Shoemaker, Not Cobbler

“Shoemakers, who become rare in modern times, shouldn’t be confused with cobblers or shoe repairers. Most shoemakers are capable of doing repairs, but this is usually considered inferior work and left to a different type of craftsman. While Northampton football team may, perhaps self-mockingly, be called the Cobblers, shoemakers would be offended if so called.”

Shoemaking, June Swann, Shire Publications Ltd. Shire Album 155 ISBN 0-85263-778-0

It couldn’t be said better. People tend to be forget the differences between this. Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t keep any craft inferior to shoemaking, this is not the problem. (Although in many countries – a shoemaker is inferior, very low cast). Let’s see an example: if you call a brain surgeon “butcher” (Not involving that butcher is a lower cast, right?), they might be upset. (by the way this story is not entirely fictional)

Once I was working on a pair of french boxcalf oxford and a visitor came in, asking me if I am a cobbler. ‘No Sir, I am a shoemaker and I am not repairing, but making these shoes’, but I can continue the list of these stories – just like many of my colleagues. I guess this happens anyway, and as we disappear it will happen more and more. Even in Hungary – one of the countries, which have a huge background and tradition in shoemaking, people tend to believe that shoemakers only repair shoes. It is true – when I told people, that I am a shoemaker, they asked me about it and were really much surprised, when I told them, that I don’t make any repair work at all. they were shocked – then what do I do? I make shoes. Yes, it is possible to make shoes.

Anyway – messing up crafts is not cool, but we can’t do much about it. Apparently TV channels find only cooking, tattooing, and cupcake making interesting (it was tempting to continue this list, but I could resist), so people know at least 3 scallop recipes, and what how long they should be cooked to reach the perfect tenderness, they can define what “tribal tattoo” is or how to organize making 2000 cupcakes in one night, but have no idea what counts to be handmade in the shoe business or if it is even possible to be made locally. They also don’t know that shoemakers still exist and the part of the reasons that we are dying out is their ignorance.

11 thoughts on “Shoemaker, Not Cobbler”

  1. this problem unfortunatelly applies to all “crafts”
    I’m designing clothes, and sewing those by myself…
    how upsetting it is when I tell someone, that I’m doing made to measure clothes, and as answer I hear: ” so if I will need to alternate some dress, I know where to come…”
    no f… way…

    Great post by the way :),

    BR

    1. I am a jewelry craftsman of 43+ years. I design, create, repair, restore and (I’m a g.i.a. gemologist) appraise. gold and platinum jewelry. I believe jewelry to be the highest form of art and I’m not alone in this thinking. The creation of a fine piece of jewelry involves drawing and painting, sculpture, knowledge of metallurgy, gemology, mineralogy and much more, I apprenticed and worked on jewelry for over 12 years before acquiring the skills that gave me the confidence to become self employed, I worked for three years under a Tiffany trained master craftsman, then for four years under a Filipino master craftsman that made the piece that won the 1970 International Diamond Design Award contest. I then worked for five+ years for the US’s largest family owned jewelry operation in central Ohio where I became their highest paid craftsman – there were 12 of us – there. I then went on my own. One never quits learning in this trade.

      So, while I do agree with you that a cobbler is at the low end of the totem pole in regards to being a craftsman and I do hold boot/shoe makers in high regard, when it comes to the pinnacle of craftsmanship, a jeweler -in the 1st sense of the word – stands at the top. Google, “The Salt Cellar” made by Benvenuto Cellini. Take a good look at it and tell me that I am wrong.

      You put too low a value on repairing a quality piece of craftsmanship. I’ve repaired and restored museum quality pieces and have brought great joy in the restoration of a family heirloom. Call me ‘old school’ because I am. We of course ply our trade because of our love for it, but unless you’re a ‘trust fund kid’ the importance of earning an honest dollar is very important. When I sell a gemstone I don’t consider it work, it’s easy money. When I repair or restore a piece of jewelry, I take great satisfaction in a job well done. When I create a piece of jewelry, I feel fortunate for having chosen the trade that I chose. Anyone in this life that can earn a living doing what they love is fortunate indeed.

  2. great article ,very much I like it
    by the way we have a craft home college also we teach shoe making in Egypt and we like your page very much its great and helpful

  3. My favorite question (not!) after explaining that I don’t repair boots, shoes, handbags, misc. leather stuff…
    In a tone of great surprise, “Well, what DO you do then?” I always want to reply that I lay on the couch and watch TV and eat chocolate–that must be why I’m tired and sore and getting arthritis.

  4. Oranges and apples. Is it possible for a crafter to blend the two worlds and be able to grow in both? It seems shoe repair is more readily accessable in most markets than are custom, bespoke makers. Is there any data towards comparison of market share between the two? In my market, there are 70 listed cobblers, only 5 shoemakers. The few shoe and boot makers that I know also offer repairs to aquire a steady cash flow to compliment their shoe making efforts. And some like myself that use shoe repair to build a base for more private client type custom work. Cobble shops could serve as launching pad for those aspiring shoe and boot makers and ultimately be a driving force for delivering more qualified shoe makers to the people. And to be a place to keep skills sharp. I think the cobbler plays an important role in perserving the art. It’s also not a bad way to make money. Thanks

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