Football anyone?

I’m reposting an account from a FIFA history of football page rather than writing my own post due to a state of befuddlement brought on by a dose of the ‘flu, plague, leprosy or possibly scrofula.

There’s a few inaccuracies and omissions in the page, the ball was found in 1981 not 1999, the leather is now grey but there is no evidence what colour it was originally, and the date of 1540 means the bedroom belonged to Mary of Guise, queen consort of James V and mother of Mary Queen of Scots. Diameter is about 140-160mm. The ball is now in the Stirling Smith Museum.

The full page is linked at the end. And don’t try to engage me in a conversation about football. I just don’t get it. – Football-Facts

The Oldest Ball

The oldest leather football in existence is probably over 450 years old and was found hidden in the rafters above Mary Queen of Scots’ bedroom in Stirling Castle in Scotland as recently as 1999.

The ball itself was constructed of a pig’s bladder with a grey leather casing sewn around it… – Football-Facts.


Museum of Edinburgh Gallery

Here’s the first of the promised galleries. The Museum of Edinburgh is at 143 Cannongate across the road from the Old Tollbooth. The leather galleries are closed for renovation at the moment, so I’ve added the shoe and pattern pictures from an earlier trip.

Leather Fire Bucket, 1820-30

Leather fire bucket, possibly from Holyrood House, with the crowned cypher of George IV painted on the side, dating it (the paint if not the bucket) to between 1820 and 1830. Construction is much simpler than the early Tudor and Dutch buckets I’ve showcased previously, but not riveted.

Leather Fire Bucket, 1820-30

This angle shows the inside of the back seam, and that a reinforcing piece appears to have been riveted on, with the top band then sewn over it.

Silk brocade covered shoes

Silk brocade covered leather shoe, mid-17th century, showing the method of attaching the fabric.

Silk brocade covered shoe and pattern

The other shoe of the pair showing a fabric and leather pattern.

Pattern, mid 17th C

Fabric and leather pattern, mid 17th century.

Another Mindum Shoehorn or two

I’ve just stumbled another couple of Mindum shoehorns, they have been in circulation for a few years so may not be new to you.

The first was sold by Christies in London, in 2005, number was Sale 5767. The angle shows an extreme amount of turn on the end, unlike any of the others I’ve seen.

Lot Description

The oxhorn with stained engraved decoration of a crowned rose and other motifs and date 1597 with inscription border reading THIS IS WILL’YAM S……..OF ROBART MINDVM, losses to rounded end, 5 3/8in. (13.5cm.)

Lot Notes

See Paula Hardwick, Discovering Horn, Lutterworth Press 1981, pp.62 for a discussion on shoe horns made by Robert Mindum. A similar horn but larger is ilustrated and another in York Castle Museum is discussed. The full inscription in the illustrated comparative example reads THIS IS RICHARD CRABS SHOE IN HORNE MADE BY THE HAND OF ROBART MINDVM

The horn cup in the background (lot 103) is engraved with a hunting scene and inscribed C+WARING 1825
4in. (10cm.)

Sotherby’s sold one dated 1598 in New York in 2007 as LOT 126 of their Calebration of the English Country House sale. The catalogue has a downloadable pdf, but is otherwise a fairly dreadful Adobe Flash site that I can’t get a useable photo from. Interestingly, this one features red lines as well as the more common black.

Lot Description

A RARE ELIZABETHAN ENGRAVED HORN SHOE HORN BY ROBART MINDAM, DATED 1598 of typical form, the outer edge engraved ROBART MINDUM MADE THIS SHOING HORNE FOR ROSE FALES ANNO DOMINI 1598, the inscription enclosing panels engraved with a Tudor rose beneath a crown, a band of guilloche, a spray of leaves and a panel of cross hatching and lozenges, the engraving retaining some of the original black and red rubbedin mastic, the end pierced for a cord, the surface of a rich cream color with black-brown markings. length 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm)

Catalogue Note

This rare shoe horn is one of a very small number which were made by this craftsman. Bearing various dates between 1593 and 1612 all appear to be made from white ox horn, the raw horn firstly being cut in two along its natural curve. The pieces were then heated over a flame until the natural material was pliable enough for it to be placed in a shaped vice until cooled. The horn was then polished and, as in the present example engraved, the decoration being accentuated by rubbing in various colors.

