First of all, let’s get our animals straight. Some folks will use the terms bison leather and buffalo leather interchangeably since the North American bison is often called a buffalo—but, the Asian Water Buffalo or the African Cape Buffalo are the only animals that can accurately claim the buffalo name.
So, be sure you know what you’re asking for and what folks are actually selling. If you’re asking for buffalo leather when you mean North American bison leather, you may get yourself a bag or jacket made from an Asian Water Buffalo.
Just to be clear, when we at Buffalo Jackson say bison or buffalo leather, we’re talking good ol’ made in the USA bison leather.
Now that we’ve got that cleared up, let’s compare bison leather and cow leather.
Cow leather and bison leather/buffalo leather are both made by skilled artisans in the traditions of centuries past. The tanning of cow hides, however, typically involves modern techniques involving chemicals, while a bison/buffalo hide is normally tanned using organic materials. Also, bison leather/buffalo leather is not usually stretched during the tanning process.
In its natural state, bison leather/buffalo leather is not necessarily stronger than cow leather. Both are the strongest easily obtainable animal hides and are similar in strength and elasticity. However, in both bison leather/buffalo leather and cow leather, strength is dictated by the thickness of the hide or the leather grade - and as mentioned earlier, the bison or buffalo hides that make bison leather are typically not stretched as much as cow leather, which results in bison leather/buffalo leather often being considered the stronger of the two.
The same grades of quality, such as full-grain and top-grain, apply to both cow leather and bison leather/buffalo leather. As far as hide sizes go, even though a bison is a much larger animal than a cow, bison hides (or buffalo hides) are generally smaller in size than cowhides because bison hides are not stretched like cowhides.
So why aren’t bison hides stretched? It is to preserve the unique grain patterning of the bison hide. Bison leather / buffalo leather grain is more distinct than cow leather grain, and so artisans and manufacturers go to great lengths to protect its appearance in the leather.