. Glazed Shell Cordovan - Aging and Patina
January 27, 2017
Many people often ask how Horween Glazed or Unglazed Shell Cordovan will age. This is often asked in the context of both footwear and leather goods. Luckily, I happen to have experience with both!
In March of 2016, I was able to order a custom pair of boots from Rider Boot Company in Horween Unglazed Natural Shell Cordovan. The photo below is what they looked like brand new with no wears.
This pair of boots started my quest to acquire some Unglazed Shell Cordovan which I could use for leather goods. Luckily, after speaking with Horween, I was able to acquire some Unglazed Natural Shell Cordovan which I have used on numerous occasions; both for personal use and for products for other people.
What does it mean that the leather is 'Unglazed'?
Unglazed Shell Cordovan follows almost all the same steps (detailed out in full on my Shell Cordovan Resource page) with the exception that they are not sent to the glazing jack machine and are not plated (basically ironed). This machine rubs a glass rod back and forth quickly, and with significant pressure, to create a glossy and glazed finish on the leather. This step can be done manually by hand, which some leatherworks do, or can be done on a larger scale like what Horween does with this machine.
Beyond this step, these leathers are exactly the same in terms of the steps in the tanning process.
As you can see, the Glazed (left) has more of a shiny and glossy finish where the Unglazed (right) has more of a matte and flat look to it. Both of these are in their 'Natural' color which really showcase the beautiful leathers unique features. Now the biggest question is... how does this leather age and patina?
Horween Unglazed Natural Shell Cordovan Aging and Patina
After having worn my Unglazed Natural Shell Cordovan Dundalks for roughly 30+ wears, they've begun to show some wonderful signs of aging and patina. The one thing I've noticed about Unglazed Shell Cordovan is that it tends to have slightly sharper rolls than a traditional, Glazed Shell Cordovan.
I don't consider myself to be particularly kind to my footwear, but I don't necessarily abuse them either. I tend to give my boots and brushing with a horsehair brush after every few uses and put shoe trees in them when not in use. Beyond that, I have not done any conditioning.
That being said, I have worn these boots in the rain and snow and I think they are holding up very well for 30+ wears. You can see the sharper rolls and you can see the leather has begun to darken.
I have found that the leather goods that I have carried tend to age and get a nice patina significantly more quickly than my footwear. This is in part due to them being handled nearly every day and the oils in your hands will contribute to the darkening of the leather (and natural conditioning too!).
The following goods are all made from Horween Unglazed Natural Shell Cordovan. I have carried a Lanyard and Key Fob for nearly 4 months and they've aged nicely. They have darkened up quite a bit and have begun to look quite glazed.
I have also used my Single Pass Watch Strap for about double the amount of time and you can see how it is holding up. These will continue to get darker the more that they are used. I expect them to get a few shades darker than this.
Some goods I have just recently just started to use is a machine stitched bifold in a test design made fully from Horween Unglazed Natural Shell Cordovan as well as a machine stitched two piece watch strap that is lined with veg tan kangaroo. While these two machine stitched items have only been used for about a week (as of 1/28/17), they have darkened up a considerable amount. Raw denim bleed on the bifold has likely contributed to the rapid patina it has acquired but it is something I happen to love!
Other Things Worth Mentioning
The biggest thing I have heard people asking about it, "Will Unglazed vs. Glazed age or patina differently in the long run?" My answer would be a definitive, "no". The initial look is really the only thing that is going to stand out as visually different for these two types of leathers.
After continued use or wear, Unglazed Shell Cordovan will begin to look even more and more like a Glazed variant. I am of the belief that there isn't any benefit to one versus the other. I will mention the one thing I have noticed is that Unglazed Shell Cordovan tends to age and patina more quickly than its Glazed counterpoint. I think this might have to do with the process of Glazing the Shell Cordovan almost acting like a protective layer on the leather.
I consider Unglazed Natural Shell Cordovan to be in an even more natural state than a Glazed variant. For this reason, there will be more "abnormalities" in terms of color variation. This is not a bad thing and is just a unique characteristic of the leather. If you're looking for an entirely uniform and perfect leather, then Natural Unglazed might not be for you for leather goods or footwear.
If you look at the photos above of my aged Unglazed Shell Cordovan goods, you'll notice there might be a few "rough" looking areas on the leather. I am not sure of the reasoning but of the 20+ shells I have in Unglazed, as well as my boots, it seems more common to have rougher patches than what Glazed would typically experience. This type of rough patch would be more normal near the edges of a Glazed shell but it appears to be more common on more areas of the Unglazed shell. I believe this is due to the Glazing process almost acting like a final "ironing" step to really press down on the fibers of the leather to give it that glossy feel. If this step is not completed, there is a higher chance of it developing this rough feel. This is not a bad thing and isn't considered a "seconds quality" skin. It is just the nature of Unglazed Shell Cordovan.
Another thing worth noting is that I have found it possible to give Unglazed Shell Cordovan a Glazed look fairly quickly if for some reason you aren't happy with the matte look. This can be done by applying some Venetian Leather Balm (or VSC) and giving the footwear or leather goods a vigorous brushing with a horsehair brush. The image below shows two pieces of new Horween Unglazed Natural Shell Cordovan. The wallet had a small coating of VSC and then was brushed with a horsehair brush to give it an initial sheen that gives it the glossy look of a Glazed Shell Cordovan.
Hopefully this has been a beneficial and information post about Unglazed versus Glazed Shell Cordovan. I find that Unglazed Natural Shell Cordovan is one of my favorite looking leathers when unused, and especially after it has been used for days, week or months. The way it ages and patinas is unlike any other leather around. If you are interested in any leather goods made from Horween Unglazed Natural Shell Cordovan, I make almost all of my products in this leather.
If you have any questions about anything above, feel free to shoot me a note through the website or by email.