The original definition of ‘box calf’ is a chrome tanned hide with a subtle fine creased pattern due to the result of hand currying/boarding the leather. This process was named after Joseph Box, an English shoemaker.
Hand currying and boarding:
(illustrations from http://www.kingsmerecrafts.com/page08.html)
note that the leathers are all halves, not whole hides: it is easier to work by hand on a half skin.
and an old photograph of various types of patterns and grains on leather:
Today what is commonly refered to as box calf is an chrome tanned, full-grain, aniline-dyed leather, usually in black. It has lost the tell tale ‘box’ or ‘willow’ grain pattern since it is no longer hand curried/boarded, instead it is mechanised and the leather run through rollers.
One of the last tanneries that still hand curried and boarded leather for footwear uppers was W.E & J. Pebody of Northampton, England (established 1878) which closed 20 years ago.
(illustrations from http://www.mkheritage.co.uk/odhs/ratcliff/MLRO_1a.html)
When I started out as a bespoke shoemaker, I bought several hides from a store that was closing down. Recently I have been going through my storage rooms and trying to organise my old stock, and I came across several Pebody box calf skins which display the tell taie grain.
(not pictured is the black Pebody box calf)
I was of course very happy to rediscover this leather along with several others (which I will later make posts of). These skins were already quite old when I bought them hold up very very well since I bought them 20 years or so ago. The quality of this Pebody leather is wonderful: dense fiber mat and small skins. It is near impossible nowadays to find skins of this size and quality. I have just finished making a moccasin for a client in a brown box calf, and it makes up wonderfully.