Finished Archer’s Bracers

This post is a follow up to Archer’s Bracers and Wooden Stamps (again) of the year before last. It’s mostly me showing off, with some self-justification to explain the decisions I made about dye colours and buckles. I started writing this post in September 2014, so forgive me if things seem a little outdated.

I’m quoting from Gervase Markham’s The Art of Archerie (1634) here, mainly for my own convenience because I can cut and paste from the ebook. Markham was a publisher and like his peers, made his money from the sheer number of different titles he sold rather than the more modern approach of having fewer stronger selling titles. Accuracy, readability, veracity and respecting ownership of intellectual property were not his strong points. In this case, he’s written a new dedicatory epistle to the king, a new first chapter (A general encomion or praise of shooting both in peace and war) and then basically plagiarized the second book of Ascham’s Toxophilus when he thought everyone had stopped reading. He has modernised Ascham’s language somewhat and added the occasional paragraph of his own.

…the bracer serves for two purposes, the one to save the arm from the stripe of the string, and his doublet from wearing; and the other, that the string gliding sharply and quickly of the bracer may make the sharper shot, for if the string should light upon the bare sleeve, the strength of the shot would stop and die there…

This next bit seems to be Markham’s own work and reflects mid-17th century practice rather than 16th c, Ascham is silent on the appropriate types of leather.

The bracers are made for the most part of Spanish leather, the smooth side outward, and they be the best, sometimes of Spanish leather and the flesh side outward, and they are both good and tolerable, and others are made of hard, stiff but smooth bend leather, and they be the worst and most dangerous, and thus much is spoken of the bracer.

When looking at the Mary Rose bracers, all are skin side outwards and only a couple are candidates for being of Spanish leather. I’ve used harness butt for all mine, it’s thick, flexible and takes stamping well. Most of the Mary Rose bracers are rectangular or octagonal, with a couple having curves on the long sides. I made a couple of each design, patterns were just the drawings from the MR book blown up to life size on a photocopier. Cut out the leather, case it and decorate with the stamps you made two years ago. Attack with the back of the butter knife if your design needs it. You may have done that two years ago as well…

Buckle, strap and pattern

Buckle and strap

Cut the straps to the correct width to fit the actual or hypothetical buckle and punch the holes for the rivets and mounting the buckle. I used a thin 1.5mm carving leather for the straps on the commercial buckles and a 3mm on the ones I’d made. “Y” shaped straps can be made by splitting a straight strap for part of its length, dampening the branching area and then stretching and squeezing to shape.

Dye the bits as required with your choice of leather dye. I used red on a couple to represent Spanish leather (the red colour came from a step in the tanning process), the majority are black or brown.


Mild steel buckles

My bracer has a forged buckle, but to show what you can do at home, I made these from a piece of 1.6mm sheet mild steel I’d picked up from the local hardware. The shapes are entirely hypothetical because none of the Mary Rose bracer buckles have survived. The holes have been drilled and then opened up with files. On some of the square ones, I stitch drilled and then cut the webs with a cold chisel. Decoration is with sharp or blunt cold chisels and a centre punch. The buckle tongues are horseshoe nails with the heads cut off and then bent to an appropriate shape. Don’t forget to clean and debur the front and back.

The finish is a simple heat blue, a stable oxide of iron. I use a similar process to this, either using a propane torch or gas ring depending on what the gas bottle is connected to, but finish with a spray oil rather than a dip. Just do it outside and don’t breathe the fumes. You can blue in your oven if it can heat to 290°C/550°F.

Assemble all the bits using copper harness rivets (the impressions in the leather match the Mary Rose examples) and wax or seal to taste.

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International Museum of Leather Craft

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.


A small part of the collection

Stuart Knife scabbards a different way

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.

knife scabbards.gif

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

The Hinson shoehorn is for sale

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.




In which I make Helmut a scabbard and baldric

This post has been in preparation since late 2014. Case and tense is all over the place and my brayne is too addled to straighten it out. I’ve added dates to each section, so you can get a feel for the creative process. Now read on…

My friend Helmut is a musketeer, he wears a black floppy hat and carries a musket that according to legend, weighs 30 pounds. He owns a Spanish cup-hilt rapier that he won from a Spanish soldier in a game of La puta madre during the 30-Years War. Unfortunately, the scabbard and baldric* also date from the 30-Years War and are starting to show it. In this post I’ll demonstrate the process for making and decorating a rapier scabbard, I’ll loosely base the decoration on the Mary Rose one (if anyone challenges me, I’ll hide behind Margaret Rule’s observation that if the Mary Rose hadn’t been so securely dated, all the artefacts would have been dated 100-years later). There’s a joint on the still shawm that wasn’t even invented until the clever French people did it in the mid eighteenth century.

Mary Rose rapier scabbard (my photo). I’m using the impressions to tell me what tools to use in my design. I’m taking the frame and mouth decoration more or less directly, everything else is freestyle using the same tools that I would have used if I was creating this scabbard.

It should be noted that I hold Helmut personally responsible for my dreadful obsession with the work of Mr Mindum, which I sometimes inflict on you poor people. This will become relevant later.

