1951 Griffith Boot Making Bench and Tools

Era: Cultural background: Collection: Theme:Clothing Folk Art Pop culture Settlement

1951 work bench and tools of trade of Virginio Davi. Display at Griffith Italian Museum in 2008.
1951 work bench and tools of trade of Virginio Davi. Display at Griffith Italian Museum in 2008. Photograph Peter Kabaila

Griffith Italian Museum: Pioneer Park Museum, Griffith, Australia.

Object Name
Boot making bench and tools used by Virginio (“Vic”) Davi.

Object Description
1. Boot making bench, chair, apron and set of tools, some of them hand-made. Donated by Virginio Davi, of 48 Ross Cres Griffith. Wooden bench, 1100 long x 450 wide x 530 high, home made in Griffith, with five compartments to house all the tools. Attached to the left of the bench is the sewing machine.

2. Apron, hand made in Italy, knee length canvas covering with a leather strap around the neck and leather waisted belt with steel buckle.

3. Boot last, all steel with three moulded arms. Two arms used for soles and one for heel. Has a welded repair join on one arm. Australian manufacture.

4. Three rasps. One with plastic handle. Australian manufacture. Belt, handmade during apprenticeship in Italy in the 1940s, three strand plait 15mm side with steel buckle. Secured ends by aluminium strips. Condition poor as the leather is much worn in places, indicating it was worn for many years.

Steel pincers with flat claw head, 200mm long, used to pull leather. Italian manufacture. Steel pincers, 170mm long, used to remove nails. Italian manufacture.

5. Hammer, 280mm long. Flat head on one side with chisel shape on other. Wooden handle wrapped with tape. Manufactured in Italy and brought out to Australia in 1949.

6. Groove cutter. Wooden handle with 50mm long V-shaped chisel. Leather tag. Hand made in 1949 in Italy. Used for cutting grooves in soles of shoes, in preparation for stitching by hand mostly.

7. Awl. Wooden handle with steel curved piercing prong. Leather tag attached for hanging. Hand made in Italy and brought out to Australia in 1949.

8. Wooden leather smoother, 210 long x 20 diameter. Leather tag. Hand made in Italy. Faded inscription in black felt marker “La putpu … 1940″.

9. Men’s shoes fluting tool. 130mm long. Wooden handle with fluting wheel attached. Leather tag. Used on the upper edges of the leather sole to create a fluting pattern. Mostly used on men’s shoes. Italian manufacture.

10. Women’s shoes fluting tool. 155mm long. Similar to above, but with masking tape around handle. Leather punch. 125mm long. Rounded wooden handle with sharp pointed nail attached. Leather tag. Used for piercing leather prior to nailing into shape. Hand made in Italy.

11. Smoothing tool. 95mm long. Round wooden handle with 90 degree cut-out end. Leather tag. Used to smooth out edges of leather soles. Inscribed “Per la lucidore le suole”. Hand made in Italy. Repaired.

12. Shoe stretcher. 340mm long. Three quarter size wooden shoe last with holes each side and threaded steel rod with a T-bar handle for extension. Used for stretching shoes, particularly for problem feet, e.g. corns. Hand made in Italy. Repaired. Inscribed in pen “Vic Davi”.

13. Wax. Two blocks of bees wax and one block of resin. Used to wax thread.

14. Knife. 220mm long. Steel, flat piece with pointed cutting edge, Hand made in Italy. Used for cutting leather for assembly.

15. Leather hand guard. 330mm long. Brown leather strap with circular cut-outs each end. Small hole for hanging. Scratches/indentations along whole length. Hand made.

16. Leather stitching string. String in a food tin with hole in lid for release of the string. Tin contains
two balls of string, labelled “spago” (string) in black on side of tin.

17. Ladies boots. Sample boots. Black, very high ankle stiletto platform sole ladies dress boots. Side zipper with decorative stitching.

18. Shoe samples. Sandal upper on boot last. Suede and leather uppers on boot last. Hand made in Italy.

19. Pattern for scuffs. 200mm wide x 200mm long. V shaped pattern of leather and cloth. Needle attached with sticking tape. Kangaroo skin with cloth lining. Leather heel. 80 x 80. Two leather heels with punched holes. Made in Australia, 1950s.

20. Heel protector. 85 x 85. Horse-shoe shaped steel plate. Six holes for nails. Used to reduce heel wear. Manufactured in Italy.

21. Sample heel protector. 75 x 75. Steel and leather. Sample steel heel protector attached to brown leather heel. Nailed with sharp nails protruding from leather heel. Steel engraved “CY No. 001″. Manufactured in Britain.

22. Pig bristles. 130mm long. Five coarse strands of pig bristle in clear plastic envelope. Used at the end of stitching string to insert into holes in leather.

