Collectors Corner: Horseshoes
By Michele Alice
Over the six-thousand-year history of its domestication, Equus ferus caballus (the horse) has served as rural laborer, urban worker, warrior, transporter, jumper, hunter, racer, entertainer, screen star, and pet. And it's done all this on just four toes.
The horse's hoof, similar to the human fingertip and nail, can suffer from many of the same afflictions, from cracks to infections. To a human, such problems, though they may be painful, are rarely more than inconvenient. To a horse, these maladies can cause lameness and be life-threatening.
From the beginning, people must have discovered that asking equines to perform tasks that were beyond what they were used to as grazing animals could cause incapacitating injuries to their hooves. The somewhat sparse archaeological evidence that exists indicates that some of the earliest means of protecting hooves consisted of various types of leather "booties." By the time Rome had expanded its empire to the British Isles, the hipposandal was being used on horse's feet. Akin to the iconic Roman sandal, the hipposandal consisted of variously contrived metal plates secured to horses' hooves by leather straps.
The archaeological record suggests that nailed-on horseshoes may have existed as early as 400 B.C., but definitive historical documentation does not appear until around 900 A.D. in Europe. Versions cast in bronze were quite common by 1000 A.D., but were soon supplanted by iron shoes that by the 13th and 14th centuries were being produced in such large quantities that they could be bought ready-made. These were generally attached using the "cold-shoe" method by which the unheated shoe is bent to the proper fit.
"Hot-shoeing" - the practice of heating the shoe in a forge before bending it - did not become widespread (first in Great Britain and France) until the 16th century. The first machine-made shoes were produced in 1800.
(Note: To those unfamiliar with the practice, shoeing a horse is a painless procedure, when done correctly, as the farrier nails the shoe only to the part of the hoof that corresponds to the human nail.)
With such a long history, it was inevitable that some people would come to consider horseshoes as collectible, but it is a rather niche market. Not all horseshoes are alike - there are thousands of variations in size, material, design, manufacturers' marks, country of origin - and those individuals who do collect will often devote their resources (and space) to a narrow category.
Of course, many of the earliest and rarest specimens have found their way to museums, and some collectors are willing to pay a premium for specimens with special provenance (the shoes from a famous horse) or historical significance (such as a famous battlefield like Gettysburg), but, as a rule, most shoes are so plentiful that they do not command high prices, and most sell online for just a few dollars to those who regard them as lucky charms or wish to use them for decorative or folk-art projects.
Some items that are currently gathering more-than-average attention are not actual horseshoes, but are related: farriers' tools, like pinchers and anvils; old horseshoe pitching sets and their specially-designed shoes; vintage horseshoes specifically made for carousels, like the one marked C. W. Parker that recently sold online for $82.77.
And then there are the folk-art/trench-art pieces, such as the poignant door-knocker made from a WWI-era shoe mounted on a brass plate ("When you knock, remember my horse "Blossom." She served her country and survived the Great War."). The piece fetched 453.27 GBP ($696.59).
Would you like to learn more about this interesting collectible? Check out the resources listed below, and
The History of Horseshoes, by Ric Hajovsky
Horse-Shoes and Horse-Shoeing: Their Origin, History, Uses, and Abuses, by George Fleming - Free online digitized book.
Old Horseshoes, by Ivan G. Sparkes
Antique Horseshoe Collection - Great collection of pitching shoes.
Babe Waxpak: Horseshoes worn by Secretariat are popular collector's item - Helpful tips for authenticating.
The Farrier & Hoofcare Resource Center - Dozens of interesting articles for all skill levels.
The History of Horseshoes - Nicely done article by Rachel Cohen.
National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA) - Just in case you'd rather pitch shoes than collect them.
Superstition Bash - Horseshoes - More interesting than one would suppose.
Horse Shoes and Shoeing - Photo-illustrated description of the process of shoeing a horse.
Worshipful Company of Farriers - The WFC was founded in 1605. Their website offers history, links, and FAQs.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
You may quote up to 50 words of any article on the condition that you attribute the article to EcommerceBytes.com and either link to the original article or to www.EcommerceBytes.com.
All other use is prohibited.