Joe Bellas, the Salz Tannery superintendent, displays a finished side of California Saddle Leather with cattle brand marks. Photograph by Ansel Adams, 1955.
It is common now for the leather industry to celebrate the natural defects of a cowhide as a sign of authenticity, but Salz pioneered this thinking.
We’ve always believed the raw beauty of a well-tanned hide is what makes a luxury article fashionable— that no artificial alteration, ornamentation, or iconography can surpass the self-assured character of leather that looks and feels like leather.
The distinctiveness of Salz leather began as an expression of necessity. The rugged russet leather developed by AK Salz for gold rush pioneers embodied the time and landscape. Hides from local cattle were tanned with the bark of the native tanoak species, Lithocarpus Densiflora, only found in the costal ranges of Northern California. Tanned in redwood vats, dried, and hand finished at the Salz Tannery in Santa Cruz, these hides became California Saddle Leather.
Salz's operations grew over the decades and centuries in response to demand from notable brands in the fashion industry, but we continued to emphasize quality over quantity. 'Leather with a friendly feel' became and remained a motto of Salz tannery.
California Saddle Leather is aniline. Consequently, our process features, rather than conceals, the natural grain and markings of the hide meaning that the raw stock must be chosen with special care. The healed scars are as resistant to wear as is the rest of the leather, and properly selected hides, expertly finished to take full advantage of the surface irregularities, produce a leather of outstanding character, beauty, and vibrancy.
To produce our own line of finished leather goods, we have partnered with an Italian tannery known for their fine vegetable tanning. Many of their tanning techniques date back to the middle ages with parallels to those used in our own tannery.
Using an unboxed one hundred year old example of California Saddle Leather and Salz's forgotten techniques and formulas, we were able to replicate the original California Saddle Leather and once again capture the natural beauty of a well-tanned hide to our standards.
The secret of Salz's California Saddle Leather is alive again!