* A rapier is a gentleman’s blade and normally worn from from a highly decorated waist-belt rather than a baldric. For the purpose of the exercise we’re assuming Helmut lost the round the belt was played for and had to get a baldric made by a local leatherworker that didn’t know the difference.

Step 1: Procrastinate (September 2015-March 2015)

I’ve had this since September, it’s now March and I haven’t started on the leather. To be fair, I’ve cleaned the sword and removed the burrs and the worst of the chips from the blade, repaired the grip, straightened the cross and reblued the hilt.

Step 2: Make the patterns (January 2015)

I like to make a copy of the sword blade in hardwood so I can wrap it in wet leather without worrying about rusting anything.  It gives a firm surface for tooling, draws some moisture out of the leather and gives nice, crisp edges. Functionally, it’s similar to a last for shoe making. It can be made a little larger than the sword, so you don’t get problems with the finished scabbard being too tight. Don’t forget to add extra timber to allow for any ears on the hilt that might need to be covered by the scabbard. You’ll also need extra length so the chape can be riveted on without leaving the sword sticking an inch or so embarrassingly out of the scabbard. I know others are happy with just wrapping the blade in plastic, and/or gaff tape. Do whatever works for you.

Step 3: Procrastinate more (January – July 2015)

Yeah, I made the patterns back in January, just needed to fix the shape of the point a bit. Two months later…

Step 4: Oh crap! (July – August 2015)

Realise that arrow order is due in one month, not two…

Twelve arrows later. It’s now April July…

Step 5: Finish the pattern (August 9, 2:10-2:13pm)

It took nearly 3 minutes to finish.

Step 6: Mould (August 9, 2:17pm – August 28)

Cut the leather, wet it and clamp it around the pattern. Once it’s dry, remove the clamps, cut to shape and do the two raised bits around the scabbard mouth. I have a bit of hardwood with a “U”-shaped groove about 6mm wide for this sort of work in leather or brass. Flatten the scabbard out again, wet the leather, put it skin side down on the grooved block and hammer a brazing rod in from the flesh side.

Moulding the leather on the wooden pattern, I'm using a couple of lengths of  primed timber to clamp the seam.

Moulding the leather on the wooden pattern, I’m using a couple of lengths of primed timber to clamp the seam.

Step 7: Stitch (August 29 – September 6 while watching the telly)
Make the awl holes and stitch. I’m using edge/flesh stitches to get a flat seam, other seams may be appropriate according to your period and type.

Stitch the back seam, you can see the pattern poking out the top end. I've wrapped it in plastic film so it doesn't swell when wet.

Stitch the back seam, you can see the pattern poking out the top end. I’ve wrapped it in plastic film so it doesn’t swell when wet.

Step 8: Decorate (September 7)
The decoration is informed by the Mary Rose rapier scabbard, a stack of 17th C knife scabbards in the MoL and other places and 17th C furniture and embroidery designs. I quickly carved a new stamp in the end grain of a bit of broom handle. It took 30 minutes and involved curved chisels, a scriber and a short length of 4mm diameter copper tube. It’s a nod towards the two flowers on Mindum’s Jayne Ayres shoehorn of 1593 and a reference to Helmut’s influence with my obsession interest. I’ve covered stamp making before so won’t go into detail here.

The smaller flower is a commercial stamp from the leather store, the small circles are a 1.6mm ∅ nail punch from the hardware and the rest is done with the back of the butter knife (you knew that bit already, didn’t you?). If the leather has been cased properly, the smaller stamps can be done using hand pressure alone. I’m using the wooden pattern to provide support while I’m leaning on the punches and embossing with the butter knife. The bigger stamp was smote with a mallet, with the wooden pattern in place and the whole assembly resting on a block of softwood.

Decorate to taste. Tools include hand made and commercial stamps, a nail punch and the back of a butter knife. The bone and squirty bottle are for flattening the back seam.

Decorate to taste. Tools include hand made and commercial stamps, a nail punch and the back of a butter knife. The bone and squirty bottle are for flattening the back seam.

Step 9: Embalderise (September 10, 2015)

Cut the straps for the baldric. There will be a lot of decorative stitching on the front where it meets the scabbard. Hold off until after the dying’s done.

Straps and hangers.

Straps and hangers.

The stitched but undyed baldrick.

The stitched but undyed baldrick. I lied about dying first.

Step 10: Dye

Colour and method to taste. The baldric is saddle tan with black outside the line where the decorative stitching is going to be. This should help the idea that the scabbard and baldric were made by different people. On the scabbard I used a tan base and overdyed red with the new “safer” water-based dyes. It’s supposed to be colourfast and waterproof when set.

Step 11: Final assembly

Stitch the baldric together, do the decorative stitching.  This next bit is straight from the MR scabbard – split the wooden form lengthwise and hollow out space for the blade. Glue it in with barley paste, hide glue or PVA, whatever you are comfortable with and can self-justify.

Scabbard with wooden insert.

Scabbard with wooden insert.

Step 12: Wax to finish

A nice solid coat of beeswax and put it outside in the sun to soak in.

