13 August 2015

"Cordwainer" explained

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.
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


  1. Dear Minnesotastan,
    That's all very well, and here in France it's a Cordonnier, but what exactly is a "Linebarger"?

    1. Ancestry.com gave me this:

      Linebarger Name Meaning
      Americanized spelling of German Leinberger or Leuenberger.


      Leuenberger Name Meaning
      German: habitational name for someone from any of several places named Leuenberg, as for example one in Brandenburg, named with Leu (‘lion’) as the first element.

  2. cordoba was the chrysler automobile with, according to ricardo montalban, 'rich corinthian leather'.


  3. It's also used in the pen-name of Harlan Ellison, when he's dissatisfied with the way his work is used on a given project -- his contracts require that he be credited as "Cordwainer Bird" when this happens. He used it on "The Starlost", a minor turkey of a science fiction TV show from the 1970s.


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