Monthly Archives: August 2009

Guest Spot: “Well Worn”

From Ryan Plett

Well Worn: Arnold Horween Sr.’s Briefcase


Every time I enter the Horween Leather Company here in Chicago, I’m always excited to stumble upon some sort of nostalgic leather item and an accompanying story. The place reeks of classic woodwork, Americana, and obvious superior quality leathers.

These two briefcases are no exception. The darker/larger briefcase was made for Arnold Horween Sr. by Hartman back in Racine Wisconsin while the second lighter/smaller brief was later made for Arnold Horween Jr. The picture that tells the story best is the very first one; with the ORD flight tag still on the briefcase, it easily shows the length of time this amazing case has been around.

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Filed under Guest Post, History, Products

Shut Down to Spruce Up

Two weeks (the next two weeks) out of every year we essentially stop all of our production.  During “shutdown” we do everything we can to catch up in regards to maintenance.  Machines that are usually running are serviced and checked without interfering with the processing of leather.  The building is old, really old, so this is an important time for us.  Horween Leather Company, which was I. Horween & Co. before that, has been in this building at 2015 N. Elston Avenue since 1920 (from 1905 – 1919 we were located on Division), and before that there was a different tannery here.  We’ve seen some significant changes over the years, including the extension of Elston Avenue.  Before Elston occupied it’s current path the building was rectangular, as one would expect.  I’m not sure exactly how much of the building was cut away for the street, but you can get an idea from the map linked just above.

Inside boiler number 2 - claustrophobics stay away.

Inside boiler number 2 - claustrophobics stay away.

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I recently received an email asking why there are no straight razor leather sharpening strops being made in the US anymore.  I think the answer is because no one uses straight razors anymore?  What the email enlightened me to is the fact that straight razors are enjoying a bit of a resurgence.  And there still is at least one honing strap still made here.  I’ll admit to only ever getting a straight razor shave from the barber, but I did go digging through the leather goods archives here and turned up some old strops.  After all, Horween Leather used to do their primary cordovan business for the making razor strops.  Clearly, the invention by good ol’ Mr. Gillette didn’t do a lot to help that business.

Two razor strops that belonged to my great grandfather - they feature two different sides for sharpening and honing.

Two razor strops that belonged to my great grandfather - they feature two different sides for sharpening and honing.

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The last post featured a picture of some old longwings that generated a fair amount of questions regarding patina, polishing, and the general care of Shell Cordovan.  Maybe I should say re-generated, as we do get a fair amount of inquiries on the subject.   In response, this will be the first in (at least) a three part series addressing these topics (and we’ll get on to something other than just shoes in the future – so if shoes aren’t your thing don’t give up on us).

Someone had recently asked if there was “a way to make shoes patina faster?

They both started as the same color...

They both started as the same color...

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Alden Shoe Shop | 344 Madison Avenue

On a recent trip to New York City, I made sure to leave enough time to stop by the Alden Shoe Store on Madison Avenue (@44th street).  I get so used to seeing the raw material on a daily basis that it’s really great to see a room full of finished product from time to time.  With burgundy, the loafer, and hand-sewn deck shoes enjoying a revival, the store on Madison is a viable option for choices of all three.  They also had a nice stock of some of the browns and lighter colors – whiskey, cigar, and ravello.

Alden Shoe Shop

The Alden Shoe Shop of New York

A few of the choices available in whiskey shell cordovan.

A few of the choices available in whiskey shell cordovan.

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Filed under Products, Visits