Step 13: Helmut tries it out – and it rains

I made an early delivery to Helmut so he could test it and see if there’s any changes or adjustments to be done. The chape is still on the to-do list for later. Helmut used it at the St Ives Medieval Faire. Oh Noes! Disaster! The red dye washed out in the rain, leaving it all spotty where the drops splashed…

Scabbard (sans chape) in the pre-deluge colour and finished baldrick.

Scabbard (sans chape) in the pre-deluge colour and finished baldrick.

Step 14: Repeat steps 10-12 (May-July 2016)

… strip the red dye with hot water and re-dye using red Raven Oil. Let’s see that run!

Step 15: Make and fit the chape (18 July 2016)

This was always going to be the final step after the St Ives test to see if there was any fettling required. Fold a chape from sheet brass, decorate and polish. In the final fitting the chape split along the line of the decoration. I’m beginning to think this scabbard is cursed.

Step 16: Make and fit the chape again (19 July 2016)

Absolutely, finally, completely finished scabbard.

Absolutely, finally, completely finished scabbard.

Step 17: Hand to Helmut and back away slowly (21 July 2016)

… or so I thought. Helmut wasn’t there at the drill, so I’ll take it or send it along to the next event.

Elapsed time: 1 year 277 days, 19h, 11m.
Actual Working time: 14h 8m

Another Mindum Catalogue update

It’s been 11 months since my last update, I’ve found a bit of new information since then.

  • Added previously unpublished 1600 Hinson Shoehorn, linked to my blog post describing the horn and Flikr account with the images.

This shouldn’t be news to anybody who’s read any of the posts here.

  • Additional 1912 reference to Bridget Dearsley’s shoe horn of 1605 in the Saffron Waldon Museum.

A note from Guy Williams asking if there has been any new information found about Mindum since Sir John Evans first posed the question in 1877. I think he’d be happy with my catalogue.  Notes and Queries 11th Series. Volume V. January-June 1912. No 6, January 6, 1912, p8.

  • Added the extant inscription from the 1612 …umer shoe horn.

Not sure how I missed this one, a gorilla must have hit me on the head while I was drunk.

  • Added link to Sophie Cope’s Marking Design Part 2: Objects in the Sea of Time which mentions the 1597 Will’yam horn and discusses the how the inscription on the 1600 Hinson horn contributes to both context and significance. The thumbnail link on 1597 Will’yam horn now goes to Sophie’s photograph, the previous Christie’s Lot Finder link is still in the text.

I’ve written to Sophie asking for permission to use her photo as the thumbnail for this horn. There hasn’t been a response to date.

  • Added descriptive portions of the text of the Agecroft Hall blog post to the 1613 Jane Mindum shoehorn.

The Agecroft Hall blog has been taken down, so I’ve reproduced the relevant text.

  • Added CC license link below and the header and footer detail.  Where an entry spans a page break, added an indication at the top of the next page showing which horn is being discussed.
  • Added bibliography and reading list.

Just housekeeping and usability improvements, the pagination has also been adjusted to try to keep the information on each horn together. There have been a few places where people have reused the information but had trouble attributing it.

The catalogue is at

I’m chasing a possible Mindum shoehorn that was last reported as being in the York Castle Museum in 1981. I’ll let you know how it works out.

This is Francis Hinson’s Shoing Horne…

I recently had the privilege of seeing one of Mindum’s shoe horns in, as it were, the flesh. It only needed an 900km drive to Melbourne rather than a 17,000km voyage to Blighty, which moved it from the realms of fantasy to something we could do over a couple of days. Despite a few years of studying photographs, I was totally unprepared for the amount of detail and the delicacy of line on the horn. I was able to spend some hours photographing and taking measurements. And possibly drooling just a little. I’d like to think my theories from the earlier post have been confirmed by what I saw, but feel free to call me on confirmation bias if you disagree.

This is going to be a long post, opportunities like this don’t come up every day and the workmanship on the horn deserves a thorough treatment, and to be lavishly illustrated. Endnotes don’t work particularly well in an on-screen format, so I’ve restricted them to references and put most of the information in the link, so hovering over the note number will display the reference without having to follow the link. If you do follow the link, use your browser’s Back button, or click on the number at the start of the note to return to the original point in the text.

Also, be warned: my engineering training is going to take over at some point on this one. If the language seems insanely technical at some points to you non-engineer types out there, that will be why. Third person passive voice is the real give-away, you’ll know it when you see it. I’m using SI units, friends from the USA, Liberia and Myanmar may have to do the conversions to your preferred units yourselves. Where the the measurement is remarkable in customary units, I will point it out. It’s probably not a bad idea to check out the size of the French pouce, you may like to redo the calculations in them.

For the sake of clarity, let’s sort out what arbitrary names I’m calling things before we start.

Top – the widest end of the horn. It would once have been curved but has worn and chipped to an approximately straight edge, with part of the design creating a weak point for the chipping to follow.

Left – the left side when viewed from the front with the design the right way up. There is repaired closed damage and delamination about one third of the way down this edge.

Right – the right side when viewed from the front with the design the right way up.

Front – the part that was the outside of the original horn. This is the decorated surface.

Back – the part that was once on the inside of the whole horn. Undecorated other than the two initials.

Tip – the narrowest part of the shoe horn, originally at or near the tip of the cow horn.

