They say that any tool that has ever been invented is still being used by somebody somewhere in the world. Of course shoe horns are still used but it does seem like they’re being used less and less.
There are many times in the office when we see someone struggling to get on their shoe and since we always have shoe horns hanging up right behind them we often hand them one and notice how much easier it is for them to put on the shoes. Sometimes we get a blank stare as if they are wondering what a shoe horn is and how it’s used.
Unless your shoe is loose or is a slip on that you can slide on without damaging the back of the shoe, a shoehorn is an invaluable little device. It protects the back of your shoe and helps your shoe slide on your foot easily. Did you know shoe horns date from the Middle Ages?
Wikipedia has the following information:
Shoehorns appear to have originated in the late Middle Ages or Renaissance; in English a “schoying horne” is mentioned in the 15th century, though the French word chausse-pied is only found during the last half of the 16th century. Elizabeth I of England bought 18 shoe horns from her shoemaker Garrett Johnson between 1563 and 1566, then in 1567 ordered four more in steel from the blacksmiths Gilbert Polson and Richard Jeffrey, and then needed no more until 1586. Presumably these were used by many people in her household.
A group of more than 20 known English shoe horns are all signed and dated, to between 1593 and 1613, and made by Robert Mindum. All also are inscribed with the names of their owners; These include both men and women, including “JANE HIS WIFE” in 1612. The inscription on one is typical: “THIS IS AMBRES BVCKELLS SHOING HORNE MADE BY ROBART MINDVM ANNO DOMINI 1598”. There is also other engraved decoration on all, including heraldic medallions, geometric designs and flowers, covering most of the surfaces, in a style characteristic of later scrimshaw. Their shape is very similar to modern examples, and the longest is 11 inches long; five are turned back at the narrow end in a kind of hook. Several have holes pierced in them, presumably for a cord or leather thong used for pulling them out of the shoe or hanging them up. One owner (“Hamlet Radesdale”, 1593) is described as a citizen of London who is a cooper; none of the owners seem to be recorded otherwise. Joan Evans suggested, given the nature of the inscriptions, that Robert Mindum made them as a hobby and gave them to his friends. A powder horn similarly inscribed and decorated by him also survives.The British Museum also has a similar inscribed and decorated horn by another maker.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that a simple little mechanical device of the right that’s over 400 years old is still useful!