As I progress in age, I find I can perhaps look forward to some sort of retirement. I don’t really know what that might look like, but it allows me to ponder my future.
I started out being born 100 years too late. I have been a leathersmith my whole life. Those around me are computer specialists, web developers, and no one is an elevator operator.
Most of my friends and customers recognize me as someone who sells them something. They think I am a salesman, and perhaps I am. It is not my whole life, because to sell them something I have to create something.
Primarily, I have spent my life as a leathersmith. I was born into this curious world amazed at all around me. My profession should have been as an anthropologist, archaeologist, sociologist — something in those “ology” veins.
Today I continue to go to my place of employment and do various sorts of leathersmithing. I sort hides. I grade hides. I read hides. I know the history of the buffalo by looking at the results of a tanning process I dictate. The final statement of his life is in my hands.
I look at a recent tannery run produced specifically for me, consisting of perhaps 400 hides. I can tell they have come from different ranches throughout the West and Midwest. I can tell most were free-ranging, and some were feeder lot-raised. I can tell which ones came from Canada (about 5 percent). I can tell which ones came from the largest state park in the U.S. The hide also reveals which animals were breeding females, by the stretch marks that appear toward the belly.
Daily, I decide the appropriate way to create product from this material. I can take the shortcut to create better yield, or I can use the tried-and-true method of creating quality and value to myself and my customer. I always reflect on an old adage: “The disappointment of poor quality lasts longer after the cheapness of the low price is forgotten”.
At work, I look at my tools and realize some are brand new and some are 100 to 150 years old. I use them all daily, sometimes without a second thought. They serve their purpose, as they always have
Leathersmiths, I suspect we are a select group of craftsmen. We might make shoes or harnesses, or buggy whips! We work with our hands as we intently read the hide. We sell our products at art festivals, so we resign ourselves to the public scrutiny. Are we fine craft? We are certainly not fine art — are we craft? I feel comfortable with the “Artisan” category, craft that has served the ages.
I delight when our tanning process is complete, six weeks in the making. When the shipment arrives, hundreds of hides are inspected. Each hide is expensive, each hide tells a story. We tan the buffalo leather with a “naked” finish. It is a tanning process that costs more than other types of tanning. It also reduces the yield of a hide, because this process reveals, rather than hides, natural markings on the hide.
As we unpack the hides, we encounter brands, barbwire scars, suture marks from a buffalo that has been “horned in.” It is apparent which animals were raised in wide open spaces and which ones were raised in feeder lots. The leather is all of the highest quality; grades A,B and C indicate which ones have more scars. Our tannery run includes some of each, and that is what sorting is all about.
I am not the first one to work and sort hides for a living. This has been done for the past 10,000 years on this continent. I have the good fortune of doing it in a more refined setting that includes air conditioning, German and Italian die-cutting machinery.
Over the decades I have fed and clothed my family by this profession. I have sent my children, and others, to college. All this by an ancient craft.
As I scan the tools at my workbench, I realize I have amassed many — far more than I could afford to buy at one time. I am interested in history, and I spy a couple of tools that I have used for decades. One is made of bone, and the other of antler. One is a “folder,” and the other is a creaser that when pressed onto the leather scribes a line. I bought them with a larger group of assorted antique leather working tools 40 years ago.
These bone and antler tools stand out because they are not the 100-year-old variety of tools that reside in my collection of working tools. These tools date to the pre-production era. They were made when bones and antlers were more available than iron and steel. They are still used weekly, and they hold a place of importance and reverence in my daily routine.
Amassed over a 45-year career, the tools tell my profession, they tell my trade, they tell my story.
The story of a 1870’s leathersmith is alive 147 years later and continues with gratitude to all of those who have appreciated this curious lifestyle.
Why Buffalo Leather?
You may be wondering why, out of all the types of leather available, did we choose to use American buffalo leather? It’s a great type of leather, but what makes buffalo leather stand out? What are the unique qualities that make buffalo leather the best choice? Does a tanned buffalo hide feel different than cow hide? Well, we plan to answer all of those questions, and give you some background on why we’re uniquely qualified to answer these questions.
Back in 1972 we started our leather goods shop. At the start, we worked with various types of leather (cow, deer, etc) because of the popularity of certain styles. At the time many people were generally more fond of leather engraving so we choose to use leather that would support that art form. We hand engraved cow hide that was of a thicker tanning, and created many unique pieces in our own style. We worked on improving our own unique leather tanning recipes because we wanted each of our products to be handcrafted by the very best leather.