– mathematical symbol for the empty or null set, used to denote circle or hole diameter in engineering.

If you are unfamiliar with the names of the different parts of letterforms that are used in the section on the inscription, there’s a good guide here.

Shoe horn by Robert Mindum, 1600

The Shoe horn

Shoe horn, made from the inner curved side of a cow’s horn. Pale for most of the length but darkening at the tip.

Shoehorn by Robert Mindum, 1600

Some wear, the curved wide end of the shoe horn has worn away, removing the last 7-9mm of the design and inscription, including the surname of the first donor. A terminal “H” remains. From this and the size of the missing portion matching that occupied by Elsabeath Smith’s surname, the surname of Margreat has been inferred to also be Smith. The length of the extant portion is approximately 200mm.

Shoe horn by Robert Mindum, 1600

The tip has been turned back to form a hook to assist in use. There may be damage to the tip, at some point it has been spiral bound in a fine fabric strip 12mm wide. There is some evidence of glue, the fabric/glue has darkened with age. A suspension hole 3.5mm in diameter has been bored approximately 30mm from the tip, there is a semi-circular chip (or wear) on the right side level with the hole, and a diagonally polished line 3mm wide leading from the hole back towards the tip on the left side. This may be evidence of the use of a ribbon or cord for suspension. The hole has the edges rounded on the inside, but the edges on the outside remains unrounded. There is no decoration from the tip to the hole and from the hole for a further 8mm toward the top. The remaining part of the front is covered with decoration.

Shoe horn by Robert Mindum, 1600

At some point, something heavy has been placed on the shoe horn, resulting in delamination running into a semi-circular crack leading to the edge on the left side, about 60mm from the top. The other end of the delaminated section has split out along the line of the decoration. A chip 20mm wide and 10mm deep is missing, taking some of the border pattern with it. The chip runs along the mark-up line at the top of “HO” in the word “SHOING”. The delamination has been skilfully repaired with two tinned or silvered 1/8″ (3.17mm) diameter iron rivets. An attempt has been made to align the parts of the decoration but due to internal stresses in the horn, the edges of the crack are now 0.8mm out of line. Curiously, the rivet heads are on the inside of the horn, the peened ends are on the outside. This may be to minimise the area of the decoration covered by the rivet heads or to present the smoothest possible side to the user’s socks. The coating on the rivets is probably tin, as there is a slight yellowish tint to the metal and no evidence of the black sulphide you’d expect to see if they were silvered. The part of the rivets visible from the front are a stable brown iron oxide, with a very fine silver coloured edge from the coating. The rivet nearest the top has been peened to 4.4mm ∅, the other remains at 1/8″ (3.17mm) ∅. From the materials, dimensions and quality of the work, I estimate the repair to be of Victorian period or earlier, and to have been done by a clockmaker, instrument maker or similarly skilled person.

Shoe horn by Robert Mindum, 1600

The inside of the horn has been highly polished by use, probably from the woollen socks or stockings of the period. The initials EG have been branded into the back of the horn, reading from tip to top, with the base of the letters near the delaminated section. The letter forms are much more recent than the inscription, and may be the initials of a later owner. Due to the internal curve of the horn, the initials are burnt 1.5 mm more deeply at the base of the letters than at the top. The letter E is 12mm high by 8.3mm wide, the G fits a 12mm x 12mm square area. The brand provides a useful control sample, demonstrating the colouration of this particular horn when burnt, and the shape of the edges and base of an impression left by a hot tool.

The Decoration

Mindum’s shoe horns are usually divided in to between two and four primary fields separated by a band of knotwork or scrollwork, depending on the size of the horn. Each field may feature one or more design elements. This horn has three primary fields separated by two bands of scrollwork, the top two fields are narrower than the lowest one, and are surrounded by the inscription. The top field contains a fleur-de-lis with arabesques filling the spaces; the second a chain work scroll. The chain surrounds a label displaying the year 1600, the lower middle link supports a medallion bearing a flower. The bottom field is the full width between the outer borders, and contains a series of overlapping arches, looking somewhat like fish or armour scales.

Shoehorn by Robert Mindum, 1600

The entire design is outlined with pairs of parallel black lines, 0.8mm apart, the pair near the tip are perpendicular to the long axis of the horn and define the outer limit of the decoration. Both these perpendicular lines meet the outer of the perimeter lines. Around the outside the perimeter pair of lines appear to be parallel to the original edge of the horn. The lines look to have been done at the same time with a single tool, while the depth of the cut varies as you go around the edge of the horn, the pair are both cut to the same depth at any given point. Another pair of parallel lines also 0.8mm apart run approximately 2.5mm inside the first pair, apart from an 8mm long section on the right near the tip, where the separation narrows to 2.0mm. The space between the pairs of lines is filled with pairs of opposed triangles making bow-tie shapes, leaving raised, undarkened diamonds between them. In the centre of each diamond is a small red spot. The bow-tie shapes appear to be in groups of three along the straight edges and the perpendicular space near the tip, any misalignment affects at least three shapes, misshapen diamonds tend to appear at the third diamond in a sequence where he has attempted to correct the alignment. The triangles in the bow-tie are 1mm wide across the base and 1mm high, making each pair 2mm high. Some triangles are incomplete, the base having an unfinished appearance. Variation in width where the triangle is completely present is less than I could measure with my calipers (±0.025mm or ±1/256″ depending on which scale I was reading). In the last 8mm on the right, where the height tapers rapidly from 2.5mm to 2.0mm, there is a clear step in the height and width of the bow-ties. There are five bow-ties 0.8mm wide at the base and 1.6mm high, and appear to be arranged in a group of four plus a single on a slightly different alignment.

