Pairs of Boots from Torockó

October, 2015

This high-shafted pair of boots is unusual in that the upper section of one boot has been decorated with a series of shallow folds, while the other has been left smooth. Though the notes from past inventories claim that the folds on the second boot have disappeared with age, I suspect that the truth is entirely different - that the decoration was omitted from one boot at the outset so as to illustrate the effect of the folding technique on the other. The stamped decoration on the sole of the boot is still intact, indicating that the boots were never worn. The other pair of boots of later manufacture decorated with a similar folded upper section seen here serves to illustrate what the pair would have looked like had the second boot been finished.

Available documentation on the boots offers no clue as to why the collector saw fit to acquire a half-finished pair of boots, if not for the reason stated above. What we do know is that the boots probably came from the collection of János Xántus, who sent just such a pair of Torockó boots to the folk products exhibition at the Vienna World's Fair in 1873.

A masterpiece of the bootmaker's craft, the pair is made from the sort of fine, cordovan leather that 19th-century Torockó craftsmen procured from Torda or Pest, cut in the manner of the fashionable yellow and red boots of the time: most of the shaft and foot was formed from a single piece of material with a tongue inserted to form a toe that curled up at the end. Because the sole was turned over before it was sewn onto the boot to hide the stitching, the locals referred to this style of footwear as an unkerozott boot (from the German "unter" or "under"). As the techniques involved in its manufacture were fast disappearing by the mid-1860s, it may well have been collected as an example of the traditional bootmaker's craft.

The piece of wrought iron that adorns the underside of the boot's heel is also the work of a Torockó master craftsman. Located in a place where it would have been invisible when the boot was worn, the thick horseshoe arch known as the wing joined the heel to the sole, its position at the ends of the boot's Z-shaped decorative motif recalling, true to its name, the wing of a bird (a similar design was applied to the wrought-iron bars on the windows of local cellars). The heel itself is a historical record all its own, as the straight heel was replaced at the end of the 19th century by one that was taller and narrower and featured an arced profile.

During this period in history, individual boots were all identical in form, meaning that they could be worn on either foot, and their owners would switch them regularly from one foot to the other to preserve their shape. Under the boot, the foot was usually covered with either a cloth, or a type of woollen stocking known as a solovári. Around the turn of the century, though fashion continued to favour turned-up toes, side stitching, and the decoration of regular folds, the technique of creating separate left and right-footed boots appeared, with soles that were nailed to their uppers.

This boot is a memento not only of the general fashion of a former age, but also of the efforts of the residents of an independent mining town to shape their own identity. The efficient iron ore mining and processing industry in Torockó permitted the town's population to develop local clothing styles to a high degree. Because the manufacture of boots such as these involved not only a variety of manual skills, but also an extensive network of commercial relations, they serve as a testimony to Torockó's dedication both to keeping step with the fashions of a gradually urbanising nobility, and to expressing community identity through material culture.

Hajnalka Fülöp

Pair of Boots
Torockó, second half of the 19th century
Inv. no.: 15587/a-b

Pair of Boots
Torockó, first half of the 20th century
Inv. no.: 69.88.17.1-2.

 

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