My last pair of boots. 11. Cleaning up and shipping: they’re done!

Well, my boots, made by Lee Miller of Austin, Texas, arrived yesterday, and they fit very well.  They’re a wee bit snug, but that’s normal since the leather has to stretch a bit on my feet. And they’re gorgeous: by far my favorite pair of boots.

For those who want the whole sequence of photos from beginning to end, here are the posts in order (I screwed up the numbering at 4-5, and so added #4a; there are 12 posts in total, including this one).

#1  #2  #3  #4  #4a  #5  #6  #7  #8  #9  #10  #11
 Here’s the last sequence of operations; my own photos are at the very end. As always, the other photos and captions (indented) are by Carrlyn Miller.
The ink and dye have dried, and now it’s time to apply additional was and burnish the soles, heels and welt.
Jerry%27s Boots1
Here you see one boot on which the burnishing has been done.
Jerry%27s Boots2
Here Lee is brushing the heels.
Jerry%27s Boots3
It’s time to iron the welt. Lee takes a piece of wax and applies it to the iron.
Jerry%27s Boots4
Then he positions the boot welt on the iron to spread the wax.
Jerry%27s Boots5
Another view of Lee ironing the welt.
Jerry%27s Boots6
He then brushes the welt to spread the wax.
Jerry%27s Boots7
 In the meantime, the hand tools are being heated.
Jerry%27s Boots8
 The heated hand tools are used to hand burnish areas on the soles and heels.
Jerry%27s Boots9
 Here is one boot that has been burnished and ironed. Now it’s time to bottom stain the forepart of the sole.
Jerry%27s Boots10
 First, he naumkegs (sands) the area to be bottom stained.
Jerry%27s Boots13
The sanded part of the sole is now ready to be bottom stained.
Jerry%27s Boots14
We apply three coats of bottom stain. And, the boots are then brushed and rubbed down.
Jerry%27s Boots15
Next, the lasts are pulled, and the wooden pegs hand sanded down.
Jerry%27s Boots16
The boot tops are then lightly wet, and wooden blocks called trees are put into the tops. This gives the boot tops shape and helps to allow the foot to get into the boots. The boots sit overnight, and the trees are pulled the next day.
Jerry%27s Boots17
 Heel pads are put in, and the boots are conditioned and shined.
Jerry%27s Boots18
Here is Lee with the boots.
Jerry%27s Boots19
Your lasts are put away.
Jerry%27s Boots20
Here’s the official photo of the boots for Texas Traditions:
Jerry's boots Lee Miller
The boots are boxed up and are on their way.
Jerry%27s Boots21
And now my photos: here are the boots when I excitedly tore open the box:
Front and side view:
Rull view
The inlaid mirror writing:
A close-up of the pinched rose; there are two per boot, one on the front and the other on the back. Both the roses and mirror writing were specialities of Charlie Dunn, with whom Lee apprenticed.  I wanted a design that reflected the history of that shop.
The box toes and stitched toe flower:
The unsullied sole. It won’t be like this for long! You can see the four rows of wooden pegs (two on each side) in the arch:
And on my feet:
Gus wanted to show them off again!

Thanks again to Lee for his craftsmanship and artistry, and to Carrlyn for helping me figure out what I wanted and keeping in touch during the whole process. I hope those of you interested in cowboy boots have learned something about them, and about the labor and craft that go into making a pair of custom boots.

I have long declared cowboy boots to be the Official Footwear of Atheists™ (though I can’t give you a rationale), and, with both me and Steve Pinker wearing them, it won’t be long till they’re de rigeur!


  1. Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Good one…. 💕

  2. Karl Heinz
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:30 am | Permalink


    I have to get some boots made someday…. It seems a lot of bootmakers no longer take new customers, so that’s a problem. Along with the price. 🙂

  3. dougeast
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Since there is no evidence to support it and yet I want it to be true I have faith that cowboy boots are the official Atheists footwear.

  4. Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    What beautiful boots! I really enjoyed seeing the entire process.

    My advisor frequently wears cowboy boots, perhaps they’re also the Official Footwear of Entomologists? I’ve never tried a pair, though… perhaps it’s time.

  5. jay
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Are you sure it’s your last pair. With my own personal passion, I’ve purchased my ‘last’ watch many times over.

