MAKING INDIA RUBBER SHOES BY THE BRAZILIAN NATIVES

[1830s], 220 by 270mm, (8¾ by 10¾ inches). Wood engraved print, letter-press text below, showing seven stages in the production of Rubber shoes in Brazil, trimmed to edges of printed surface.

From the 1820s to the mid 1850s the Amazon area of Brazil had a thriving trade in the export of India Rubber shoes: this was prior to the growth and development of their raw rubber trade between 1860 and 1912. By 1840 the export of rubber shoes comprised the 4th largest export at 7% of the total export market. An account of the production occurs in J E Warren; Para or scenes and adventures on the banks of the Amazon, New York, 1851. ‘The operation of making the shoes is as simple as it is interesting. Imagine yourself, dear reader, in one of the seringa groves of Brazil. Around you are a number of good-looking natives, of low stature and olive com-plexions. All are variously engaged. One is stirring with a long wooden stick the contents of a cauldron, placed over a pile of blazing embers. This is the liquid as it was taken from the rubber tree. Into this a wooden " last," covered with clay, and having a handle, is plunged. A coating of the liquid remains. You will perceive that another native then takes the " last," and holds it in the smoke arising from the ignition of a species of palm fruit, for the purpose of causing the glutinous substance to assume a dark color. The "last" is then plunged again into the cauldron, and this process is repeated, as in dipping candles, until the coating is of the required thickness. You will, moreover, notice a number of Indian girls (some very pretty) engaged in making various impressions, such as flowers upon the soft surface of the rubber, by means of their thumb nails, which are especially pared and cultivated for this purpose. After this 23 final operation, the shoes are placed in the sun to harden, and large numbers of them may be seen laid out on mats in exposed situations - a varation of the process is described in Lewis Herndon and Lardner Gibbon; Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, Washington 1853. ‘A longitudinal gash is made in the bark of the tree with a very narrow hatchet or tomahawk; a wedge of wood is inserted to keep the gash open, and a small clay cup is stuck to the tree beneath the gash. The cups may be stuck as close together as possible around the tree. In four or five hours the milk has ceased to run, and each wound has given from three to five table-spoonfuls. The gatherer then collects it from the cups, takes it to his rancho, pours it into an earthen vessel, and commences the operation of forming it into shapes and smoking it. This must be done at once, as the milk soon coagulates. A fire is made on the ground of the seed of nuts of a palm-tree, of which there are two kinds: one called urucari, the size of a pigeon's egg, though longer; and the other inaja, which is smaller. An earthen pot, with the bottom knocked out, is placed, mouth down, over the fire, and a strong pungent smoke from the burning seeds comes up through the aperture in the bottom of the inverted pot. The maker of the rubber now takes his last, if he is making shoes, or his mould, which is fastened to the end of a stick ; pours the milk over it with a cup, and passes it slowly several times through the smoke until it is dry. He then pours on the other coats until he has the required thickness; smoking each coating until it is dry. Moulds are made either of clay or wood ; if of wood, it is smeared with clay, to prevent the adhesion of the milk. When the rubber has the required thickness, the moulds are either cut out or washed out. Smoking changes the color of the rubber very little. After it is prepared, it is nearly as white as milk, and gets its color from age. From twenty to forty coats make a pair of shoes. The soles and heels are, of course, given more coats than the body of the shoe. The figures on the shoes are made by tracing them on the rubber whilst soft with a coarse needle or bit of wire. This is done in two days after the coating. In a week the shoes are taken from the last. The coating occupies about twenty five minutes.’

[ref: 11591 ] £350