All craftsmen in horn would have first served an apprenticeship before joining The Worshipful Company of Horners, a guild which had its origins in the eighth century, its members originally being a member of a group of agricultural guilds known as Frith Guilds. The word guild is derived from the Anglo-Saxon gildan or gildare meaning to pay and is a reference to the contribution expected from each person towards a common fund. The first recorded reference to the actual Horner’s Company was in 1284, a later document from fifteenth century indicating that an Act was passed forbidding any information on the development of uses of horn to be handed on to anyone outside England. It is however clear from the records indicating a flourishing export trade that this was not adhered to.

Little is known of the career of Robart Mindum, who was presumably a guild member, other than his surviving signed work. An article by Joan Evans in the Burlington Magazine, November, 1944, records a small group of shoe horns signed by him variously dated and inscribed between the years 1593 and 1612. The owners of these include: Hamlet Radesdale Stetson ‘the coupar of London’, 1593, ‘Wylam Rownyns’, 1594, ‘Richard Crabs’, 1595, ‘John Gybson’, 1597, ‘Ambres Buckells’, 1598, ‘Mattthew Westfeldes’, 1600, ‘Willyam Morris’, 1601, ‘Bridget Dearsley’, 1605 and another dated 1612 pf which the inscription has been erased. Joan Evans also records two other shoe horns of which she has no details and also a powder horn dated 1601.
The Burlington Magazine,
November 1944, ‘Shoe Horns and a Powder Flask by Robert Mindum’, Joan Evans
Paula Hardwick, Discovering Horn, Guildford, 1981, p. 62

By way of contrast here is one I’ve mentioned in another post on another blog, but is such a nice piece that it is worth publishing again. It came from a private home in East Anglia and was sold by Rowley Fine Art in Ely in 2010 for an undisclosed amount. According to Eely People, “The shoe horn was made for a Mistress Blake in 1612 by a known maker called Robert Mindum who beautifully inscribed it with a Tudor Rose design…”

Mindum 1612 Blake

Cora Ginsberg Gallery has a full description of this one at their website. There’s a few older references that I’d love to follow up if anyone has any details.

In the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Second Series, vol. vii. pp. 121-2 (1877), Sir John Evans publishes notes on

three shoe-horns bearing dates 1593, 1600, and 1604, and inscriptions showing that they were made by one “Robart Mindum”.  Another, in the Saffron Walden Museum, is inscribed round the edge, ” Robart Mindum made this shooing-horn for Bridget Dearsley, 1605.” The decorations are carried out in dots and incised lines, into which some dark substance has been worked. The crowned Tudor rose is the principal ornament employed in the last specimen.

And in The Antiquary (Volume 27) (1893):

Mr. Hartshorne exhibited a shoe-horn carved by Robert Mindum, dated 1598, and an apple-scoop carved in cherrywood, dated 1682 ; Sir J. Evans exhibited a powder horn and two shoe-horns, also carved by Robert Mindum ; and Mr. Harding, through the secretary, exhibited a German shoe-horn of unusual size, engraved with the story of the Prodigal Son.

The catalogue of the Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor in Regent Street, London (1890) has:

981i ENGRAVED SHOE HORN, 1600. By Robert Mindum. Lent by JOHN EVANS, ESQ., P.S.A.
ENGRAVED POWDER HORN, 1601. By Robert Mindum. Lent by JOHN EVANS, ESQ., P.S.A.

which I assume are the same items he later displayed to the Society of Antiquaries in 1983.

