Chances are, your expensive leather goods are top-grain cowhide, and made of what are called “splits.” An inexpensive pair of leather shoes may look rich, but, there is a significant difference in the quality of the leather.
Top-grain cowhide is the outermost, smoothest part of the hide, from which the hair is removed.
Tanners “split” the leather into layers, so that one full hide appears to yield three hides.
The first-split layer is just under the top grain. This may be buffed, treated or painted to look like top grain; or it may be embossed with a grain, like alligator. Top grain is seldom embossed.
The second-split is the bottom layer of the cowhide. It is often discarded as waste, but may be sueded for upholstery.
The top grain is more durable and flexible than the first and second splits.
Only top-grain cowhide can be tooled and crafted. Splits are economical for sewing clothing, particularly informal clothing like chaps, moccasins and vests. Splits are good for grains like alligator and ostrich, but in steer hide sizes.
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