The Big Switch
After a while we had perfected our tanning recipes and leather working techniques using cow hide. At that time we were supplying leather pager cases to organizations all across the USA. However, throughout this time we’d been getting excited about working with other types of leather. We decided to shift our focus to the American Bison because buffalo leather was proving to have amazing qualities. We’ll get to that later. After a little time our customers were enjoying a brand new product line handcrafted entirely from buffalo leather. After mastering cow hide and now a few years into mastering buffalo hide, we now saw the possibilities that could be offered by buffalo leather when tanned, hand selected, and crafted properly. This is when we made our big switch, changed our product line to buffalo leather and became a trail blazer in the American Bison leather industry.
We don’t outsource any of our leather work, but work every ounce of the leather ourselves. Because of this, we’re uniquely qualified to answer the questions posed earlier. So let’s get started!
Buffalo Leather, Hands Down.
Why does buffalo leather stand out? One big difference is how it stretches. This can be a good thing, or a bad thing (if you don’t know how to use it to your advantage). Thankfully, after years of hands on experience, the stretch of buffalo leather is a great thing in our products! The product needs each part to be sourced from a specific part of each buffalo hide. Using the right pieces in the right places will give you long lasting durability and increased performance. This is one reason customers love our products.
Besides being a great leather because of it’s stretchiness and strength, buffalo hide offers other unique qualities. It looks different and wears differently than cow hide. Initially buffalo leather has a unique texture to it and is softer than cow hide. Customers often notice that texture difference when they pick up our leather goods. The more a leather product is used, the more the texture begins to fade. You’ll see a wallets texture fade faster than a purse or a Standard Legal Pad Cover. The leather can eventually look like a well worn saddle.
Tanning leather is an art in itself. Different techniques and recipes will give you different leathers. This is why leather tanning is an essential foundation in every product. Both buffalo hide and cow hide have unique results when tanning because you can tan them in so many different ways. The key to a good product rests with knowing which recipes to use for various products, and understanding how the different parts of the tanned hide will perform. Buffalo leather is a bit trickier to work than cow hide because of the nature of the leather. Even so, the end results when using American Bison leather are amazing.
Now that you’ve gotten a better understanding of the unique properties buffalo leather has to offer, we hope you can see why we love it so much. Whether we are handcrafting a belt, checkbook cover, case or clip, we’re excited to be working with American Bison leather. All of our leather goods are Made in America at our workshop in Worthington, MN and we’d challenge you to try out one of our buffalo leather goods when you’re in the market!
We find ourselves looking back at nearly forty five years as leathersmiths, handcrafting durable leather goods. Almost two decades of that have been spent on the road. We’ve pursued an old world trade, we are two leathersmiths. Perhaps we were born one hundred years to late? In the 1860’s our lives would have been spent making saddles and harnesses or making and repairing shoes and boots. However in present day, we spend most of our time crafting buffalo leather wallets, purses, belts and more.
January and February we traveled the SouthWest U.S. attending art festivals, street fairs & wholesale gift shows. We were also invited to exhibit at the Colorado Indian Market, an honor not afforded all craftspersons or leathersmiths.
Early spring and summer we expanded our roadshow to include such far flung elevations as Breckenridge Colorado (10-12,000 ft.) Many of our artist friends that also travel in RV’s can’t make the hill! Another new venue for us was Bozeman, Montana Sweet Pea Festival. We had a great reception and will try to see if we can somehow include this event in the coming years. We hold in high regard those fine folks that have patronized us along the way and allowed our roadshow as leathersmiths to carry on.
While traveling through the west we endured blazing summer heat and…. forest fires. We experienced minor breakdowns of our RV while sweating out the connections to our next show. Our western tour was saved by Fat Boy Tire and Auto in Wheatland Colorado! Woo Hoo Fat Boys!
Emmanuel was a hitch hiker from Belgium that we picked up on our way to Kalispell, Montana. The young twenty something hitch hiker was such a delightful travel companion, He traveled on with us another few days and another thousand miles. We coached him on his “road signage” (his hitchhiking sign). As we waved him goodbye, his new sign said “RideShare! California”.
Traveling throughout the Western Rockies and Great Plains we swerved eastward setting our sails to the most westerly tip of the Great Lakes. We cast a weather eye to Lake Superior-Duluth Minnesota & and the Tall Ships festival. These three destinations all happened within three or four weeks of each other and we have the feeling we are becoming “over the road” truckers. The Tall Ships festival was an amazing event. I’ve always felt I was a sea captain at heart, lacking only a boat, ocean and willing crew (GK).
