Cordwainer - Profession of Shoe Maker

The term cordwainer entered English from the Anglo-Norman word “cordewaner” and initially meant a tradesman or worker in cordwain or cordovan, the leather historically produced in Spain in the Middle Ages. The English definition of Cordwainer is a person who makes new shoes from leather in contrast to a cobbler who repairs shoes.

Cordwainers were professional tradesmen. Cordwainers received at least 5 years of training, either from a parent who was a cordwainer, or as an apprentice to a cordwainer.

Cordwainers in New England set up small shops, many times in homes, where shoes were made on request. “Lasts”, models of feet carved out of wood, were kept in stock for repeat customers. The entire family usually helped the cordwainer make shoes. The cordwainer’s wife would make the binding while son’s made the soles.