Shell cordovan (or cordovan) is a type of leather commonly used in shoemaking. It is a difficult and expensive leather to make and in the late 19th and early 20th century was mostly used for razor strops to sharpen razors in barber shops. More recently it is increasingly used for leather goods and watch straps as when well made it is both good looking and exceptionally durable. Cordovan is an equine leather made from the fibrous flat muscle (or shell) beneath the hide on the rump of the horse. The leather derives its name from the city of Cordoba, Spain, where it was originally prepared by the Moors. It is difficult to find original references to Shell Cordovan as having originated in Cordoba in the period of Moorish dominance (8th to 15th centuries) which pre-date the mid 19th century so there still remains an element of uncertainty about its origins.
After removal from the horse, the hide is measured from the root of the tail 18 inches forward on the backbone. The hide is cut at right angles to the backbone and the resulting pieces termed a "front" (the forward part) and the "butt". The term cordovan leather applies to the product of both the tanned fronts and tanned butts, but is especially used in connection with the term galoshes, meaning the vamps or boot-fronts cut from the shell of the butt.
After being tanned, leather from the "front" is typically used in the fabrication of gloves, or blackened, to be used in the tops of shoes. The "butt", after tanning, is passed through a splitting-machine which removes the grain, or hair side, revealing what is termed the "shell". The close fibers of the shell result in a smooth and pliable leather used almost exclusively in the manufacture of shoes  and watch straps, although another use is for the manufacture of finger protection tabs for recreational archery, where it is prized for its toughness, longevity, and protective qualities.
Due to the difficulty in applying dyes, shell cordovan is available in a narrow range of colors.
- Baldwin, William Henry (1929). The Shopping Book. The Macmillan company. p. 223.
- Watt, Alexander (1906). Leather Manufacture. Van Nostrand. p. 228.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica (1905). Encyclopaedia Britannica. The Werner Company. p. 284.
- Shoe leather options heddels.com October 2014