New Hampshire Glossary: Cordwainer

A cordwainer was a boot and shoemaker, and nowadays is sometimes called a “cobbler.”

Before the 16th century, a cobbler was considered a repairer only, and sometimes was prohibited by law from actually making shoes. After 1700 the term, cordwainer, was rarely used, bowing to the more common term, shoemaker.

The basic equipment he needed was a shoemaker's bench, tools, and leather. By the 1600s, The shoemaker's bench was a combination bench and tool box. This way a shoemaker could pick up and carry his workshop from home to home, or home to shop. The shoemaker, who went from house to house in this way, “went about whipping the cat.”

 The workbench consisted of a bench with a box structure on one end, that was actually a small chest of drawers in which he stored his awls, marking wheels, sole knifes, small hammers and other tools along with pieces of leather and lengths of waxed hemp or linen “cord” that he worked with.

Instead of producing an inventory of shoes (such as we see today in our stores), shoemakers waited until a request was made. Sometimes the customer provided the material needed, which lowered the final cost of the shoes. 

With the advent of large-scale shoe manufacturing in America, the shoemaker became a less-needed occupation.  Cobblers, or shoe-repairers, held their ground a little longer, but they too are now few and far between.


*Additional Reading*


18th Century Trade: Shoemaker

-The Virtual Tools Museum: Shoemaker-

Online Lesson for Children: The Shoemaker's Tools

-Moccasins (footware of native peoples)-

The Political History of Shoes

This entry was posted in New Hampshire Glossary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply