Shoe Horns – a repost

This post is from the internationalroutier.wordpress.com blog, published on September 10,2010.


In some way, Helmut is the genesis of this post. I’d done a post on the ceramic Salisbury Leather Jug and within a few days Helmut had posted some photos of the original the pottery one was copied from. I located the museum website, had a look around at the rest of the site and found this shoehorn.

The museum placard reads “Shoehorn 1593 – Shoehorn engraved and inscribed by Robert Mindun in 1593 depicting a figure in Elizabethan costume, perhaps Jane Ayers the lady named in the inscription. Mindun is the earliest recorded English engraver of horn.”

The extant inscription is: THIS IS IANE AYRES SHOEING … ROBART MINDVM 1593. The top of the horn is missing, I imagine it was originally similar to the complete one in the photo below below. It was made by Mindum in 1612 and recently sold for £8,800.

ROBART MINDVM MADE THIS SHOOING HORNE FOR MISTRIS BLAKE ANNO DOMINI 1612 height 9in (225mm)

Shoehorns go back a long way. They hold the shoe open and allow enable the foot to slide in without crushing the shoe’s counter or splitting the back seam of the shoe. While they were made from a variety of materials, cow horn is an ideal medium as the desired complex curves, smooth surface and size occur naturally in the material.

Secrets from the Curator’s Closet has an article about one in their collection, with some information on how the horn was prepared, and some background on Mindum’s work methods. I’ve written to the author and asked for clarification on a couple of points, as the preparation information seems to be for making lanthorn panes and spoons rather that shoehorns, the production times appear to be excessive, and the assertion that Mindum only produced one per year is contradicted by two shoehorns made by Mindum both dated 1593.

ROBART MINDVM MADE THIS SHOOING HORNE FOR JANE HIS WIFE ANNO DOMINI 1613

(Photograph from Secrets from the Curator’s Closet copyright © Bruce Parker, 2010)

The Salisbury and South Wiltshire Musuem claims Mindum is the earliest recorded English engraver of horn. Mindum has left more than his fair share of items for us, indicating that he was either particularly prolific or his work was particularly well regarded and preserved. We really don’t have many plain ones so we can’t even get an idea of the proportion of plain to decorated ones. The proceedings for the Society of Antiquaries on November 24, (The Antiquary, Volume 27, 1893, p41) record that “Mr. Hartshorne exhibited a shoe-horn carved by Robert Mindum, dated 1598, … ; Sir J. Evans exhibited a powder horn and two shoe-horns, also carved by Robert Mindum”. I can’t say that I’ve found any earlier by anyone else but I also can’t say I’ve looked particularly hard.

The Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor in Repent Street, London(?) in 1890 featured items: 981i ENGRAVED SHOE HORN, 1600 and ENGRAVED POWDER HORN, 1601 by Robert Mindum. Both items were lent by JOHN EVANS, ESQ., P.S.A. I would presume that these are the same J Evans and the same items, giving a date of 1600 for the one displayed to the Society of Antiquaries.

This last one creates a number of problems for those other authorities – made in 1593, it means that he made two that year. The name on it is Hamlet Radesdale Settson, male when all the others are made for women and some sites claim that they were only made for Mindum’s favourites, and Settson’s profession and location are mentioned, to me making it look for all the world like a seventeenth century version of those etched glass or embossed leather coasters or flash pens handed out by software companies that are of not insignificant value but are meant to get their name in front of you every day. This image is from London – A Concise History by Geoffrey Trease, Thames & Hudson 1975.

THIS IS HAMLET RADESDALE SETTSON THE COVPAR OF LONDAN ANNO DOMINI 1593

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