  6. steve oberski
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Salem, Massachusetts was originally called Naumkeg.

    Although I suspect that this has nothing to do with the etymology of this word as applied to boot making.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      The name for that sander/buffer tool is from the long defunct “Naumkeag Buffing Machine Company” of Beverly, Mass. I think it must have evolved into a generic term for that kind of tool in the same way as “Hoover”

      So there is a connection with Salem because Beverly neighbours Salem across the Danvers River. I assume “Naumkeag” is a common word thereabouts deriving from the native tribal people of that name in that area – it being what they called themselves.

  7. Hempenstein
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    At any moment, any idea how many pairs of boots are in various states of production?

  8. Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    The first atheists I’ve ever known, my dad, is also into cowboy boots — I think you are onto something!

    The detail and craft is amazing and they look fantastic. Mixing tradition of the shop with your own (yellow rose and your name) is a great touch. Only the “made in Italy” on the sole came a bit as a surprise (I clearly have to brush up my geography knowledge).

  9. Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Killer boots Jerry! Those are exceptional, wear them well. I hope you end up with a few more “last pairs”!😀

    • Posted July 7, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      I, as a non-native English speaker, initially misunderstood “last pair” and thought that Prof. Coyne was taking a vow never again to order such boots.

      • boggy
        Posted July 8, 2016 at 3:44 am | Permalink

        A few years ago I bought some shoes in New Zealand, made by the Last company. I asked if they were called thus because they were made on a last, but was told that it was because they last a long time. They certainly do.

  10. Les
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Prof Jerry,
    Will you be wearing them in the Chicago Snows, with all the corrosive salt on the streets?

    • Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Hell no. I have non-custom boots that are tough and expendible to wear under those conditions.

      • mordacious1
        Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        I would be afraid to wear them anywhere, they’re really a work of art. I can see these boots as the official presentation footwear for talks on atheism and science. I might have to box them and put them on just before walking out on stage though. I’m rather rough on my boots, scuffing them all the time.

  11. DTaylor
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Magnificent! And wearable art to boot!

  12. Les
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Those are handsome boots.

  13. sgo
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    They’re absolutely gorgeous, and I’ve enjoyed the whole series of posts. Do the Millers always document the making of their boots this well, or was this a special request?

    And, what would be your advice for someone interested in getting a first pair? I mean, I like the idea of looking on eBay for good quality used ones, but is it advisable to get a first (cheaper?) pair and actually try them on? At the risk of sounding naive (obviously, of course it is!) …

    • Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      I’d recommend eBay for a first pair. You’ll have to know your boot size, which of course isn’t constant across all boots (I can wear between an 8.5 and 9.5 in width D). It’s not completely kosher, but you might go to a boot store just to see the variety available and try on some to see your size. (You can buy something else there to ease your conscience.) The problem is that commercially available boots these days, with the exception of expensive Lucchese Classics (only that line) are cheaply made and overpriced. Better to get a well made boot on eBay. The vast majority of my boots are from eBay, where you can find great bargains.

      • sgo
        Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        Thanks so much!

        It did occur to me to try some on at a shop, but like you say, I’d feel uncomfortable about that …

        I’ll look on eBay. Thanks again!

  14. Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    As another cowboy-boot atheist, he’s a huge thank you for this series. BRILLIANT and, as you say, gives me even more respect for the craftsmanship. They’re stunning.

  15. Taskin
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink


  16. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I think that heal piece will help in the winter time weather to prevent falls.

    Not so sure about the atheist cowboy boot theory. Back here in bible belt country, that’s damn near everywhere, they have this thing called cowboy church. Not sure if hats are optional.

  17. bluemaas
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Crikey, Mr Miller, Ms Miller, Dr Coyne ! These are smashing !

    Completely THE loveliest I have ever seen — and that, as a former practicing veterinarian, — is a .lotta.lotta. cowboy boots !

    I denim, too, of course. Perhaps, however, in order to repeatedly showcase those happy and fabulously darling pinched roses I offer .that. as the rationale for The Official Drape of Atheists: Kaftans for All. As Ms Shikha states, “ … … to just stroll around in.” Such as of these custom (of India) and contrastingly colored and flowy batwings ! .


