Cordwainer is the English term for a shoemaker who makes shoes from new leather. The word is derived from "cordwain", or "cordovan", the leather historically produced in Moorish Córdoba, Spain in the middle ages. Medieval cordovan leather was used for the highest quality shoes, but English cordwainers also used domestically produced leathers and were not solely producers of luxury footwear.
The terms cordwainer and cobbler are not interchangeable. A cordwainer is someone who makes new shoes using new leather, and a cobbler is someone who repairs shoes. In the historic London guild system the cobblers and cordwainers were separate guilds, and the cobblers were forbidden from working in new leather. Historically cobblers also made shoes but only using old leather recovered from discarded or repaired shoes
13 August 2015
The word came up during a dinner conversation the other night. It brought to mind the penname ("Cordwainer Smith") of the famous Wisconsin-born science fiction writer Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger, but I didn't know the term referred to the occupation of leatherworking.