The capability of von Willebrand factor (VWF) to bind platelet glycoprotein Ib (GPIb) and promote platelet plug formation is currently evaluated in vitro using the ristocetin co-factor activity (VWF:RCo) assay. The replacement of this cumbersome and not always reproducible test with the collagen binding activity of VWF (VWF:CBA) has been attempted with controversial results. To evaluate the capacity of VWF:CBA to identify classic and variant von Willebrand disease (VWD) compared with VWF:RCo, we studied 10 type 2A and 12 type 2B VWD patients, together with 30 type 1 VWD patients with reduced platelet VWF content. In both 2A and 2B VWD, VWF:CBA and VWF:RCo were decreased, but that of VWF:CBA was more consistent. The difference was more evident when values were expressed as a ratio, obtained by normalizing VWF:CBA and VWF:RCo with the VWF antigen value; the ratio for VWF:CBA was always below 0·2, while that for VWF:RCo was greater than 0·4, and in no patient was the VWF:CBA value higher than VWF:RCo. In contrast, in type 1 VWD, the decrease in VWF:CBA was similar to that seen in VWF:RCo with the ratios always within the normal range. To better investigate the relationship between VWF:CBA and VWF:RCo, and the representation of large/intermediate VWF multimers, to which both tests are sensitive, 1-deamino-cys-8-D-arginine-vasopressin (DDAVP) was infused in type 2A and 2B VWD patients. The differences between the two tests were even more evident after DDAVP, and in type 2A, even though large multimers were persistently decreased, VWF:RCo was normalized, while VWF:CBA remained defective. These findings clearly indicate that VWF:CBA detects the absence of large and intermediate VWF multimers better than VWF:RCo. Hence, we suggest adding VWF:CBA to the panel of tests employed in the diagnosis of VWD. Moreover, owing to the difficulty in performing VWF:RCo and its low reproducibility, we suggest that, when necessary, VWF:CBA may be substituted for VWF:RCo.