Most people attend a festival or two each year in their travels. Over the past twenty years we’ve spent perhaps ninety days at festivals each year. We’ve met thousands of people each day, some of whom become Buffalo Billfold Company customers! As the years progress we are grateful for those customers that have made the Buffalo Billfold Company their signature gift giving present. Our gratitude extends to our talented, dedicated, friends and employees back at our leather shop! They are an integral part of this curious journey.
Bill & Lauri
The Buffalo Billfold Company
American Bison emissions are starting to smell pretty good! (Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves!) 😉
Being conscientious about climate change, we decided to ask ourselves a question. Which animal emits more CO2, the American Bison or Cattle? To our great relief, we don’t need to switch our product line!
We searched quite a few places and came up with these results!
- For every 1kg of weight (plus dung, transportation, etc) in an American Bison, there will be 25-31kg CO2e emissions.
- For every 1kg of weight (plus dung, transportation, etc) in a cow, there will be 58-70kg CO2e emissions.
Time to Slaughter
- American Bison are raised approximately 27 months before going to market.
- Cattle are raised approximately 30 months before going to market.
Edible Meat Produced
- The average weight of an American Bison is 500kg, of which 200kg (40%) is edible meat.
- The average weight of a cow is 400kg of which 140kg (35%) is edible meat.
- Beef and Bison are very similar, however if you’re looking for something that tastes great and has less fat, the American Bison is the way to go!
- Wool! Bison hide gives us wool, cow hide does not.
Now for our own personal addition! We love American Bison Leather! We’ve worked with both cow and bison hide over the 40+ years we’ve been in business and can’t express how much we love bison hide! American Bison Hide is tough and durable, and at the same time a soft and amazing texture!
So, when you’re thinking about buying meat or leather goods, keep this in mind! We appreciate your support of the American Bison industry, of our planet, and our handcrafted leather goods!
Your Global Neighbor,
The Buffalo Billfold Company
http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3062519 Further Info:
Saturday November 7th is NATIONAL BISON DAY.
The Buffalo Billfold Company finds this news exciting!
At the turn of the last century the American Bison was nearing the end of its existence. Essential to the life of the plains indian, the bison was indigenous to the plains and prairies. In the early 1800’s
more than 50 million roamed the western plains, by the 1890’s only 550 remained.
Conservation and Game laws brought this animal back from the brink of extinction.
This National Celebration extols the virtues of this monarch of the plains. We also salute the ranchers that saw promise in this animal. They directly increased it’s numbers exponentially. We also honor & credit native Americans for helping us understand the importance of this integral part of our environment.
The bison is good for the prairie, the bison is good for healthy diets, the bison is an important symbol of the American West.
At the Buffalo Billfold we find this day important because it is our confidence in the craftsman way of life, the command over materials, tools and processes that keep alive the pride in cottage industry. WE TOO CELEBRATE THE BISON!
In celebration of National Bison Day order anything on our website and we’ll give you Free Shipping! If you order 4 or more items we’ll include an additional free gift!
This offer is good Sat. Nov. 7th. On any orders that are placed by phone 800-336-7175
Our hours are from 9:00 a.m till 1:00 p.m. (just 4 hours!) Central Standard Time, don’t’ tarry!
Cross a few people of your gift giving list in one fell swoop!
Your Friends at the Buffalo Billfold Company.
Labor Day has arrived and we pause to clean up and refuel the StarShip, it has been our home for nearly three months this year. Our Sprinter Van (StarShip) has taken us “where no leathersmiths have gone before.”
Our unlikely journey of 2015 started in Lima Peru. Good friends invited us for New Years and told us if we didn’t come this year they might sell the beach home and we would have no place to stay! We got out of our comfort zone as learned to Salsa and enjoyed a Peruvian New Year. More details can be read @ billkeitel.areavoices.com (Daily Globe/Forum Communications Group)
On our return to the U.S.A. we were keen to get on the road and head southerly.
The Colorado Indian Market was our first stop, it is a gathering place of numerous tribes and we are grateful to be invited.
Arizona hosts many art festivals in the winter and we were lucky to get into the most sought after events. WickenBurg, Fountain Hills, Tubac.
Retro rockets were employed to power the photon boosters, it allowed a warp speed return trip to Denvertown for the Denver Gift Show. At this show we sell our product to about a 150 different museums, State and National Parks , saddleshops, giftstores and art galleries.