The Burlington Magazine Vol. 85, No. 500, Nov., 1944 has an article by Joan Evans showing eight horns and a powder flask made between 1593 and 1612. It appears to be a reasonably complete list but only has one from 1593 and is missing the 1613 horn that is at the end of my other post.

After the rain…

That didn’t take long! The situation I was trying to simulate is one where the painted leather is kept wet for a period of time. I had this happen at Easter 2009 where we hosted a 17th century tavern that ran for four days. By the end, all the leather drinkware was soaked and the paint was just starting to bleed.

After the rain
As before, oil at the top, then gouache, then acrylic. Modern dye to the left, iron black to the right

I must admit, early Summer rain in Sydney is somewhat akin to being shot-blasted, but it has accelerated the testing nicely. The oil on modern dye, which had already started to chip, suffered quite badly from this treatment. The gouache on iron black mostly washed off, on the modern dye it stood up a little better and could have been rescued by bring it in earlier and gently drying it. As you would expect, the acrylics are largely unaffected, as is the oil paint on iron black.

Remember, all samples are from the same piece of hide, and all have a coat of varnish and a heavy coat of beeswax over the paint.

Once they’ve dried out, I’ll simulate washing up.

Remember these?

Paint tests 2
From top down, oil paint, gouache, acrylic, left samples are modern dyes, right are iron black.

I’ve had the samples sitting for about six months, just to make sure the paints were really dry. They were dusted off and given a light coat of beeswax to finish sealing them, as I do with the painted drinkware. So far, they’ve had an easy life.

As expected, the acrylic stuck to both samples. What I wasn’t ready for was the way the oil paint seemed to be just sitting on the surface on the modern dyed piece. It smudged when I hit it with the wax. The gouache is having some problems the other way around. In that case, the modern one is fine but the iron black sample seems to have thinned the coating somehow. Possibly it’s reacting with the paint.

I’ll keep on with the tests as planned. Tomorrow might be a good time to leave them out in the rain.

Leather case for a wax tablet

I saw in the site stats a few days ago that someone was here looking for information on satchels for holding Roman wax tables. It’s a little late now, but here’s one I prepared earlier, back in 1995 for a leatherworking competition at a re-enactmentconference.

Waxed tabula were used as note-books and for medium term document storage, and were usually bound into books of two or three leaves, however tabulae with up to five leaves were not uncommon. In the military context, they seem to have been used by officers for writing orders and jotting down notes. A rectangle tucked in a fold of the tunic behind the belt on some first century grave stones was identified as a tabula cerata by K. Korber in 1927 1. To protect these tabula bearing important information — possibly for transferral onto bronze or stone, satchels such as those from Barr Hill 2 or Vechten were used.

Leather case from Vechten

Drawing from van Driel, C., Leatherwork in the Roman Army Part 1

The case is copied from the one found at Vechten, which was flattened by the weight of the strata above it, so the reconstruction is based on the shape of the leather and the positioning of the stitch holes. Most commentators suggest that the leather would have been waxed or oiled to improve strength and moisture protection.

 This Recreation:

Roman Wax Tablet Case

Tab. Pomp. 15 was used as the model, as this tabula has three leaves and the available wood was about the right size. The thickness (11mm) was taken from fragments found in the hoard at Roman Corbridge, (AD80-163) as this attribute was omitted from the Pompeii catalogue.

The pine was thinned and hollowed with all the finishing done by hand. The binding holes were drilled, and the sealing groove was filed. The exposed surfaces were treated with olive oil, and the bees’ wax was melted and poured in to the recesses. The leaves were bound with 3mm leather thong.

The flat end of the stylus was forged from a rod of 6mmf brass and the point filed, the whole article then was tinned using the technique of lead-wiping. The stylus length was chosen by comparing the length of the stylus with the length of the tabulae of both the “Girl with pen and wax writing tablet” 3 wall painting from Pompeii and the London Procurator’s Office Tabula 4 and applying that relation to the tabula at hand. It seems likely that the stylus was the same length as the spine of the tabula, so the stylus could be pushed in to the ties for storage, without overhanging the ends and damaging either the stylus or case. This relation holds true in both examples.

