The Book of Trades





"The Book of Trades, or, Library of the Useful Arts." In Early American Imprints. Second Series; No. 12173, 2, 74-79. White-Hall [N.Y.?]: J. Johnson, 1807.

Part II  pp. 74-79


THERE are few trades more useful than that of the Shoe-maker, and perhaps not many that are more profitable when it is carried on to a considerable extent. Some Shoe-makers carry on a snug private track without any show; others have large shops, and exhibit in them shoes of all sorts, for ladies and gentlemen, together with boots, gaiters, and spatterdashes.

The master shoe-maker, or, if he be in a very large way, his foreman, measures his customers, and cuts out the leather for his work-people to put together. In some instances, especially in the country, he is the leather-cutter to all the little traders in the surrounding villages. In this case he buys the leather in skins and half hides from the dresser, and cuts them out into soles and upper leathers, which he either uses in his own business, or sells to those who cannot afford to go to the wholesale market.

To render this business profitable, a considerable degree of knowledge is required with regard to the properties of leather,, and an accurate judgment to cut the leather in such a manner as to yield the greatest quantity with the least waste.

In the plate is a representation both of the master and the journeyman shoe-maker. The former is cutting out an upper leather of a shoe to a paper pattern which lies upon it. A small leaden weight is placed on the skin at the corner to keep it from slipping: on his left lies the hammer, which he uses to beat down any rough parts which stand up in the inside of the leather; and on his right hand is a pair of pincers, which are made with teeth, in order to gripe the leather tight in the act of stretching it.

The journeyman is in the act of joining the upper leather to the sole of a shoe. On his bench near him are his awl, his knife, and a stone with which he sharpens his tools. Before him, on his right, are the hammer and lapstone, and on the other side a tub of water, in which he keeps a quantity of wax in balls. These are the principal implements necessary for his trade. He sews the leather together with thread waxed over, and thereby made a strong and durable substance: as, however, he makes no use of a needle, to the end of the thread is fastened a hog’s bristle, which guides the thread through the holes made in the leather with an awl.

Journeymen in this trade are distinguished into women’s shoe-makers, and those who make shoes and boots for men. Few can follow both branches with advantage; the greater ingenuity is required in manufacturing women’s shoes, because the seams must be neater, as the materials are much finer.

Women are employed to bind shoes of all kinds, and to sew the quarters together of those that are made of silk, satin, and stuffs.

Shoes and boots are made on lasts, which are manufactured of some soft wood, by means of an engine or knife, such as that which, we have described in the brush-maker’s trade. The same man that makes lasts, makes also the wooden heels for women’s shoes. The last for shoes is made of a single piece of wood to imitate the foot; but that for boots is slit into two parts, between which a wedge is driven when the boot-leg is wished to be stretched.

It appears from history that the Jews, long before the Christian era, wore shoes made of leather or wood; those of their soldiers were sometimes formed out of brass or iron. The Grecian shoes generally reached to the middle of the leg. The Romans used two kinds of shoes & the calceus, which covered ‘the whole foot, something in the shape of our shoes; and the solea, or slipper, which covered only the sole of the foot, and was fastened with leathern thongs. The calceus was worn with the toga when a person went abroad, and slippers were put on during a journey and at feasts. Black shoes were worn by the citizens of ordinary rank, and white ones by women. Red shoes were put on by the chief magistrates of Rome on the days of ceremony.

In Europe, about a thousand years ago, the greatest princes of Europe wore shoes having the upper part of leather and the under of wood. In the reign of William Rufus the shoes of the great had long sharp points, stuffed with tow, and twisted like a ram’s horn. The clergy preached against these points; they continued, however, to increase till the reign of Richard II, when they were tied to the knees with chains of silver or gold. At length parliament interfered by an act in the year 1463, and prohibited the use of shoes or boots with pikes exceeding two inches in length: and shoe­makers were forbidden, under severe penalties, to make them contrary to the statute.

A journeyman shoe-maker, if he be a good hand, sober, and industrious will earn thirty shillings a week.

Shoemakers use large quantities of Morocco leather, which is the skin of a goat, dressed in sumac, or gall; and coloured at pleasure: it is used also for trunks, book-binding, and various other work that requires neatness.