  18. DrBrydon
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Those are beautiful, Jerry! Enjoy!

  19. somer
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    You must be very proud of them. Such skill and artistry and a great tradition maintained by Lee Miller.

  20. David Duncan
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Alas I have very broad feet so the one time I tried getting into a pair of similar boots I couldn’t get close to getting them on – I tried cheap non-custom ones with zips – a complete disaster. Now I satisfy myself with elastic sided riding boots.

  21. darrelle
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Your boots have turned out beautiful. Never expected less from Lee Miller, but it is worth saying. You’ve given me the itch.

  22. Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Promise me you’ll wear these during your next debate.

  23. Denis Westphalen
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Stampede starts tomorrow here in Calgary. I will be wearing my cowboy boots for the next week as well ;P

    • bluemaas
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Oooo, thank YOU, Mr Westphalen, for this … … m’sudden reminiscence thereof y1997 / July then ! and of thus: !

      ‘Twas of my Bucket List and thus accomplished on my solo pilgrimage afore meeting up with the AlCan then a bit o’a distance more northerly !


      ps With those beauts now in hand, er enfooted, Dr Coyne, and re your previous crowdsourcing post of “Where Should I Go ?,” (it was, wasn’t it ?) to where then will this summertime those sweet boots walk you ?

  24. Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Jerry, for both patronizing and exhibiting fine art in this way. It’s a small but significant contribution to making the world a better place.



    • Kevin
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 11:33 pm | Permalink


  25. Filippo
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    As I’ve said elsewhere but will presume to say again, it must gall the vulture capitalist not to be able to subjugate and exploit, or otherwise compete with and/or put out of business, the successful and superbly-gifted independent artisan.

    • Jiten
      Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Not at all. There’s room in the market for everybody.

      • Filippo
        Posted July 7, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        “Not at all. There’s room in the market for everybody.”

        I’m not sure that I understand what you mean by “Not at all.” Do you mean that it is “not at all” likely or possible that a capitalist could be frustrated in not being able to exploit, to his financial advantage, such a talented, skilled independent artisan?

        I understand your second sentence, but it seems to me (and I possibly may not sufficiently understand the concept of “market”) that the independent individual artisan boot maker is in a totally different market than that in which large mass-produced boot manufacturers, whether held privately or publicly, operate.

        It seems that (to state the obvious) large manufacturers don’t have the opportunity/option of undercutting the artisan on price (due to economies of scale considerations, and cheaper materials and processes), because there are at least a sufficient number of boot enthusiasts – a market – who want that particular artisan’s handiwork, and will cheerily pay premium prices for it, and won’t accept substitutes.

        Of course, if it’s, e.g., a small, independent, small-town, family-owned grocery or drug or home appliance store – the operation of which not much requiring (and not being insulated from competition by virtue of) specialized, unique, outstanding-quality artisanal skills – then those small businesses will and have been undercut and put out of business across the small-town fruited plain (by implacably remorseless capitalists). Apparently “There’s room in the market for everybody” except them.

        In any event I am glad that no capitalist can (yet) exploit such an artisan.

        (I occasionally wonder if there are capitalists who are frustrated because they cannot – yet – take control of and sell to us the air we breathe.)

  26. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    What a magnificent example of artisanship these boots are! It’s been quite an education seeing how involved the process is.

  27. Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on your new boots. Wear them in good health.

    But I hope the day never comes when I will be booted out (pun intended) of the atheist community for wearing sneakers.

  28. Jiten
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Magnificent, lovingly hand made boots. To go with your hand embroidered shirt and your new boots you now need a Savile Row suit. I’ve heard that they are so well made and fit so good that you don’t realise you’re wearing it. Ultimate in style and comfort.

  29. rose
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I remember my son at age 4 or so when he got his cowboy boots.He loved them and wore them to bed.Are you going to do the same?

  30. Mark R.
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    That’s an inspiring pair of boots you got there Jerry. The yellow roses are my favorite detail.

  31. Jeremy Tarone
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Those are beautiful boots, with beautiful workmanship. They make me desirous of a pair for myself.

    I’m curious how well a custom made set of boots fit?

    • Posted July 8, 2016 at 4:47 am | Permalink

      Like a glove. After all, to bootmakkers like Lee Miller, the most important criterion is fit, and believe me, these boots conform to eveer bump and curve in my feet.

