Ever since signing up on Instagram in 2016, being able to see leather craftsmen show off their processes and creations has provided small highlights for me during drab workdays.
Interestingly, I first came across Monk Made Goods on Instagram after a small but somewhat heated discussion about copying wallet designs – in retrospect this was not an useful discussion at all, but I was glad to be introduced to Jason’s work inadvertently.
Over the past two years, I’ve found it fascinating to follow Monk Made Goods as his work has evolved. It was fairly clear, judging even by the earliest photos on Jason’s feed, that his handcraft was careful and neat.
Certainly, given the Monk Made workshop is only 5 years old, this dexterity and neatness of Jason’s wallets was surprising. The aesthetics of his work is quite catching too – a very interesting blend of Americana and Zen that’s rather cool.
Today, I’m very excited to look over one of Jason’s Bishop 2 bifold wallets with you. This will be the only review up on the blog this month, but it’ll be a great one!
Let’s have at it.
The packaging here from Monk Made Goods is very refined indeed. You won’t even need to wrap the box up if you’re giving the wallet as a gift.
The gold foil logo on black paper is so pretty!
Overall, beautiful presentation. The life-time guarantee card is a nice touch too.
The Bishop 2 is a larger sized bifold design.
It measures 9.5 cm tall and 11.5 cm wide.
Lightly compressed and fully loaded, the wallet is around 1.5 cm at the thickest.
The layout, in general, can be considered to be a traditional style, full sized bifold.
There are 6 quick access card slots across two symmetrical sides, two hidden compartments and a full sized bill compartment.
The internal and external designs both incorporate an interesting mix of waves, circles and straight lines. Whilst the layout is not in the modern Japanese work-style of bifolds, nevertheless this Bishop 2 does feel somewhat Japanese…kinda like how a circle compares to an enso.
Being a full sized and well proportioned bifold, this wallet is very easy to use. The carrying capacity is more than enough for most people’s EDC requirements.
The Bishop 2 slides easily into the back pocket of denim jeans – solid but not chunky.
I have been hoping to feature Shinki Hikaku’s shell cordovan on this blog for some time. Fans of leather goods would be familiar with the increasing popularity of shell cordovan in the past decade, and certainly since 2010 there’s been much talk about the Japanese alternative to Horween’s gold standard shell cordovan.
Shinki Hikaku (New Happiness Leathers, roughly translated) is one of the most famous tanneries in the leather city of Himeji. Readers of the blog would already be familiar with Shonan Leathers, the famous Japanese pit tannery, which is located in the same city. Indeed, Himeji had been famous since medieval times for producing one of the most luxurious leathers in Japan, Himeji’s famed “white leather”. A modern claim to fame would be Shinki’s almost 40 year history is perfecting their own version of shell cordovan.
The process of making shell cordovan is roughly similar around the world, with the current oldest producer being Horween tannery, and the very new comers being the English and Italian tanneries taking their first steps in creating shell. Shinki imports hides from Europe, and pit tans the skins for approximately one month using vegetable tannins, before the half-finished shells undergo further drying, curing, currying and colouring processes. All in all, the process at Shinki takes around 10 months from wet hides to finished shell cordovan.
Horse leather is known for being inconsistent in both structure and appearance, so it is a rare piece of horsebutt which is able to produce natural coloured shell cordovan, which is showcased here on the outshell of the wallet. Of course, in comparison to the truly natural coloured vegetable tanned cattlehide on the inner, the natural shell is darker – more caramel coloured than pale pink – though this is unavoidable given the currying process which shell cordovan needs to undergo.
Shinki’s shell has long been compared with Horween’s better known product. Everyone has an opinion as to which is best, and the industries are full of rumors regarding how certain tanneries are not making genuine shell (i.e. not using the true shell layer on the horse’s rump), though ultimately it is a matter of preference.
This Japanese shell cordovan, whilst more rigid and somewhat more ‘plastic’ compared with others, is much more consistent in both colour, tone and temper. Moreover, most leather workers would say hand-stitching sits much more nicely on Shinki’s shell.
The differences here are mostly due to the stuffing and glazing processes, and it’s important to keep in mind that Shinki often customize these processes for their bigger clients (such as The Flat Head) and often also pass on half-finished shells to currying companies such as Ogawa. Therefore, expect to see shells with different colours, hand-feel and tonal depths. Overall, Shinki’s shell is more presentable and much less oily compared to their main rival at Horween. At 1.5 mm thick, the shell is fairly solid too!
The inner paneling of this Bishop 2 utilises Tochigi Leather Co.’s famous natural vegetable tanned leather, at 1 mm thickness. This is a leather with which I am very familiar, and surely you have seen this particular leather featured on this blog at least a couple of times.
This is surely a beautiful leather… whilst it’s not a world-beater like Baker’s oak bark or Shonan’s natural saddle, Tochigi’s vegetable tannage is extremely beautiful.
