Cobbler’s Workbenches

7000910_1_lI have come across these little benches for quite some time and I find them fascinating. I even started a folder in my image library for them.  A quick search around the web finds many of these in auction houses, on Ebay, Craigslist, and elsewhere, generally at exorbitant prices.  It appears they generally end their long lives as side-tables in a middle class home, assisting in the creation of nothing; just a curiosity to a collector. cobblers-benchThey really are remarkable and interesting professional tools; clearly bespoke to the needs and means of the craftsman who used them.  You can almost see their ancestry written upon them; a Roman or Medieval bench with simple splayed legs, a cutaway for seat, a little rail to keep tools from rolling away.  Later some small tills might be created to segregate nails and needles, and knife slots added so that they might be handy but safe.Genuine-Cushman-Colonial-Creations-Cobblers-Bench-Coffee-Table-245-Dealer-5534Really, a simple slab of wood, but as “needs must” it becomes a little workshop, self-contained.

Drawers or cubbyholes became a natural addition to the workspace as the bench replaces tool caddies.  Some can be locked up for safe-keeping and fancy builders made more comfortable seats.

shakercobbler2The essential layout seems to always be the same.  We are, after all, given the same basic human shape and the need is the same.  Organization, convenience, and a solid place to work.cobblerI can see this type bench being useful for other crafts as well but it would definitely end up modified over time to suit the specifics.CBENCHEven the above humble specimen has found a home, holding more collected crafts.  Slowly dying as a curio for some of us to ponder as a useful holdover from an era when we made for ourselves.CLbenchThe designs seem varied as the places they originate and the ingenuity of the makers.  Cordwainers, cobblers, leather bag makers, can all find the beauty in this design.primitivecobblerMany a zapatero could still find great assistance with a shop setup like this.earlycobblerI could make great use of this as an itinerant craftsman.  And maybe I shall someday.
shakercobbler
Perhaps, by looking into the past, we are seeing a better, simpler future

Cobbler at work, no citation, no date. Click for "source".

Cobbler at work, no citation, no date. Click for “source”.

“Round and ’round the cobbler’s bench, the monkey chased the weasel…”

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Irish Brogues and Other Simple Shoes

It’s time for new shoes.  After a soon-to-be-finished commission for a leather satchel, I intend to dive into a brogue-making project in the style of 19th century Ireland.  This basic design certainly dates back much further than this as shown by archaeological finds in bogs throughout Europe.  Don’t confuse these brogues with the more modern usage such as:

ModernBrogueThis is a brogue in the Scottish/Northern English semi-formal fashion with decorative holes reminiscent of the drains left in old field shoes.  Nor is this to confused with the type of shoe that some modern-primitives call “ghillie-brogues” or more properly, just “ghillie”:

These earned their proper name from Scottish Ghillies; a term used to denote game wardens, hunting and fishing guides, and sometimes, even poachers.  A simple shoe style that probably goes back several millenia in Europe.

What I decided to shoot for was a shoe that is relatively simple to produce, is closed for winter use, and can be regularly worn in public without arousing too much comment.

birdshoe

Haarlem, Netherlands, ca. 1300-1350.

To me, something like the “bird shoe” above is very cool but not really acceptable in an unforgiving office environment.  I would gladly hunt elk in these but for some reason, modern work culture has a fairly standardized and limited uniform.  This style tends to be cut from a single piece and sewn around three-quarters of the sole.  This one is punch decorated, probably to show off the stockings inside, a sign of wealth.  This is a form of “turn-shoe” or soft-sole sewn inside-out then “turned”.  A sturdy high top 12th century Dutch example with a center-seamed upper is seen below.  In my opinion, these would make a fine winter shoe.

shoe_12th

12th Century center seam shoe from the Netherlands.

I can’t help but see the similarity between these and North American center-seam moccasins.

BogShoeThe style above is a well-documented Irish “Type 1” dating anywhere from the 1st centuries A.D. through the Middle Ages.  A little more complex in construction, especially to get a perfect fit, it has been argued that these may be the result of craft specialization in the early Christian period of Northern Europe.  I plan to make a pair of these and contemplate them as a possible design for teaching simple shoemaking.  There is some real sewing involved, but not enough to intimidate most beginners.

shoes-fig3

From: Lucas, A.T. (1956). Footwear in Ireland. The Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 13(4).

For those who know American moccasin styles the pattern above seems very familiar as a one piece, side-seam shoe.

So, this brings us to the “Irish Brogue” or Type 5 shoe.  These are known well up into the nineteenth century and I wouldn’t be surprised to find them in even more modern contexts, especially amongst the poorer populations.  There are similar shoes depicted in Colonial America, probably made in the home for lack of money or access to a cordwainer.

Newports

Early American shoes from Newport, Rhode Island.

The above brogues appear to be a “built” shoe, having separate soles, multi-pieced upper, and a heel lift; the only difference between these and others from the period is the lack of ties or buckles.  Although difficult to tell from the image, they are likely constructed similar to those below:

Lucas, A.T. (1956). Footwear in Ireland. The Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 13(4).

Lucas, A.T. (1956). Footwear in Ireland. The Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 13(4).

Hopefully, updates will soon follow to track the creation of a new pair of shoes.