The Hermann Oak Leather Company was established in 1881 in order to handle the local harness trade and to supply the wagon trains of settlers traveling west along the Lewis and Clark trails. As the company grew, they began to supply the US military with various leather needs for both World Wars, and also began to establish a reputation for producing some of the finest vegetable tanned leathers available. Hermann Oak has become renowned for supplying world class vegetable tanned leather for not just the equine industry, but for consumer goods as well. To read more about Hermann Oak, you can read our previous article on them here. Hermann Oak agreed to send BestLeather.org four of their premium hides for us to do articles on. They sent us their Sierra Latigo, Harness and two English Bridle hides. We decided that the best way to showcase and learn of their leather was to make something from each hide. For this article, we will discuss what we made from their Sierra Latigo leather.
After unrolling the nearly nine foot long by three foot wide cowhide, we decided that Hermann Oak’s Latigo would be perfect for a messenger style bag. Hermann Oak’s leather is known for it’s stiffness, which is a hallmark of quality vegetable tanned leather. Another hallmark of vegetable tanned leather is durability. I have seen a number of bags and consumer goods that are decades old, still look great, and that still have plenty of life in them. Hermann Oak’s Latigo leather, and the bag we made from it, will surely outlast me and perhaps even my children. The style of messenger bag that we chose is well suited for stiff and durable leather, as it holds its shape well. The bag we made is approximately 16″ wide, by 12″ tall, by 6″ deep. For this bag, we also decided to add front pockets, two exterior side pockets, one for each side, and two interior side pockets, again one for each side.
The Latigo that we were sent weighs in at seven to nine ounces. This is thick leather, especially for a consumer good, but everybody that has felt and hefted the bag has loved it. There is something strangely satisfying with a good that is slightly overbuilt. You can also get Hermann Oak’s Latigo in five to seven ounces, or nine to eleven ounces. As mentioned, Hermann Oak is known for its vegetable tanning process. Vegetable tanning is an age old process of tanning leather using natural tree barks and extracts, which involves multiple procedures, over a number of months. The end product is typically a stiffer leather, that is significantly more durable than the more common chrome tanned leather. Vegetable tanned leather will also patina over time, which simply means that the leather will absorb the oils from your skin and will darken and change color a bit as a result. Vegetable tanned leather also tends to look even better when worn. It is an excellent choice for consumer goods.
The Latigo’s color is a deep burgundy, which is a beautiful darker color. Hermann Oak also sells their Latigo in a red, black, brown or yellow. The yellow Latigo is a drier product, while the other colors are waxed and hot stuffed, which allows for a cleaner, smoother edge when cut. The Latigo has a beautiful, lustrous appearance, without being “shiny”. It looks good and feels very smooth to the touch. We decided not to line the bag with any material because the “unfinished” side was smooth enough to not warrant a lining, but also because we like the look of the raw leather.
The majority of Hermann Oak’s leathers are not “struck through”, where the leather is kept in dye drum’s long enough for the dyes to penetrate to the center of the leather. This is a cost saving measure which Hermann Oak uses to keep its leather more affordable. This does not affect the durability or performance of the leather, just the appearance. The result is that the color on the exposed edges of the leather (a light brown) is different than the dyed color. Many of the consumer goods companies that use this leather will either hand paint or hand dye the edges to produce a more uniform look. For this particular bag, I did not mind the light brown appearance of the edges. It seemed to give the bag a bit more character and contrast to the dark burgundy color. In speaking with Shep Hermann, he indicated that they will do special orders where clients can specify that the dyes be struck through the leather with some additional cost. If that is a requisite that you have for your leather goods, it certainly is something that Hermann Oak can do.
Hermann Oak’s Sierra Latigo leather is a beautiful result of traditional tanning and craftsmanship. It has a gorgeous finish, yet is stiff and extremely durable. Although we are not expert leather craftsman at BestLeather.org, the bag that was made from Hermann Oak’s Latigo is handsome, mostly due to high quality vegetable tanned leather. If you are a leather craftsman and have a need for high quality vegetable tanned leather for a variety of purposes, you will be extremely pleased with Hermann Oak leather.
See below for a quick snapshot from hide to bag.