Shoe horn by Robert Mindum, 1600

Arrows indicate the start and finish of the smaller bow ties

The inscription and the lower of the primary design fields fit within this outer border. The inscription is dealt with in its own section, below. The inscription and another band of border frame the upper two of the primary design fields. Another pair of parallel lines 0.8mm apart is 2.05mm from the centreline of the inscription, a 2.5mm wide band of hatching and another pair of yet parallel lines 0.8mm apart. The hatching is hand done, the spacing and angles are erratic, particularly around the curves where he’s working against the grain. This is where we see Mindum’s ability to repeat and align a pattern — the variation in the spacing can be nearly a millimetre either way. The vast difference between the precision of spacing of the bow-ties and triangles and that of the hatching leads me to think that a different technique was used, and some form of mechanical aid to spacing was used for the former objects.

Shoe horn by Robert Mindum, 1600

The top primary design field occupies the top arched area under the inscription and borders. It is 42mm wide at the widest point, 38mm wide along the bottom edge and 46mm high along the long axis of the shoe horn. The field is occupied by a fleur-de-lys[1] which extends to the top and both sides. It is only approximately symmetrical, the outer petal on the left side being marginally larger than the one on the right. The upper part of each outer petal is outlined with a double line 0.6mm apart, a line of stippling 0.6mm away from the line, then another black line also 0.6mm away from the stippling. Inside that is a pair of curved black lines with 1mm hight and 1mm wide triangles along the upper edge. The interior is filled with hatching. The lower edge repeats the pattern and spacing of the upper edge of the petal. The petals end with arabesques, all Mindum’s fleur-de-lys extant from 1597, 1598, 1600, and two in 1604 have the arabesques on the petals. The lower part of the petals extend below the cross-band, the lower edge being two parallel lines, 0.6mm apart with the inner one not quite reaching the tip. The upper edge is a single line, the area between is filled with red stippling. The centre petal has parallel sides for half its height, filled with V shaped hatching, then a collar and opens up in to a diamond, outlined with double lines and with a smaller diamond also outlined in double lines in the middle. Hatching fills the space between the diamonds. The part of the middle petal below the bar is outlined with double lines, and is filled with red stippling. Arabesques come from every point, those at the top and bottom are double and curl in opposite directions. Facing pairs of arabesques fill the remaining space in this frame.

The stippling appears to be done with a needle, knife point or V-shaped gouge, sliding the point into the horn surface and then lifting, leaving a long triangle shape with two cleanly defined long edges and one shorter feathered or torn edge. On this particular horn, all stippling has been filled with red.

Shoe horn by Robert Mindum, 1600

The border pattern of two pair of parallel lines 0.8mm apart and 2.0mm high bow-ties is repeated above and below a band of scrollwork 4.0mm high, obviously done with compass and knife. The scroll is about 1mm from the left border, but ends well short of the right one, the inner edge of each curve is 1.6mm radius, and the outer edge is 3.15mm radius, both using the same centre point. There are five circles in this band, the centres are 6.3mm apart, the lines alternate passing under and over each other. There is a line of red stippling running along the middle of the scroll, and the centre points are filled in red. The border pattern of parallel lines and bow ties repeats, completing this band.

Shoe horn by Robert Mindum, 1600
The second primary design field is 55mm high, 33mm wide at the top, 22mm wide at the bottom and sits within the inscription and borders. Along the top is a row of downward facing triangles, each 1mm high and wide, symmetrical about the long axis of the horn. It features a chain work design with eight triangular links constraining loops of a continuous scroll, the two upper corner links terminate in crosses made from three triangles, each 1mm wide and 1mm high. The chain surrounds a label displaying the year 1600. The label is 10mm wide and 5.5mm high, outlined with double lines 1mm apart. The corners are clipped by the inner loops of the scroll. A baseline and meanline have been marked to guide positioning of the digits, the lines are centred on the centre of the label. The 1 and 0s are 1.8mm high, the riser of the 6 extends 0.5mm above the meanline. The area within the scroll and triangular links, other than the lower middle triangular link is filled with red stippling. The lower left triangular link (apparently accidentally) extends into the left border. The lower middle triangular link supports a medallion bearing a French heraldic White Marigold. There is no English heraldic equivalent for this device, see the symbolism section below, for discussion.

