HANDMADE IS BETTER MADE: Jan den Hartogh - Duke & Sons
By Rich Gunn - 25 Aug 21
For all the convenience the modern world provides with it’s digital magic and mass-produced accessibility, it can never replace the craft of a true artisan creating work with their hands. From the very earliest days of Bike Shed we became great friends and later collaborators with Master Artisan Jan den Hartogh of Duke & Sons; a craftsman who took his creative flare away from a screen and into his workshop, showing us all that handmade really is better made.
We caught up with Jan to hear about his story.
Who are you / where are you based / what do you do?
I'm Jan den Hartogh, based in the Netherlands and I'm a Leather craftsman.
How did you get started in your craft and when did you establish Duke & Sons?
As a designer who was used to working the whole day behind a screen, I realised I was missing something important in my life and that was the opportunity to do something with my hands.
I’m a fan of the amazing atmosphere of heritage goods and brands. I love the fact that many of these companies still make the same quality goods and stick to their origins. Inspired by a real craftsman, I decided to learn the skills myself, and just by ‘learning by doing’ I have managed to teach myself the making of quality leather goods.
It all started in 2013.
How did you get involved with the Bike Shed and how has the collaboration grown over the years?
I guess it was the third BSMC event, the first at Tobacco Docks in Wapping but in a very small footprint compared to what it is now. One of the Bike Shed founders had spotted my work on the internet and called to ask if I was interested in a nice weekend in London, alongside a lot of motorcycle enthusiasts. I arranged my own travel but they took take care of the stuff I would need to show my skills at the show, like table, chairs and a shop vitrine. I think the last one was from somebody's home hahaha!
It was the first time for me abroad doing my leathercraft and the first time together with Ingeborg my lovely wife. From the first moment on, we had a close relationship with everybody and it really felt like we were friends for a long time. Even Ingeborg, who was not that acquainted with the motorcycle world, embraced the whole community. It was a special weekend with special people and we were not used to that vibe in the Netherlands. When we left, it felt like we had a visit with a warm family weekend.
The rest is history... every year since we visit our 'family' at every show and we're very grateful for that.
What are your favourite pieces to work on and can you share some details of the processes that go into making them?
I love to work with natural veg tan leather. It is such a fine leather and you can do anything with it. When the leather is moisturised you can emboss it and you can dye it with several special dyes but you can also colour the embossed artwork to give a special touch and make unique pieces.
You can find many samples in my maker stories, like this one: https://www.dukeandsonsleather.com/blogs/maker-stories/making-the-bike-shed-protective-card-wallet
What bike do you currently own?
I currently ride a 1987 Harley Davidson Heritage Softail and a 1978 Classic Yamaha XS 1100.
What was your favourite bike?
I started when I was 16 and I’ve had a few favourite bikes: The Laverda, my Honda CB750, and the 2 stroke Kawasaki's in particular...
What is your dream machine?
At this moment I don't have a dream machine, however, I really like the WWII Harley Davidson WLA in original army look.
What attracts you to the motorcycling world and community? The camaraderie, especially in the UK community, which is so different from the Dutch community. It is hard to explain but it is our experience when we meet all the customers at the annual BSMC show. But in general it’s the freedom of riding, the power of the engine, and sharing that passion with good friends.
Check out Jan's latest exclusive BSMC pieces below - he doesn't make in batch for anyone else and we are honoured to have his work carry our name. Cheers Jan.