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As curator and director of Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum (CCHM), I have had the pleasure of working on my interesting and informative displays. From wagons and buggies to tractors and buzz saws, the challenge is to ensure that our artifacts are well researched and well cared for.
One of our many displays is title “All Around the Cobbler’s Bench.” It is located in our carriage barn. A description based on our research accompanies the display.
Doug Binns, one of our devoted volunteers has a keen interest in the subject. He wrote about the talents of the Shoemaker in the Coldwater Current newspaper, July 2012. His article was titled “One Two Buckle My Shoe.”
The history of shoes is really quite simple. Even prehistoric man, wandering the world in bare feet regularly would have injured the soles of his feet. It did not take long for these nomads to ban together to find better ways of life. They soon began covering their feet with pieces of wood, animal hide or bark. Even today, this practice continues. An excellent resource for this information is the book All About Shoes by the Bata Shoe Company.
As society became more sophisticated, so did footwear. The simple sandal provided a much more pleasant way for walking. One’s social and financial status would eventually influence footwear fashion. Shoes also began to be designed for specific purposes, i.e., bedroom slippers, simple walking shoes, sports shoes, heavy work boots, skates and ski boots.
New fashions began to appear such as welt button, patent leather, lace and ladies’ spring heels. We are fortunate to have samples of most of the turn of the century shoes. The cost at that time would range from $1.95 for a pair of common-sense shoes to $3.00 for a more elite style. This we learned when perusing our 1906 Sears Roebuck and Company catalogue.
Although our collection is interesting, it pales in comparison to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection that boasts of more than 2000 shoes. Even more impressive is the fact that this display covers more than 3000 years. A shoe collector’s dream! A trip to London, England perhaps?
Although not on par with that museum, our collection includes a variety of ladies leather shoes and boots and some dainty, cloth covered shoes that usually completed a bridal outfit. The few pairs of men’s shoes and boots in our display have barely stood the test of time. Our children’s shoes, are tiny and fragile. As most of our footwear was donated by local folks, we lack examples of stylish footwear such as ones that would sport jewels, buckles or bows. DONATIONS GLADLY ACCEPTED!
As part of our display, we have some interesting tools of the trades of shoemaking and other leather works. For a long time, cobbler was a traditional handicraft – up until the invention of the industrial sewing machine in 1846 and the consequent advent of the mass production of footwear. CCHM has such a machine. It is heavy and cumbersome but still functional.
In small communities like Coldwater the shoemaker’s talents would be engaged to make all manner of leather goods including such things as saddles, reins, harnesses and other horse tack. Volunteer Bob Turnour, with a “heady” assist from Doug Binns also created a “harness rack horse” for the display of such artifacts at our museum.
If you are curious to learn more about vintage footwear, plan to visit us at Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum in the Spring to view our “All Around the Cobbler’s Bench” display.