Shoe horn by Robert Mindum, 1600

The initials E R (Elizabeth Regina) appear above and to either side of the medallion, the letters are larger than those in the inscription, approximately 5mm high, but are constructed from the same arrangement of cuts and long triangles. The shape of the medallion gives lie to the claim that the shoe horns were flattened before being decorated rather than being left with a natural curve. The outer circle when measured along the long axis of the horn has a 20.4mm ∅, but when measured across the horn has a diameter of 21.0mm due to the curve moving the surface lightly further away from the compass. When measured on life sized photographs, these diameters are both 20.4mm, so the apparent diameter in two dimensions is consistent. Due to this distortion, I’ll only give dimensions of the medallion along the long axis of the horn as there is no distortion in this direction. The inner part of the flower is drawn with a pair of circles, on 3.0 and 3.6mm ∅. Nine petals span the space between this and a circle with a 12.7mm ∅. The petals are filled with red stippling and have a slight clockwise twist, which may show an attempt at adding some animation to the flower or may be an artefact of the direction of working. This effect is not apparent on any of his other horns with the marigold. There are larger, hand cut triangles between the petals, pointing to the centre of the circle. Each is slightly different size to suit the gap it is in. Outside this is another circle of 15.0mm ∅, then a pair at 18.8 and 20.4mm ∅. Within the 18.8mm circle is a single row of triangles, 1mm wide and 1mm high, with red dots midway between each pair of points. Some of the triangles are misaligned, not being in contact with the circle. These misalignments occur singly.

The base of this section aligns with the start and finish of the inscription and accompanying borders. The transverse parallel border lines and bow-ties again appear, the upper edge is 28mm wide, the lower 27mm. Another scrollwork band occurs here, with the same diameters and spacing as above. The scroll is about 0.4mm from the left edge, has four circles with the last circle ending well short of the right margin. The upper arm of the last scroll is extended across to the right margin, meeting it in the lower right corner. Centres and a line of stippling are in red, yet another border pattern finishes the band.

Shoe horn by Robert Mindum, 1600

The lowest primary field is 27mm wide at the top, 20mm wide near the tip, and 24mm high. It is filled with five rows of overlapping curves that look like scales. Each scale is made from three curved lines, the lower two 0.8mm apart and the upper 5.3mm. The arch of the scale is filled with red stippling, the compass point is present, but camouflaged by the stippling.

A final parallel line and bow-tie border lies over the side borders and completes the decoration.

The Inscription

The inscription is in a serifed majuscule hand, with letter forms pre-dating the 1630s. In this early modern form of written English, the letter I can represent either i or j. From around the 1540s in England, V was taken to represent the consonantal u and U the vowel sound, but Mindum seems to use a different convention of using V for both sounds. Could this perhaps show a background of Middle French (1500-1700) where U was used at the start of the word and v elsewhere regardless of sound, rather than English? Renaissance Italian (in transition to modern Italian from 1580 to about 1612) is also a possibility for the same reason, Mindum’s use of W precludes a Middle Polish (1500-1700) or Early New High German (1350-1650) origin. Spelling had not yet been fixed in English this period, but Mindum shows a remarkable degree of consistency with his spelling across the entire opus, again possibly showing a link to French, where spelling had been normalised around 1500. Italian spelling was just beginning to be normalised during this period, the first dictionary being published in 1612. The main spelling variation we see is in people’s names, for example, see the variations on William, which may reflect the owner’s preferred spelling or even accented pronunciation of an Anglicised name.

I’ve interpolated the heights of the letters in millimetres (shown inside brackets) in the inscription at particular points. The pipe character | indicates where Mindum put a vertical line between words, missing parts of the inscription are shown in square brackets.


We see a similar height expansion over the curve at the top of the horn and compression of the tail of the inscription on the 1612 horn for Mistris Blake, in that case on the last two parts “DOMINI ||| 1612”. It’s possible he adjusted the height in order to reduce the space required rather than change the aspect ratio of the individual letters to squeeze them in. If this is the case, it again hints at someone professionally involved with the proportions of lettering and spaces. I can’t tell from the photos if this is a common element on his other horns.

Shoehorn by Robert Mindum, 1600

Shoehorn by Robert Mindum, 1600

Shoehorn by Robert Mindum, 1600

Shoehorn by Robert Mindum, 1600

The letters fit between a capline and baseline done with very fine cuts, the capline is much finer than any of the paired border lines. The letters cross the lines at some points, so the mark-up lines appear to be have been done before the lettering was cut. The imaginary centreline of the lettering is parallel with, and 2.05mm from the inner of the pairs of border lines. Where the letter height varies, the letters heights are symmetrical about the centreline so the space above and below the letter increases evenly.

Shoehorn by Robert Mindum, 1600

There are two different size serifs on the inscription. Generally on the letters consisting of straight strokes, the serifs are long, and account in many places for 30% of the letter height. The letter I stems appear to be two facing large serifs, with a medial diamond joining the parts. The letters H are constructed from two pairs of facing serifs as stems with a crossbar, the Ts and As have arms made from a pair of horizontally facing serifs, and are 60% of the letter height. The smaller serifs account for approximately 20% of the letter height, these are used on the stem and stroke of the T, A, and the spurs on curved letters such as C, S and G. Large serifs are the same size throughout the inscription. The Es illustrate the use of both together. The stem is a vertical cut, the base and top are made with the large serif forming the beak and the small taking the place of the serif. The cross-stroke is made from the smaller serif. In places where the letter height is lower, the serifs take up more of the letter height to the point in the word MINDUM where the I appears to have the points overlapping slightly, resulting in a thicker stroke.