Tochigi’s natural leather has a lightly textured hand, moderate grain growth and a very pleasing natural colour. In terms of appearance, it follows the middle path between the heavy growth and wild ruggedness of Shonan’s saddle leather and the smooth, uniform surface of most Italian veg tans. I know from experience that this leather works great in a wallet and ages gracefully with moderate speed.
Did I mention it smells like warmed butter?
Jason is insistent on old school techniques and simple tools – no short cuts, only elbow grease.
The various panels are hand cut and carefully pieced together.
The saddle-stitching, sewn by hand, is made at 7 SPI with white Vinymo polyester thread from Japan.
The stitch work is extraordinarily regular and precise: every panel crossing is perfect, and there’s not a single wonky stitch.
In fact, the absolute precision with which the sewing and paneling were executed produced a level of symmetry that is rather astounding for something which has been made by only eyes and hands. The differences across the left and right sides are less than 1 mm!
The various curves on the inner are consistent and smooth. The curved top edges of the card panels demonstrate this consistency perfectly.
The Monk Made mark is neatly stamped on the left accent panel.
Every single visible edge has been carefully burnished with water and beeswax.
The edges here are natural and somewhat glossy – pleasing to see and feel.
The edges are not creased, but gently beveled it seems.
Certainly, the edge work here is one of the nicest I’ve come across.
Along with John Faler’s monster bifold, this Bishop 2 wallet from Jason at Monk Made Goods is one of the most precisely made wallets I’ve ever handled. To say this wallet is well made would be understating the extreme precision and patience which have been invested in this wallet’s creation.
Truly, one of the nicest pieces in my leather collection.
This level of carefulness in crafting really must come down to mindset and personality, I believe. Despite the massive uptake of leather crafting as a hobby in the past decade, it is still rare to see a wallet that has been so carefully made. Keep in mind too, Jason does not use templates or lasers – this wallet has been hand made, in the truest sense.
It’s not surprising to learn, then, that Jason invests up to 12 hours for the crafting of each wallet – there’s much mindfulness involved, and I do believe this injection of time and mental energy is reflected in the high quality of crafting you see here.
It used to be that leather craft of this caliber could only be proxy purchased from Japan, and it’s been really great to see in the past few years American craftsmen working hard to challenge the Japanese masters.
It’s that careful balance of ruggedness, utilitarian designs and sophisticated workmanship that really defines a work-style wallet, and I feel Jason has hit the mark with these regards to these aspects of wallet craft.
On that note, Jason’s wallets, I feel, have a very Japanese feel, and this Bishop 2 seems to be no exception, although his other models such as the Archbishop or the Ode wallets are closer approximations to Japanese rider’s or work-style makes. There is also a smaller bifold with a similar layout, the Bishop 1, in case you’re after a similar wallet with smaller dimensions.
For my own preferences, however, the Bishop 2 possesses the perfect size and carrying capacity.
In terms of styling then, I’d say the Bishop 2 works very well with denim and workwear – extra synergy points here for the all Japanese materials, given my wardrobe of mostly Japanese clothes.
The natural leathers used here, be it shell or cattlehide, will make a great patina project – this Shinki and Tochigi pairing is a great combination indeed. This is a wallet meant for leather and denim fans alike.
Jason’s method of restricting his crafting tools & techniques and his careful use curves in shaping the wallet stands out too, in terms of achieving a signature look, which I’ve had the pleasure of observing, over time, as it evolved on his Instagram feed. I think my initial criticisms, on first observing his work a couple of years ago, of not producing original designs are well and truly no longer applicable. I say this every time I review a bifold, but it is true that there’s great difficulty in creating a good looking, original bifold without compromising user-friendliness… having spent time with the Bishop 2, I think Jason has mostly achieved this difficult goal.
At $275 USD, this Shinki shell Bishop 2 is on the more expensive end of the scale as far as bifold wallets go, but factoring in the world class leathers and the almost half-day it takes to hand-craft this wallet, I’d say it represents great value. Minus the materials cost (mostly from the shell cordovan), let’s say, you’re paying around $20 per hour for the making of this wallet – I think Jason should be asking for a raise, if he weren’t self-employed!
Or, from another angle of consideration, if such a shell cordovan wallet were to be made in Japan by a private craftsman, you’d be looking at a minimum of 50, 000 yen. In North America, a similar product would be around $50 more expensive from other private makers.
All in all?
I can highly recommend the wallets from Monk Made Goods, especially if quality is your main consideration. Jason’s craft is more precise than most, with extremely smooth presentation overall, and you’ll likely find it difficult to pick out any flaws on his work. Fans of leathers and work-wear should definitely checkout the Monk Made Goods website – besides the Bishop bifold, his Ode mid-wallet would combined very well with raw denim too!