Book Review – The Art of the Shoemaker

From Roman times until 19th century industrialization, shoemaking was learned through the apprenticeship method, with the tricks of the trade being passed down from master to apprentice.

There had never been much interest for a ‘how-to’ manual of shoemaking until Diderot’s Encyclopedia was published in 1751. His illustrated guide documented a broad swath of everyday industrial life, from making wigs to cheese. His book, published at the apex of the Age of Enlightenment, spurred on more interest for detailed accounts of the art and science of industry. M. de Garsault’s book Art du Cordonnier (Art of the Shoemaker) went a step further than Diderot by creating a ‘how-to’ illustrated manual defining the practical construction of various styles of footwear, the tools used in their construction, as well as a brief history of footwear. This 1767 publication captured the tail end of the pre-industrialized world of shoemaking. 

D.A. Saguto is the master boot and shoemaker at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and is recognized as a leading authority in historic footwear construction. Much of his knowledge comes from period publications such as Art of the Shoemaker. His annotated translation includes a facsimile of the original book with reproductions of the original copper plate engravings, as well as a section of photographs of 18th century shoemaking tools and footwear from Williamsburg and other collections that illustrate the terms and processes outlined in the book for today’s visually-driven audience. There is also the ultimate 18th century glossary of terms.

This may not be the most ‘coffee-table’ like book to curl up with, but what Saguto, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and Texas Tech University Press have produced is a book that needs to be a fundamental part of every research library that collects books related to shoemaking, French culture, 18th century life, The Enlightenment, and fashion history.

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