Shoehorn by Robert Mindum, 1600

The letter cuts are marginally wide at the horn surface than at the base of the cut, resulting in a V shaped profile. The width varies with the curve on some of the curved letters, apparently where Mindum has laid a knife blade over slightly to assist in negotiating the curve. The large and small serifs have absolutely vertical sides and are flat at the bottom. This is consistent with the use of a hot metal tool to hot-stamp or brand the serifs, and the appearance resembles the branded initials on the back. For a description of how knife-cut triangles look, see the part on stippling above.

A Proposed Method

Horn is a thermoplastic material. To get the even, deep, fine cuts evidenced on Mindum’s shoe horns, the horn has to be worked hot. He must have had some readily available heat source, possibly using charcoal from the fire in something like this chafing dish brazier.

Surrey/Hampshire Red Borderware chafing dish, 1550-1699 MoL ID no: 5819

Mindum would have heated the horn before using edged tools to make cuts, there’s a spot on the left, just above the F in Francis where he may have made it hotter than he expected because both the parallel lines at this point cut deeper and are wider than in other places. It isn’t out of the realms of possibility to suggest he also heated metal tools and used these to stamp or brand the horn as part of the decoration. I think I can see two different sized long triangular tools used on the lettering, at least two on the reversed diamonds, and two different sized equilateral triangle tools used hot in the decoration.

The way the misalignment of bow-ties and triangles seems to change at regular, fixed intervals implies Mindum used tools that had multiple elements, I think I can see two tools for the small bow-tie; a single and a group of four, 3.2mm wide. Similarly for the larger bow-tie; a single and a group of three, 3.0mm wide.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest there may be no black or brown ink applied to the design on this one, just the branded/burnt edges left as they were made. This also simplifies the problem of not getting black into the red bits.

The Culture and Symbolism

This section is entirely reconstruction based on the evidence of this and some of the other horns. It is an informed guess at best, and may be nothing more than romantic supposition. Do not take my prejudices on the method or the man as subjective truth unless they align with your own research. Be aware the symbolism is open to other alternate, but equally valid interpretations.

From a linguistic study of the names and inscriptions on half a dozen of the then known horns, the editor of the Journal of the British Archaeological Association[2] in 1868 came to the conclusion that Mindum and at least some of his customers may have been of German or Dutch origin living in England. In my previous post on the methods, I concluded that he was likely to be a “stranger” (a foreign worker who is not a guild member). If we extend the editor’s German or Dutch to be Western European Protestants living in England, I think we are on the money. Let’s have a look at the symbolism on this one, and a couple of elements from some of the other shoe horns before looking at the cultural fit.

Fleur-de-Lys — probably best known from the arms of France, the fleur-de-lys is used by many cultures and organisations in their symbology, notably Scotland for the edge of the banner, the English Royal arms, the French flag until 1798, and particular forms associated with Northern France and Holland, and Florence towards the end of the medieval period. Most interesting in this particular case, it was adopted as their sign by the Huguenots in London, now commemorated by Fleur-de-Lis Street (although the street name is of later date than the period in question here).[3] If Mindum were an Huguenot, this neatly meets my requirement of working as a “stranger” and explains the linguistic quirks the editor of JBAA and I have both noted.

White Marigold I had quite a bit of difficulty identifying this symbol because I was initially only looking at the early Modern English design palette. The closest I could get was the heraldic sunflower, more properly, a heliotrope, but the proportions of the diameter of the disk to the length of the petals on all Mindum’s shoe horns exclude it. As a side-path, it lead me to the same symbol being used on many so-called “Sunflower chests” of Huguenot manufacture in the colonies in America. Except it’s not a sunflower there either, it’s a white marigold.[4] It was then a small step to discover that the white marigold was adopted by the Huguenots after the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, drawn from the French use as a symbol of sorrow.[5]

Scale pattern The lower panel on this horn and a number of others feature a fish-scale or arch design. I don’t have anything for that, I feel I’m tantalisingly close to something, but I’m having to work so hard at it that I’m probably seeing a pattern that isn’t there. I’ve found the same pattern used by a goldsmith working in London in 1720, himself a confirmed Huguenot. Then there’s the same pattern echoed in the terracotta roof tiles of the Calvinist and Lutheran region of Trièves,[6] but those were thatched roofs in Mindum’s time and the tiles only date to the mid nineteenth century. It also doesn’t explain the diamond pattern on his other horns. Sometimes a scale is just a scale.

I’m yet to identify the other common element, the branch or tree. I’m not even sure what it is, I suspect it’s a laurel or olive branch but I haven’t seen any compelling reason for either identification, and both have similar symbolism.

The initials E R that sit either side of the marigold refer to Queen Elizabeth, still reigning when this shoe horn was made. There’s a reference to Elizabeth on just about every one of Mindum’s horns, often initials (at least until Elizabeth’s death in 1603) or the encrowned Tudor rose.

