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Two more shoe horns by Robert Mindum

I’ll do the disclosure part first. The 1596 horn is to be auctioned on 24 November as lot 134 by Matthew Barton Ltd. I’ve been in contact with Matthew to discuss the content of the catalogue listing for this lot (go to p39), and have been given permission to use his photograph. He also provided the information on the 1599 Violet shoehorn below that was also missing from my catalogue. At no time was promotion or advertising requested and this post should not be construed as such. When I become aware of other Mindum horn sales, I’ll also mention them.

Mindum's own shoehorn? 1596

Photograph copyright Matthew Barton Ltd 2015

I think this is a particularly significant horn for a couple of reasons that I’ll outline below.

The finish of the horn isn’t as fine as his usual work. There’s a number of inked-in scratches meaning that either he didn’t polish the horn before starting, or it’s been reinked since. I think it’s the former due to the way the triangles along the top edge are worn and uncoloured.

The location of the date isn’t quite right, it looks like he had planned to put it at the end of the inscription but then changed his mind after doing the text and put it in a more prominent location instead. He usually fills those sort of spaces with scrollwork. He’s also tried a different technique that I haven’t seen on any of the earlier horns. There’s a row of opposing triangles between the arches at the base and the lady. Rather than opposing point to point, these are wider spaced and the points of one row face towards the spaces between the triangles in the opposite row. He’s done a knife cut either side from the apex to the base, then a third across the base, slid the point in and lifted the piece. Slow, fiddly and not a particularly good finish. I can’t see it used on any of the later horns, but he does use the opposing facing triangles from 1597 on as far as I can see, every horn after that date. I’ve discussed the purpose-built tools I think he had made in a previous post.

This horn appears to be missing at least a third, possibly more of its original length. This is normal for the horns that have been heavily used, due to wear from the coarse woollen stocks in use at the time – several others show similar amounts of loss. Looking at the decoration, there’s a row of opposing triangles across the top, that would normally separate another design area from what we currently have. For 1596, I’d expect at least an encrowned rose or fleur-di-lis at the end, and possibly a band of knotwork. This then gives us significantly more room for the inscription around the outside edge.

This example is only the second known to display Mindum’s middle name, the other being the 1595 “Robart Go To Bed” horn. I’m not certain of the significance of this and why it only appears to have happened during this two year period. Have a look at where he has put his name. The extant inscription is THIS IS ROBART HEND / RT MINDVM. Could this be Mindum’s own shoehorn? Given the extra space we’ve identified and following his usual formula, the inscription may have read:


The lady on his shoe horn looks very similar to the lady on the 1593 Jane Ayres shoe horn in the Salisbury Museum and appears to be wearing the same hat, not a particularly fashionable one for the period. I’ve haven’t seen the 1595 Jane Ayres shoehorn, it hasn’t been noted since 1921 but may feature another picture of Jane. I’ll owe an ale to anyone who can produce a picture of the later one.

Crackpot theory time: let’s assume for the moment that this is Mindum’s own shoe horn. He’s done a picture of his sweetheart on it, arguably Jane Ayres. We know he married a woman called Jane some time prior to 1613 as he made (another?) shoe horn for her then. This is pure supposition drawn from idle speculation, but I would like it to have been true.

The second horn escaped my attention mainly because the sale predated on-line catalogue distribution. It last sold in 1986 at Christie’s Important European Sculpture and Works of Art sale NINI-3357.

Mindum shoehorn Violet 1599

This has all the features you’d expect to see on a later Mindum shoe horn. The design is the same as Iohn Gybson’s 1597 with the addition of a small tree at the base near the arches. The catalogue notes that it is “A late 16th century English white oxhorn shoe-horn by Robart Mindum.” The inscription is:


I’ve attempted to contact Christies for more details or a better image but am yet to get a response.

Thanks to Matthew Barton for bringing both these to my attention.


Big Book Erratum – Chapter 5, Luggage

In the Big Book on p53, I feature an illustration from John Waterer’s Leather in Life, Art and Industry, with, what in my defence I will point out is Waterer’s original caption.


English travelling trunk of pinewood covered with cowhide, ornamented with brass studs. Second half of the 17th century. 

It transpires that it is a Queen Anne chest, reputedly Queen Anne’s chest (1702-1714) and dates from the first quarter of the eighteenth century. A contemporary chest of drawers appeared on Antiques Roadshow in 2013 and has more recently been authenticated.

Note the similarity of the bunch of grapes on both this chest and the Roadshow one.

Click to view the clip:

More updates to the Mindum Catalogue

I’ve just uploaded a new version of the Mindum catalogue, version 1.6. This will probably be the penultimate update before moving to a Wikipedia entry.

There’s been a bit of activity since the last update, mostly to do with the Museum of London. Thank to some work done by Alex Chapman, we’ve been able to confirm the entire Evans collection of shoehorns and the 1601 Morris powder horn are in the MoL, along with all but one of the Drane collection. The 1597 horn with the scratched-out name that Joan Evans mentioned from the Drane collection is still missing but I’m hopeful about it turning up sometime.


There was a bit of a kefuffle about the dating of Mathew Westefeldes’ shoehorn, with 1609 being suggested, but it turned out to be an incorrect record in one of the research files. It’s also been confirmed that the claim of an end year of 1623 from the VAM (Treasures of the Royal Courts… &c) was a typographic error and should have been 1613 as expected.

