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Shoe Horn (England)

This is a Shoe Horn. It is dated 1604 and we acquired it in 2011. Its medium is heat- and steam-shaped horn, with engraved and black-stained decoration. It is a part of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department.

This very fine shoe horn, by Robert Mindum, is one of just 17 known surviving examples created from 1593 to 1612. Some of the shoe horns display the Tudor rose that was commonly used in use in the 16th century through the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603). New motifs were introduced with the reign of James I (James VI of Scotland, 1603–25), who was a Stuart. Here, a fleur-de-lis is on top, a motif normally associated with France and the Medici (Cosimo de Medici is shown in similarly decorated armor in a 1544 engraving). Particular motifs may have indicated the political leanings of the family of the woman for whom the piece was intended. They may also relate to blackwork embroidery designs, such as those found in The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608, compiled by Thomas Trevelyon, which was a popular resource for needleworkers and other artisans. This shoe horn enables us to connect decorative vocabulary across disciplines.
The shoe horn was normally a plain, utilitarian object. It is clear that the type of shoe requiring this fine shoe horn would have been of the highest fashion and delicacy. The object was destined for a woman as part of her toilet table articles, along with silver boxes that might have held powders and rouge.
The shape of a split cow’s horn is the ideal shape for the actual task. The horn was heated with a flame until it became soft enough to be malleable. It was then pressed into a mold where it cooled into the desired form and then was polished with pumice and a chamois cloth. In Mindum’s case, he also engraved and heightened various designs with black pigment on the smooth surfaces.
This object would enable the museum to tell multiple stories: the story of the use of engraving on decorative arts objects, the story of the relationship between textiles and this utilitarian object, and the story of late Tudor and early 17th-century decorative arts vocabulary—all through this singular example.
Joan Evans, “Shoe-Horns and a Powder Flask by Robert Mindum,” The Burlington Magazine 85, no. 500, (November 1944): 282–84.
Adele Schaverien, Horn: Its History and its Uses (Wahroonga, N.S.W.: Adele Schaverien, 2006),106.
Paula Hardwick, Discovering Horn (Guildford, Surrey: Lutterworth Press, 1981), 62.

This object was donated by Barbara Munves. It is credited Gift of Barbara Munves.

  • Pair Of Slippers (USA)
  • label: leather sole and upper, linen lining, silk bows .
  • Gift of Mrs. Robert P. Brown.
  • 1960-81-18-a,b

Our curators have highlighted 15 objects that are related to this one. Here are three of them, selected at random:

Its dimensions are

L x W x D: 18.4 x 5.4 x 3.5 cm (7 1/4 x 2 1/8 x 1 3/8 in.)

It is inscribed

Decoration surrounded by inscription: "ROBERT MINDUM MADE THIS SHOOING...(worn at top) S GAMLET ANNO DOMINI 1604"

Cite this object as

Shoe Horn (England); heat- and steam-shaped horn, with engraved and black-stained decoration; L x W x D: 18.4 x 5.4 x 3.5 cm (7 1/4 x 2 1/8 x 1 3/8 in.); Gift of Barbara Munves; 2011-31-1

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibitions Plastics and Making Design.

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Shoe Horn (England) |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=7 June 2023 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>