The spring was a time for producing! We are grateful for the people that trust us enough to sell our products. We encourage you to patronize them if you happen to come across our products on one of your own adventures.
Summer came at warp 7 speed! Capt’n the engine…..she’s gonna blow! Scotty give her all she’s got!
Great weather seemed to follow us on these far flung journeys throughout the midwest. Fargo, ND, Brookings,SD, Sioux City, IA. Edina, MN, UpTown, Mpls,MN and Stone Arch Fest, St. Paul. all of these communities have great festivals and we were proud to be a part of them.
We are recharging the StarShip for a late summer expeditionary tour of the west. We can be found at the Custer State Park Buffalo Round Up in late Sept. and then on to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the world famous Hot Air Balloon Festival (for two weeks)
We thank you for your patronage and appreciate you making the Buffalo Billfold your signature gift giving present!
Hope to see you out on the trail!
Bill and Lauri Keitel
Buffalo Billfold Company
It has been brought to my attention that I haven’t been keeping up with the Buffalo Billfold Company RoadNotes. That is entirely TRUE! I’ve been a bit of a Lackard when it comes to arranging the alphabet into words and words into meaningful thoughts.
The summertime has slipped past and we have returned to our home after numerous road trips to far flung places.
It is a lamentable time of year because we enjoy the road. We enjoy all the friends that we’ve made along the way. This is perhaps our 17th year of road travels. Each year we attend 15 to 20 art festivals, a few wholesale markets and gift shows. They all run 2 to 5 days. 3 days x 20 festivals equal 60 days each year. 60 x 17yrs =1,020 days of festivals!
No, we aren’t tired, we love what we do and we are ever so grateful to be able to be doin it!
We have returned home to our town and business, all in good hands. Our employees mean ever so much to us. They allow us to juggle our schedule to head off in quite a few different directions over the year. Our gratitude abounds. Thanks Haley, Sherry, Loreena, Heidi & Kim.
We’ve traversed the western U.S. From Arizona to Fargo ND. We’ve enjoyed sending tax returns to AZ, CO. SD. ND. MN. WI, OK. TX. IA,WY.
The shows that we have attended can be seen on our schedule. They have all been well run by various city entities and by art centers. Many of the shows are in the top 100 shows of the nation.
The last show of the year is the Custer Buffalo Round Up and it is a fitting end to our sojourns. It is held in the deep south of South Dakota, far from any cell phone coverage, far from any convenience store! Buffalo, buffalo wranglers and bison fanciers, we fit in well and enjoy the dust and can even appreciate the stench at branding time!
Many fine folks spend their valuable time making accommodations for the likes of us and many of our artist and artisan friends. Festival building is not for the faint of heart. We’ve weathered fierce rain storms, blizzards, suffocating heat and humidity, luckily no locust, disease or pestilence. Every festival has been well run and we have not regretted one of them! They each present their own set of concerns.
We found ourselves the last day of the festival season, clutching onto our display tent hoping to keep it from going airborne. The prairie winds swept in and in an instant blew our display tables out of the tent. Imagine trying to collect and retrieve your leathergoods as they tumble through the buffalo pasture. What curious indignities we suffer. Thirty percent of the tents were destroyed and many displays ruined. As we packed everything in earnest and the padlock was being placed on the trailer door a customer ran up and asked if she could buy our most expensive purse. We were haggard and windblown….but I knew the purse was in a tupperware next to the trailer door. I opened the tupper and sold the purse, an then another, and then another. Soon we pulled out on of the tables and found heavier items that would not blow away and continued to sell. The day ended successful in spite of no display, no organization, no tent, no signage, no shade. The people left as quickly as the wind. The buffalo were in the corrals and the dust had settled. We left the next morning an hour before sunrise. Our time was well spent. Home feels good.
Thanks to all,
Coming soon! Our Badlands Russet Collection
Dear friends, customers, or both!
Summer’s over and we’re back in our workshop. As many of you already know, we’ve been leathersmiths for over forty years. And we still love what we do! So like a fine wine that improves with age, we’re now ready, and excited, to share with you a new tannage of buffalo leather.
We call it BADLANDS RUSSET. All our experience in the fine art of tanning has resulted in the most beautiful, durable, and historic buffalo leather.
This collection will be released to the public on November 1st, 2013!
To learn more about our Badlands Russet Collection right now, sign up for our newsletter below and you’ll be made privy to this information and more before it is seen by the general public!
The Buffalo Billfold Company
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