Crowned Tudor Rose It isn’t on this horn, but let’s look at the symbolism and see if it can clarify anything. It must have been important because it is possibly the most common of all devices on Mindum’s opus. Note the crown is a queen’s crown (compare the crowns of the chess queen and king) and continued to be under the reign of King James Stuart (1603-1625). No horn shows a cypher of I R (James Rex) or any reference to the Stuart monarchs.

The Cultural Relevance

English Protestants had experienced persecution and execution under the reign of Bloody Mary, so must have empathised with their co-religionists in France. The St Bart’s Day massacre had a galvanizing effect on the parliament, court and Elizabeth. England’s ambassador to the French court, Sir Francis Walsingham barely escaped with his life.[7] Elizabeth was being wooed by Francis, Duke of Anjou, (son of Henry II of France and Catherine de’ Medici) at the time. Following the massacre, Parliament begged her to not marry him, and she sent him away. Waves of refugees arrived in England, Elizabeth taking a personal interest, had bespoke housing built – narrow and tall with well lit upper rooms to enable household industries like silk weaving to bring in income without competing with the existing industries. She encouraged the establishment of French speaking congregations in churches across the country. The Huguenots responded with gratitude, commemorating it by incorporating the Tudor Rose into their art. For example, there is a Tudor Rose encircled within the crown of thorns painted on the under-croft/crypt roof of Canterbury Cathedral, where the a French Protestant congregation still worships. [8]

Tudor Rose and Crown of Thorns in Canterbury Cathedral Undercroft.
Photo by The Rev. Mark R. Collins.

Tudor rose “slipped and crowned” from the Pelican Portrait of Elizabeth I.
Artwork of English origin uses this form of crown.

By the 1590s, there were over 15,000 foreign Protestants in the country, the majority Dutch protestants fleeing Spanish occupation and almost all of the remainder Walloon and Huguenot escaping from France.[9]

The Strangers made some significant changes to Elizabethan life and industry, setting up window glass making on an industrial scale for the first time and revolutionising paper making, printing and bookbinding, and industries dependent on metal: wire making; pin making; copper beating; knife and scissor making; lock making; surgical instrument making; iron and copper cookware manufacture. Many of these people would have the necessary skills, materials and tooling to effect the repair on our horn.

The Name Evidence

Any naming evidence is going to be circumstantial and really prove nothing more than some of the people who are named on the shoe horns have the same surnames as recognised Huguenot surnames. Of course, many businesses selling family crests and shields are built on less evidence than that.

An added complication with is sort of study is that those “…with French names changed them to the English equivalent or modified them after a few generations, thus l’Oiseau became Bird, Le Jeune became Young, Le Fevre became Smith, Le Noir became Black and Le Coque became Cox.” [10]

I’ve done a quick survey to see if anything remarkable popped out from the surnames on extant opus of Mindum shoe horns. I don’t think I’ve really come up with anything constructive, other than Rose Fales (1598) – possibly Anglicised form of de la Fay and the two Smiths (1600), which could be an Anglicised form of Le Fevre [Gwynn – Huguenot Heritage].

Thanks to Alex for humouring and trusting me to not make off with the shoe horn and Gregory House (author of the Red Ned — Reluctant Tudor Detective series of eBooks), for providing the initial pointers to Elizabethan Huguenot symbolism.

A Somewhat Selective Bibliography

BAA, Journal of the British Archaeological Association Volume XXIV, p73 (1868)

Fox-Davies, A C, A Complete Guide to Heraldry TC & EC Jack, London 1909. accessed 27 April 2014

Gwynn, Robin D Huguenot Heritage: The History and Contribution of the Huguenots in Britain Sussex Academic Press, 2001. accessed 4 April 2014

Gwynn, R History Today Volume: 35 Issue: 5 1985 — England’s ‘First Refugees’, accessed 24 April 2014

Safford, F G, American Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. I, Early Colonial Period: The Seventeenth-Century and William and Mary Styles The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007.


1 Heraldica, The Fleur-de-lis,, accessed 26 April 2014.

2 Journal of the British Archaeological Association Volume XXIV, p73 (1868)

3 Spitalfields Life—The Huguenots of Spitalfields, April 24, 2013 accessed 30 March 2014

4 American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume 1, p220, note 6

also A Tradition of Craft: Original, Reproduction, and Adaptation Furniture By Kerri Provost, April 2, 2012 accessed 30 March 2014 and

Philip Zea, Furniture – The Great River: Art & Society of the Connecticut Valley, 1635-1820 Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1985, p. 187.

5 Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of America, October 10, 1894, to April 13, 1896 Volume III — Part I accessed 2 April 2014

6 Sur les pas des Huguenots—Le Percy–Mens—mens.htm?id=10&&Langue=2&HTMLPage=/en/etapes/etapes-francaises.htm accessed 13 April, 2014. See the Heritage tab.

7 Budiansky, S, Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage, Viking 2005, Chapter 1

8 The Rev. Mark R. Collins Sermons, Seminary Notes, Some Other Stuff… — From the bottom to the top…, 27 July 2007 accessed 4 April 2014

9 Gwynn, R History Today Volume: 35 Issue: 5 1985 — England’s ‘First Refugees’, accessed 24 April 2014

10 Soutter, C G Huguenots – Rearguard of Westward-moving Israel, on the Orange Street Congregational Church website, accessed 2 April 2014