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Mindum Shoe Horns

This shoe, or shooing, horn, was crafted by Robert Mindum in 1613. It is a carved piece of ox horn, engraved with variety of floral and geometric stylized motifs. About nine inches long, the piece is inscribed along the outer edge ‘ROBART MINDVM [sic] MADE THIS SHOOING HORNE FOR…IANE [sic] HIS WIFE ANNODOMINI 1613,’ and the piece is etched with a Tudor rose topped with a crown, a small, round flower encased in a circular band containing diamond shapes, and a stylized tree with large, symmetrical leaves. The narrow end of the horn contains swirling geometric patterns and scales.

Shoe horns were often given as gifts and became necessities during the Renaissance due to the rise in popularity of soft backed, flexible shoes. There are twenty-six known Mindum shoe horns and each is dedicated to a single person and inscribed with a year; obviously, these were intended as gifts. Not much is known about Mindum, and his name is not one common in early modern England. Scholars have suggested many theories for where he may have come from—perhaps he was foreign born or perhaps he was from somewhere in England and used a place name, Mindham or Mendham, as a family name.[1] There is no written record of him ever being a member of the Worshipful Company of Horners, the horner’s guild in London, but one did not need to be a horner to craft decorated shoe horns—one just needed to know how to carve and work with a material that had a grain, such as wood. Some scholars have suggested that Mindum was an amateur horner and not a master horner because his works are engraved with the owner’s name as well as Mindum’s name. Maybe this was just a hobby and Mindum bought his shoe horns, which were carved from the inner curved edge of a cow’s horn, pre-made from a horner guild member, and then designed and engraved horns with elements he chose from design books.[2] His earliest known work dates from 1593 and Agecroft’s shoe horn is one of, if not the, latest of his works.

Mindum used different symbols and images throughout his work. One of his most common design elements, which can be found on Agecroft’s ‘shooing horne,’ is the crowned Tudor rose. Illustrating the union of the houses of York and Lancaster through the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, the image is the linking of two roses, underneath a crown. Wayne Robinson, a Mindum scholar, points out that Mindum continues to use the crowned Tudor rose even after the death of Elizabeth I, which was the end of the Tudor period.[3] The other design elements on the Agecroft’s horn were very likely chosen for both aesthetic appeal and ability to fill the space. Or perhaps his customers/patrons/friends chose the design they liked best.

Mindum’s twenty-six known shoe horns (and one known gun powder flask) seem to raise more questions than answers. Where did he come from? If he was not a member of the horner’s guild, then what did he do? Did he create only twenty-seven horn pieces in two decades? Did he also create unsigned pieces? Why did he continue to use the Tudor rose after the end of the Tudor rule? His shoe horns can be found in private collections and museums throughout the United Kingdom and North America, including one at a small historic house museum in Richmond, VA—Agecroft Hall.

[1] Evans, Joan. “Shoe-Horns and a Powder Flask by Robert Mindum.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs. Vol. 85, No. 500 (Nov., 1944), pp. 284.

[2] Robinson, Wayne. “Mindum’s Shoehorns—a study of method.” The Reverend’s Big Blog of Leather. 29 August 2013. Web. 30 May 2018.

[3] Robinson, Wayne. “This is Francis Hinson’s Shoing Horne…” The Reverend’s Big Blog of Leather. 6 May 2014. Web. 30 May 2018.




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