Still the World’s Oldest Shoe

I’ve mentioned this one before, back in 2010. It’s back, now with photographs. This is an updated version of Kate Ravilious’ earlier National Pornograhic article, ‘World’s Oldest Leather Shoe Found—Stunningly Preserved‘ from Dr Kaveh Farrokh’s blog.

A new Mindum shoehorn and a middle name

I was recently going for a stroll on the electric Internet and found the Bata Shoe Museum had republished their 1994 title All About Shoes: Footwear Through the Ages. The price was right, so I jumped in and had a look. There, on p57, I found this:

Robart Go To Bed 1585

In this collection of early shoehorns, the one of engraved ivory [sic] one stands out because of its design, the following message is engraved around the edge: This is Robart Go To Beds Shoenhorn Made By The Hands Of Robart Hendart Mindum Anno Domine 1595

The dark tip of the horn shows that it isn’t ivory. So there you go, his middle name was Hendart. Unfortunately the top of the horn is off the page, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see that it had been worn away like on many of the other ones.

I’ve added it to the Shoehorn Spotters’ List updated the catalogue. That makes 21. I’ll do a Wikipedia page on Mindum’s work sometime to see if that flushes out any more.

There are four basic design fields, but unlike most of his other designs, there are no formal divisions between them. The nearest parallel is the treatment of the three goat heads logo on the 1593 Stetteson shoehorn.

Two s-hilt daggers or short swords at the top, to either side of the tip of a large fleur-de-lys with two balls beside its base. Below that, a guilloche, one of his most highly decorated. The third virtual field is populated by a standing male figure in harquebusier armour, armed with a sword. Either side of his head are a rattle, link and lantern, possibly the accoutrements of a nightwatchman.

Could “Go to Bed” be Robert’s nickname based on his late night call? Two indistinct initials either side of his legs, one of them may be “M”. In the fourth location is a tree, with two small figures standing underneath, could this be an allusion to Adam and Eve? Closing the decoration fields is a diagonally hatched band and at the bottom is a 5×5 checkerboard pattern. The hanging hole is in the centre line, and the tip is bent back to form a hook.

I checked that it is still in the Bata Museum Collection, they confirm that it’s still in the collection but otherwise have no information about it and have stopped responding to further requests (like is it on display or inna box?) from an apparently mad person on the Internet. Now all I need is a helpful person to visit, find it and take some decent photographs…

The York Castle Museum shoehorn

In Paula Hardwick’s Discovering Horn of 1981, there is a statement, almost an aside in a picture caption on p62,

Shoe horn engraved with floral and geometric designs dated 1595 and inscribed THIS IS RICHARD CRABS SHOE IN HORNE MADE BY THE HAND OF ROBART MINDVM. … Shoe horns are the subject of ardent graving by the craftsman Robert Mindum, whose work covers the period between 1593 and 1612, and these make valuable collectors’ items. York Castle Museum has a shoe horn very similar to the type illustrated, but lacks the more usual addition of Mindum’s name. In each case the graving follows both floral and geometric designs with the lettering clearly defined and spaced. [My emphasis]

I’ve been trying to locate that similar horn for some time.  The curators at York Castle Museum couldn’t have been more accommodating and helpful in this search, but this is the only one they could come up from the collection that’s even the correct period. All the others are 19th or early 20th century.

York_horn Jane Ayre's Shoehorn 1593

The York Castle Museum shoehorn (left) next to Mindum’s earliest known shoehorn, Jane Ayres’ of 1593 (right)

It seems to fit Hardwick’s description, but could it be an early unsigned Mindum? It has the same design structure with the text border and the three design fields that I look for in a potential Mindum piece, but follows the convention of having the top of the design near the narrow end,  seen in decorated horns made by guild trained workers. Mindum’s early (1590-1600) horns were usually with the wide end up, the 1597 Willym and the un-named 1598 horns have the date inverted with respect to the rest of the design.

If you squint, they symbology seems right too, lots of flowers (white marigolds?) and the central cross with the drops of blood at the extremities. The border of rough Maltese crosses also fits a Flemish or French protestant design palette, but could be a case of me finding what I’m looking for. 😉 I wonder if those in the wide part of the frame below the flowers are meant to be barley?

It appears to be pokerwork rather than engraved, there’s clear impressions of a semicircular-shaped tool in some of the circles and most look to be the same width. I can see small circles around the central cross that look vaguely triangular with three impressions, medium circles in the centre of the flowers that show four impressions of the same tool. There may be one or two straight tools, too. The taller flower stems appear to have two impressions, the crosses around the edge are done with a smaller one. The shorter dashes – petals, leaves, divisions in the crosses are done with the corner of a straight tool, resulting in  a triangular shape that is deeper at the wide end.

Near the hole is an inscription, it seems to say I c II but I’m not sure what it would mean. That almost looks like it’s a reference to an act of parliament, but I can’t find anything under Elizabeth or James that is even vaguely relevant. Do you have any ideas?

Despite the similarities, I don’t believe it’s Mindum’s work. The layout, skill of execution, even the tools used are different to those on Mindum’s work. It’s like one someone who had seen a written description of one of Mindum’s might have made. Let’s put this one down to wishful thinking.