      • Jeremy Tarone
        Posted July 8, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        I’ve been thinking about getting a custom pair more and more since your posts. I was thinking more along the lines of a custom pair of biker boots. The way I see it, a decent pair of boots will last 20 years and can be resoled cheaply. I go through a pair of sneakers every year, and even expensive ones tend to disappoint quality wise. It seems to me $50 a year over 20 years is $1000, so they will pay for themselves, if I wear them. Most importantly, I got approval from my spouse (although I didn’t mention the price).

        I’ve rarely had a decent fitting pair of footwear. Fitting like a glove sounds very good to me. I read your comment about buying via Ebay, but I have very wide front feet that are hard to fit. A nice fitting pair of footwear that will last is very appealing.

        I’m considering Alberta Boot Company, they will make custom fit 12″ kangaroo boots for $750 Cad, which seems like a pretty good price to me.

        I was looking at their biker boots, pretty plain boots, but I want a pair I can wear all the time, even when there is rain and snow. I’m not sure I could bring myself to wear a pair as beautiful as yours in the rain.

        Thank you for sharing with us, Jerry.

  32. Sabine
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    They are spectacular! Thanks so much for posting the process. Amazing craftsmanship. So fascinating to watch.

  33. Posted July 7, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous, Jerry.

    So I’ll have to shop for my second pair of cowgirl boots…. old ones long gone!

  34. Posted July 7, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Wow! Those are incredible!

  35. rickflick
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    De rigeur or not, it’s been a fascinating series.

  36. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    It’s a shame the blue will be hidden by pants. Jerry – you should start wearing kilts or something with the boots.🙂

  37. KD33
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Really top workmanship, and truly things of beauty. Lucky Professor!

  38. Filippo
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    A uniquely, consummately skilled artisan, whose handiwork is in such high demand that he’s no longer taking orders, is in the catbird seat vis-à-vis being the master of his destiny. Little chance that some other human primate, some Master of Mankind, can come along and treat him merely and solely as a “human resource” or as “human capital.”

  39. Jimbo
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:00 pm | Permalink


    Thanks for sharing the process of such detailed master craftmanship. I’m left wondering after all the suspense…how do they feel?
    After all the painstaking foot measurements and kangaroo leather, still too stiff or feel great to walk in?

  40. Paul Manson
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    The boots are beautiful and it has been fascinating to watch them being made (and humbling to see the craftmanship involved).

    However, even though I’m a committed atheist, I do hope the wearing of cowboy boots doesn’t become doctrine – I don’t think I have the nerve to be the only cowboy-boot-wearing librarian in Aberdeen, Scotland. I might have to start a schism instead!

  41. boggy
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    My idea that atheists should, like Richard Dawkins, wear odd coloured socks would not work if cowboy boots were worn as they would be hidden.

  42. Posted July 8, 2016 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    these are very fine boots, but not the boots to unite atheists I think: that would be Doctor Martens. they have several advantages, including that you can get them “For Life” (really!), and they already have a song…

  43. Peter
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    Looks as if such boots are not comfortable on toes. Aren’t toes squeezed unnaturally in that narrow shape in front?

    • Filippo
      Posted July 8, 2016 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      Not from my own modest boot-wearing experience. If it pinches, try the next (half-) size up. Since mine are off-the-rack, and as the boot leather will eventually stretch a bit over time, my solution to achieve optimal snugness is to wear two pairs of socks, some combination of newer-thicker/older-thinner, according to the Boot-of-the-Day I’m wearing.

  44. Mike
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    All they want now is a bit of “spit and polish” to bring them to a mirror finish and they’ll look a treat.

  45. rebscar
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Jerry. I really enjoyed learning how your boots are made and hats off to the craftspeople who made them. This series was a welcome respite to the news.

  46. cherrybombsim
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Cowboy boots are part of our sacred spiritual heritage down here! I’m fixin’ to round up my posse and protest this shameless cultural appropriation!

  47. Wayne Tyson
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    How much did they cost?

  48. Wayne Tyson
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Stay away from hills. Especially with your “last” pair . . .

  49. Posted July 11, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Late to the party; but WOW! Gorgeous!

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