Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Household Advice Manuals - Cassells Household Guide, New and Revised Edition (4 Vol.) c.1880s [no date] - Gutta-Percha for Mending Shoes

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Volume 1



GUTTA-PERCHA was scarcely known in this country until 1843, when Dr. Montgomerie, of Singapore, called attention to its valuable properties. It soon won its way to popular favour, and has continued to be an article of immense importance. One of the many applications made of it at the outset was the soling of shoes, which seems to have been first practised by a Mr. Mapple. It was found to be a bad conductor of heat, a repellant of moisture, a nonconductor of electricity, and, in the form of shoe soles, both durable and cheap, added to which it could be easily applied. Objections were made to it, but its use for shoe soles was established, and has continued ever since. One of the great difficulties at first was to make gutta-percha soles adhere firmly to leather, but this difficulty was overcome by various contrivances. Some attached the soles by means of a solution of gutta-percha in gas tar; others fastened them by first making holes in the leather, and squeezing the soft gutta-percha down with pressure enough to drive it into the holes. When the gutta-percha was in a manner glued on to a new upper leather as first practised, the soles came away from the oily leather, as a matter of course. However, we only recommend gutta-percha either as a middle sole between two others, or as an affix to the outer sole. The soles may be affixed by any person with ordinary skill, which is an important recommendation where saving is almost as necessary as comfort. We discard all solutions and cements, and have done so for years.
    Our mode of operation is regularly now the following:- When our boots or shoes require a new pair of soles, we take them and dry them well before the fire. We scrape the soles thoroughly all over, so as not to leave any grit upon them ; we then take a small piece of gutta-percha and rub it into the leather soles with a hot iron, usually a screwdriver, covering the soles with a thin coat or plaster of gutta-percha. We lay the boot thus prepared before the fire, where it will keep hot. Then we take a gutta-percha sole, put a brad-awl through it an inch or so from one end, and hold it thus before the fire as if we were toasting it.
    When the surface is thoroughly hot and adhesive, we lay the new sole, the cool side down, on a piece of paper upon a hoard, and immediately place upon it in a proper position the boot which we have kept hot. If the paper sticks, never mind, it can easily be removed afterwards; we then press the new sole on equally with our fingers, until it is well fixed and properly shaped. It may then be allowed to cool, and afterwards be trimmed with a knife.
    If the process is correctly gone through according to the directions above given, the gutta-percha sole will wear out without being detached. Leather or gutta-percha soles with holes in them, or worn away in part, may be made good by simply melting upon them with the hot screwdriver pieces of gutta-percha, old or new ; any fragments will do. But in this case, also, the boots must be dry, and all grit and dirt be removed from the places to be operated upon in fact, dryness and freedom from dirt are the essentials to success. Warmth in the soles is desirable, but a good hot iron will enable a clever hand to spread the gutta-percha in any form or degree of thickness that may be desired. These are the methods which we have followed for many winters, and it is in winter especially that gutta-percha soles are desirable.
    It will be seen, from our description, that the operation of applying the gutta-percha is a remarkably simple one, and one, moreover, which may easily be done at home. When it has once been tried, we are confident that our readers will value the information we have given. An old pair of boots or shoes may, by this means, readily be made water-tight.

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source: Cassells Household Guide, c.1880s