23. Glass smoothers. 100 x 60. Pieces of glass wrapped with sticking tape. Used to smooth leather sole edges.

24. Steel needles. Five leather stitching needles and one larger (with groove) rubber stitching needle, housed in a piece of leather. Australian manufacture.

25. Sole protector plates. Three designs. Australian manufacture.

26. Shoe polish brush. Wooden base, black bristles. Australian manufacture.

27. Chair, for working at bench. Purchased in Australia. Wooden chair with Hessian set cover. Repaired with wire bracing to chair legs.

28. Shoe lasts and set of ten finishing tools. Pair of wooden shoe lasts. Metal plates at ankle and sole. Extensively tack marked. The set of ten boot makers finishing tools all have metal heads, wooden handles and leather straps at the handle ends for hanging. Manufactured in Italy. Note these items are not from the Virginio Davi set, but were used by Mario Soliani and his father, making shoes by hand in Mantua, Italy. Mario moved to Australia in 1949 and brought these items out with him. He had shoe shops in Yenda and Griffith. They provide a comparative display alongside the Davi tool set.

Virgilio (“Vic”) Davi was born 10.05.1925 at Cessalto, Treviso Province, Italy. He was apprenticed as a boot maker at the age of 16 and completed his apprenticeship at the age of 20. The bench and tools were used by Virgilio (“Vic”) Davi in 1951 for making boots by special order to Griffith Co-Op store, working from the former Palais De Danse building in Yambil Street.

Tools include items made or purchased during apprenticeship years in Italy in the 1940s and brought out to Australia in 1949. Other items were home made in Griffith, and some tools purchased in Australia. For example, the apron was hand made in 1948 by Virgilio during his apprenticeship years in Italy and was then taken to Australia. The boot last and rasps were manufactured and purchased in Australia.

Women's boot work sample made in 1951 and detail of tools (steel needles).

Women’s boot work sample made in 1951 and detail of tools (steel needles). Photograph Peter Kabaila

These tools of trade of Virgilio Davi, who was a boot maker in Griffith in the early 1950s, are historically significant as evidence of a cottage trade transferred to Australia. The inclusion of items made during apprenticeship years in Italy in the late 1940s and the worn state of some items illustrates the economy of the trade, as practiced by Virgilio Davi.

Shoe samples. Sandal upper on boot last. Suede and leather uppers on boot last. Hand made in Italy.
Shoe samples. Sandal upper on boot last. Suede and leather uppers on boot last. Hand made in Italy.
Photograph Peter Kabaila

This collection of tools contains many items of rustic quality that have aesthetic value in their own right, as hand-made examples of the boot making craft.

The individual tools have the potential for research of their methods of manufacture and manufacturers’ marks. Each blacksmith had a quite distinctive mark and it was generally traceable on their manufactured tools.

This collection is of social significance as a cottage trade brought out from Italy and transferred to Australia, at a time when most shoes worn in Australia were factory produced.

Provenance is of high significance, as the items are sourced from Virgilio Davi’s own workshop, and connect to a life story told by him. His identification and description of the uses of each tool firmly establishes the provenance.

Two blocks of bees wax and one block of resin, used to wax thread. Leather stitching string in a food tin with hole in lid for release of the string, labelled
Two blocks of bees wax and one block of resin, used to wax thread. Leather stitching string in a food tin with hole in lid for release of the string, labelled “spago” (string) in black on side of tin.
Photograph Peter Kabaila

This set of items is representative of the transfer of traditional trades from Italy to Australia. It is also a good example of a complete set of boot making tools, together with some samples of work. The boot sample is a good example of 1960s Italian women’s fashions, and of a traditional Italian craft that was not current in Australia. The completeness of this tool set and examples of work is rare.
The worn condition of many of the items shows evidence of use.

Moderate level of interpretive potential. Samples of work that accompany the tool set provide an illustration of the end product. The worn condition of many items in this set tells the story of trade tools saved from childhood, used and repaired for as long as possible. Even Australian manufactured tools, such as the shoe last, were repaired to extend their life. Virgilio Davi’s own identification of each tool and its use in the craft, as noted in the descriptions, increases the interpretive potential.


Kabaila, P 2005, Griffith Heritage. Pirion Publishing, Canberra.

Heritage Office & Dept of Urban Affairs & Planning 1996, Regional Histories of NSW, Sydney.

Heritage Collections Council 2001, Significance: A guide to assessing the significance of cultural heritage objects and collections, Canberra.




Written by Peter Kabaila
March 2008

Edited by Stephen Thompson
Migration Heritage Centre
March 2008

Crown copyright 2008©

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The Migration Heritage Centre at the Powerhouse Museum is a NSW Government initiative supported by the Community Relations Commission.

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Regional Services at the Powerhouse Museum is supported by Movable Heritage, NSW funding from the NSW Ministry for the Arts.

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Griffith Italian Museum & Griffith Pioneer Museum are managed by Griffith City Council.