Review: A Cobbler’s Dummy

cobbler dummy robot doll

pictured: an automatic shoesmith


What’s on test: The use of the shop-window cobbler automaton as visual shorthand for the practice and profession of making and mending footwear.

What we found:

Pros:  We found that the cobblers dummy, as representative of the exterior life of the professional shoesmith, had some positives, not least that his largely satisfied demeanour and indefatigable commitment to cobbling helps to bolster the assumption that cobblers are an internally confident, positive people.

It was accepted that this perception of positivity could also serve as a reminder to potential cobblers, as well as the public in general, that it remains acceptable to dedicate your life to a useful profession, and that employment in a transient or superficial sector, like broadcast entertainment or mass market cabaret, isn’t necessarily the only choice for the individual looking to achieve a sense of validation and self-worth through work.

Our testers also felt that the cobbler-robo affords cobblers a degree of advantage in personal conflict with practitioners of other professions, as the penetrating stare, indefatigable resolve and access to improvised weaponry serves to warn potential aggressors that shoemakers are not to be messed with.

Cons:  While we did find that the cobbler dummy advertises many of the positives of the profession, we felt that it conveniently avoided addressing its challenges. Bad posture, the unrealistic expectations of an increasingly impatient clientele and the slow development of a total aversion to shoes are just some of the difficulties shoemakers ‘n’ menders encounter. The cobbler’s dummy, as visual shorthand for the profession, could be accused of romanticising the career to an unhelpful degree, glossing over such problems in such a way that a disproportionate amount of young cobblers commit to the career without knowing the potential pitfalls of the profession.

Our testers also noted that the industry-standard cobbler automaton is of a certain age, and usually depicts an older man. This could be a problem, not in only as it could present the profession as one exclusive to the older gentleman, but it could also insinuate that the development tree or career path of the professional shoemender is limited to ‘shoemender’. This perception could act as a disincentive for the Next Generation of cobblers and, coupled with the sartorial ineptitude of the standard cobbler-robo, a deterrent for anyone wishing to date and settle a cobbler.

Verdict: Our testers found that, on balance, a profession lucrative and self-confident enough to encourage idealised robotic effigies of its practitioners was one in rude health. While the visual shorthand employed by these effigies could be problematic in warping the expectations of the future cobbler, we felt that it was refreshing to see a profession not daunted by the superficiality and materialism that has come to typify society. The shoesmith-robo serves as a reminder of the unquestionable spirit of pure labour, a lighthouse of ‘the real’ of combining developed physicality with inherited grassroots specialisation.  We would therefore encourage the continued use of cobbler’s doll by cobblers and the profession of cobbling, despite not ever really being able to deliberately look it in the face without looking away again really quickly.