I’ve added links at the end in a new section to the 18th C imitation by Thomas Gen in the BM that I think Joan Evans had been looking for but couldn’t find and to the seventeenth century shoehorn in the York Castle Museum that has been suggested as the one mentioned by Paula Hardwick.

As usual, I’ve done the usual check for link rot and given the whole document an overall tidy up.


The Stonyhurst Gospel

The British Library’s Medieval manuscripts blog had a cracker at the end of June on the St Cuthbert or Stonyhurst Gospel.

I’ve talked about the binding before in my post on another Saxon quiver, now they’ve managed to do CT scans of the binding and covers. It looks like the tree design was worked into a mould from the back, then the design was filled with clay to keep the shape. The technique is the same as the one I used for my costrel all those years ago.

The raised straight lines that frame the tree and knotwork are worked over cord, but I have my suspicions that the groove may have been started from the back with the seventh eighth century equivalent of a butter knife and plastic rule, the cord put in place before the cover was stuck to the board and the line finally worked down from the front. You can see where they’ve overshot with the butter knife in the corners. Emboss the knotwork and paint to taste.

Cuthbert covercropped.jpg Back cover of St Cuthbert Gospel

The back is entirely butter knife work.


Shoehorn by Thomas Gen, possibly 1790

British Museum, 1889,0930.5

This shoehorn is in the British Museum collection and to my mind is a clear imitation of Mindum’s work. Made by Thomas Gen, it was acquired by the museum in 1889 from the collection of Henry Christy.

Click on the picture to open it in a new tab, there’s a few things to which I’d like to draw your attention. The first is that it isn’t finished, the inscription stops part way through. I think the rest of it is marked fairly faintly but is now too indistinct to read. There are mark up lines near the hole and the tip appears to have broken off, possibly following a crack from drilling the hole.  I have no idea why it has been inked when the design isn’t finished. There’s no evidence of wear at the end or sides.

The second thing is that the entire design is engraved. It’s been done with one or maybe two tools, almost entirely with point work. The triangles are done by pressing the point in, then levering up, leaving exactly the scalloped base shape on the triangles and uneven depth I was talking about in my study of Mindum’s method (he said, smugly). Dots are done by sticking the point in and then rotating it. Unsteadiness of the hand has resulted in the occasional straight lines radiating from the dots making them look a little hairy. Lines are done by dragging the point, resulting in wider lines where the point has dug in more, or with a sawing motion on shorter and curved lines, resulting in multiple over-runs in places like the fleur-di-lys and square knot near the tip and a faceted appearance on the circles. There are no centre marks in the circles and the circles are not concentric, so compasses have not been used in the layout. I must say, Mr Gen does a nicer job or laying out the knotwork than Mr Mindum ever did, they are beautifully central. Almost all of Mindum’s end up with the knotwork smacking into the right hand border.

Some general observations:

  • It has all the elements of a Mindum shoehorn, but the arrangement of knotwork above marigold above stylised crown with two horned ferrets coming in from the sides above cartoon rose doesn’t match any of the known surviving Mindum horns, and Mindum always uses the knotwork as a divider so I think the layout is original to Gen. The elements are so stylised, it looks as if he was working from a drawing or faint memory.
  • Every triangle is different – size, angle, depth. Some of the small ones have ended up “T”-shaped as the point is stuck in deeply to form the base, but comes up too quickly and the point just scratches a line. Mindum’s are identical in size and depth, and has each group of three or four (depending on the triangle size)perfectly aligned.
  • Lettering is composed of lots of lines, serifs are also lines with dug-out triangles, not the neat, identical triangles Mindum uses. The centre “v” if the A in MADE doesn’t even meet. Gen has matched Mindum’s small dash on the H and I but gone his own way with the lazy S.
  • The hatching, to be honest, is a bit of a hash job. Unevenly spaced, uneven line widths and depths and not always laid out to match the curve of the horn. Mindum had trouble with this layout, too, but his lines are even and parallel.
  • Gen has had the same problem with finish as I did. The horn needs to be polished to the desired finish BEFORE starting the engraving (or burning). There’s marks all over the place that couldn’t be removed without messing up the engraving.

Now have a look in the embiggened photo at the base of the fleur-di-lys. It’s about the spot where Mindum puts the year if he hasn’t put it in the main inscription.  I can see 17-something lightly marked in there with a blade, I think it says 1790, but I may be wrong, what I’m reading as 9 could be the Elizabethan 2 with the big loop at the top. So 1720 at the earliest, but probably 1790. Obviously, this was done after the rest of the design was inked or it would show up darker. There’s no way to tell if it was the same afternoon or 120 years further on, but the width of the cuts does match the line width in the fleur-di-lys and it’s in the right location to be part of the original design. It’s a shame that there isn’t more words, we might have been able to pick if the inscription was modern English from post 1755 (Dr J’s Dictionary) rather than early modern.

Joan Evans in The Burlington Magazine, November 1944, ‘Shoe Horns and a Powder Flask by Robert Mindum’ says that she believed there was a Mindum shoehorn in the British Museum, but at the time of writing her article, it was unable to be located. While museums do lose stuff all the time and catalogues are notoriously incomplete, there’s no official record of them ever owning a Mindum shoehorn and when they needed one for an exhibition recently, they had to borrow Matty Westfelde’s from the MoL. Could this be the shoehorn she’d heard about?





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