Roman Wax Tablet Case

The case was made from vegetable tanned leather from the top split of the hide (next to the skin). It was sewn using black dyed linen thread which had been rubbed with bees’ wax. The type of stitch used is the same as used on leather shield covers (tegimen), leather “envelopes”, and tents (papillio) of the period. The label was cut and attached — it may have been used to address the document. The leather envelopes from Vindolanda are known to have had the address and seal sewn on 5, and the tabula found at Roman Corbridge were associated with small scraps of papyrus 6 which may have carried addresses. The case was finally treated with olive oil for moisture-proofing.

[1] K. Korber, Mainzer Zeitschrift 2, 1907, p26: 11. 1916, p.57. Quoted in van Driel, C., Leatherwork in the Roman Army Part 1Exercitus: Vol 2 No1 (Winter 1986)

[2] Robertson, A., Scott, M., & Keppie, L., Barr Hill, A Roman Fort and its Finds BAR 16. 1975 fig28 no 39.

[3] Williams, Rosemary 1983 Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Abridged and Illustrated, Bison Books, 1983

[4] Scullard, H.H., Roman Britain — Outpost of the Empire, Thames & Hudson, 1991, p87

[5] Bowman A.K. & Thomas J.D., Vindolanda: the Latin writing tablets, Britannia Monograph Series no 4 1983

[6] Allason-Jones, L., & Bishop, M.C., Excavations at Roman Corbridge — The Hoard, English Heritage 1988, p86 & 87, Object 298 (Fig 103 — AMLab Photo )

Scottish Leather Cannon

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present for your edification and leather working pleasure, Scottish leather cannon.

Leather Cannon, West Highland Museum, Fort William

Double barrel type 2 leather cannon, West Highland Museum, Fort William.

The idea of leather guns was brought from Sweden to England in 1629 by Colonel Robert Scott. Witnesses of the guns said:

“These pieces are of very great use, and very easie and light of carriage. One horse may draw a peece, which will carry a bullet of a pound and halfe in weight, and doe execution very farre.”

Quoted in Firth, Cromwell’s Army, London, 1902

Sir James Turner, later spoke of the Swedish guns, “These guns which are called Leather-Cannon, … and are made with great art, and are light to carry, which is the greatest advantage they have” (Turner, Pallas Armata, Edinburgh 1683, p189).

Twenty-three leather guns are in collections in Scotland, all apparently of similar manufacture. Four are in the Scottish National Museum. They were designed for carriage by a horse for increased mobility. Records of their use in the UK span from 1643 through to the late 1680s.

Leather Cannon breech, West Highland Museum, Fort William

Layers of hemp cord and woven hemp cloth show through the remains of the leather cover.

The barrel was an iron tube made of sheet riveted together, strengthened by iron rings, not unlike other stave built iron cannon. The breech block appears to have been screwed into place. The barrel was then bound with one or more layers of hemp cord before having a leather cover sewn on. The seam went along the underside, unfortunately it isn’t obvious in my photos. Over the leather was a layer of copper sheet.

Leather Cannon muzzle, West Highland Museum, Fort William

The copper sheath is clearly visible at the muzzle, as is the strength of the reinforcing rings and the rivets on the barrel.

I know Mythbusters allegedly debunked the whole leather cannon “myth”, but I think they didn’t follow the construction correctly. Yes, I did shout at the telly, how did you know? I suspect they made the same mistake as the Irish at the siege of Ballynally Castle, County Clare, in 1642 by not including a properly sealed iron core.

If you are interested in reading further, get a copy of Stevenson & Caldwell, Leather Guns and Other Light Artillery in Mid-17th-Century Scotland from the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 108 (1976-7), 300-17 from here.