IMOLC have recently discovered that they don’t own the collection of jacks, bombards and bottels that they’ve had on display in the old museum for the past 70 years. They have until the start of March to crowdfund £33000 otherwise the collection will be broken up and sold off. For details, see IMOLC’s blog post.
This article serves a number of purposes. Firstly, for me to show off a couple of the scabbards I’ve made and secondly, to discuss the trends in scabbard construction and fashion during the late Stuart period.
Here is a photo of two scabbards I’ve made. What is unusual about them is that they are glued rather than stitched in the conventional manner.
The front and back of the knife scabbards,
click to eviscerate.
There. Now showing off is safely out of the way, lets get on with the construction. Both are based on scabbards from London in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Interestingly, there appears to have been a decline in the number of scabbards found during this time, but no corresponding decrease in the number of knife finds. This reflects a change in men’s fashion, where wearing a scabbarded knife was no longer de rigueur. In fact, there are a total of three scabbards known from this period, two of traditional construction, and one showing all the techniques of bookbinding instead. It is this last one I copied for the regimental scabbards, taking a bit of artistic licence making it one of a matched pair. Apart from it being a chance to practice my embossing skills, the main reason for the choice was that there is no stitching for buggers to cut when putting the knives back.
The top of the original scabbard is damaged, so I’ve based the way they fit the knife handles on some earlier scabbards and an early 17th century pen knife in the Museum of London.
After making a paper pattern and roughly cutting the leather to shape, the leather was dampened and shaped by stretching and clamping around wooden knife-shaped formers the same shape but slightly thicker than each knife.
The gluing was done once the leather was dry, before any of the design was applied. This was mainly to ensure that the shape was more or less final and embossed parallel lines were approximately parallel and the lines going around the blades didn’t spiral. If I’d done the embossing first, it would have changed shape where the leather stretched. If you prefer to do the embossing flat and then mould and glue, go ahead: that’s how I do scabbards with knot work designs where distortion of the design is less noticeable.
The design consists of stamped diamonds, fleur-de-lis and arabesques, framed with straight lines and highlighted with short parallel lines and dots. I made the diamond and lily stamps from scraps of metal lying about, the thin curves from the edge of a bit of thin steel cut off a forged spearhead socket, the rondelling with a plastic gear from Andrew’s Meccano and the dots with an old bit of brass rod. The frame was embossed in the now traditional method with the back of a butter knife.
With both these scabbards, I deliberately avoided using any modern leatherworking equipment. One reason was because I could, but the main reason is that it’s unnecessary and proves there’s no any excuse about not being able to find or afford the gear. Total time from start to finish was three evenings while watching telly.
Egan, G., Material Culture in London in an Age of Transition – Tudor and Stuart period finds c1450-c1700 from Excavations at Riverside Sites in Southwark MoLAS Monograph 19, London, 2005
I’ve recently had contact with Richard Gardner, of Richard Gardner Antiques about the sale of Mindum’s Hinson shoehorn from 1600. Permission has been given to Richard for the catalogue to quote me extensively, and the website provides links to the catalogue and the relevant pages of this blog.
The sale page is here. The Featured Image is Richard’s copyright.
The usual disclaimer applies, I have no financial interest in the sale but in this case there is a debt of gratitude owed to the current vendor for trusting me alone with the horn and a camera for four hours one day.
Imagine if you will, the Museum of London, late on an uncommonly warm summer afternoon. The kids are tired and grumpy, I’m already worn out from three weeks of travelling and we’re belting through the last few cabinets in the Great Fire exhibition so we can fit in dinner before presenting to the Globe’s performance of Coriolanus in the evening. I’m really not paying attention and just snapping photos of anything of leather, bone or horn with plans to review them later…
Which I did accidentally last night while looking for examples of refectory tables with cleats that pass through the apron frame but aren’t attached (for the record, there’s one in The Great Oak Room in the Red Lodge, Bristol). That’s three months short of ten years. We were there in April 2006.
The last three frames of the set are William bloody Morris’ bloody powder-bloody-horn made by Robart bloody Mindum in 16-bloody-01.* Do you know how much time I’ve spent trying to get a clear photo of the powderhorn in the intervening time? The museum placard doesn’t help: “Powder horn made for William Morris, 1601.” If you didn’t know it was by Mindum, you wouldn’t have learned much because the inscription is turned towards the wall of the cabinet. For whatever reason, it didn’t trigger the Mindum alert at the time and didn’t stick in my memory.
Construction is classic powder horn. The base is pressed/glued in because the last thing you want to have if the powder catches alight and goes off is a nailed-in base causing compression. Having third-degree burns still beats losing a leg in the ensuing explosion. The moulded leather collar and carrying thong are probably original. Like on the 1600 Hinson shoehorn, the initials of a previous owner are branded on the base. The owner in 1888 was Rev W F Creeny who donated it to the MoL, so we know it was sometime prior to that.
The design elements are the same as on his shoehorns, with bow-ties, triangles, foliage trefoils, scroll-work and flowers, although the inscription is done inside a frame rather than around the edge. He’s separated the decoration into fields with the use of borders, larger triangles featuring in groups of two, and smaller in groups of three. My instinct is that they are the same size as the ones on the Hinson horn, but I’d have to measure them to be sure. The flowers/marigolds are within a knotwork band, I wonder if he got the spacing right this time, or if they get all mushed up together around the back somewhere to make it all fit.
I think the majority of the stippling is red, the rest of the line work is black. The base has a simple circle and diamond grid design as it wouldn’t usually be seen.
It looks like I have a couple of thousand photos from 2003, 2006 and 2011 to review soon to see if there are any other gems amongst them.
* Australian punctuation used to commemorate Australia/Invasion Day.
For discussion of the complexities of the observance of ‘Straya Day, see this post on the Australian National Maritime Museum’s blog.
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.
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:
THIS IS ROBART HENDART MINDVM’S SHOIN HORN MADE BY THE HANDE OF ROBART MINDVM
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.
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:
THIS IS ANTHONIE VIOLETS SHOING HO / HANDES OF ROBART MINDUM 1599
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.