Home » Big Book of Leather Chapters » Accessories and Personal Items » The York Castle Museum shoehorn

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.

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