Collection Curiosities

Boot Jack

Note: A fascinating aspect of everyday household objects is how they frequently incorporated contemporary fashion with function. This column shares one of McGuffey House and Museum’s many collection curiosities.

A bootjack

It is winter 1833. Oxford’s weather is rainy and raw. Professor McGuffey enters through the front door of his new house on Spring Street after a long day teaching and preparing class lectures in Old Main. Careful not to track in mud from the unpaved walks and street, not to mention the ire of Harriet McGuffey, William Holmes McGuffey pauses over a simple yet invaluable household object. It is a bug-like artifact by the fire place known simply as a boot jack. Produced by numerous local foundries during the 19th century, boot jacks were used to easily remove boots hands free.

A person uses the bootjack to remove a work bootThe boot jack in McGuffey House and Museum is the most common “cricket” style because of the two antennas coming out of the top of its head forming a “U” shape. One heel is placed inside the antennas and the other foot is placed on the insect’s flat back. Then, by putting your weight on your back foot and lifting your front heel, the boot jack removes the boot without having to bend over. Bear in mind men’s boots did not have laces, and few things proved more challenging than removing wet boots.

The designs showed pride not only in how the items worked, but also how they looked. Boot jack models ranged from detailed insects, as seen in the museum, to depictions of comic strip characters from comics such as “Foxy Grandpa.” Many boot jacks that were patented in the 19th century were never put into mass production. Those that were manufactured only had a limited output, making them somewhat rare today. Next time you visit the museum feel free to take your boots off and stay a while.

Text by Rachel Dimeff, Miami Class of 2021 and Steve Gordon, Administrator; Photos by Chandler Williams, Miami Class of 2021