The most important remark that I can make is to express genuine appreciation for the gentlemen who do indeed care for fine shoes; it is because of them that we are not engulfed by the rising tide of inferior goods. These gentlemen are, no doubt, as cultivated and as discerning in other areas of interest, so it should not be a surprise that they cleave to quality in our chosen field.
To the best of my knowledge the Ventilated Mesh Spectator, an exclusively American invention, appears to have been made in America by two firms only, Jarman or Roblee, and sold under different manufacturers and retailers names, and were brought to market under the labels of myriad shoe stores small and large, coast to coast. Production of this type of Spectator began in the 1930s and came to an end in the 1960s.
This shoes appears to be an exception because of the “fiddle vamp”, an unusual detail in this type of shoe and most likely to have been special ordered by the client through Banister. The 7-Eyelet too suggests an manufacture, perhaps the early 1930s. All in all, this is a very handsome and subdued example of this traditional spectator and one that shows beautifully under the right trousers -indeed, it is the only shoe for a certain wardrobe- while never crossing the line into ostentation.“More Two-Tone Oxfords were sold this season than ever before“, announces the advertisement for a dapper pair of Spectators in the Sears Roebuck & Co. catalogue from the year 1928/29. (more imagines here)
There is one difference however, something a little obscure, that for many collectors sets shoes apart from other clothing. Certainly my gentlemen clients are among the best dressed men in the world and certainly they pay the greatest attention to tailoring and accessories but shoes, or so it seems to me, have an “object value”, by which I mean that, while a suit handing in a closet -even the best suit- is a limp and uninviting thing waiting to be inhabited before it can show its fine cut and colour, a pair of shoes needs nothing but a place of honour to be appreciated for its form and precision, indeed it is better appreciated in the hand than on the foot. “Object value”; the shoe is a sculptural thing, with its own fixed shape and with a tremendous concentration of craftsmanship and –though it may be of another time- technology.
A good example of form with the minimum of decoration is this alligator treasure from FootJoy. In short, witness the displays of shoes in the best vitrines of the world; they are worthy of any museum. And the customer for great shoes, especially vintage shoes, is he who appreciated beauty wherever it can be found.
If we are to be candid, there is an economic component to the collection of vintage shoes; the value for money is significantly greater in vintage than for new contemporary shoes. For the same quality -if you can find it at all- you will pay far more for a modern shoe, and gentlemen who are experience with bespoke and fine ready-to-wear shoes recognize the extraordinary bargain represented by vintage shoes, many of which are made to what would be a bespoke standard today.
As to the most valuable shoes I have ever sold I will comment only to say that they never appeared in my website. Such items are sold to advanced collectors with standing orders for any extreme rarities. The gentlemen in question quite understandably guard their identities jealously and the publication of the photos of these shoes is reserved for my forthcoming book. As in most things, rarity, beauty, condition and historical significance determine value. Preserving and documenting extinct brands or important work by past masters is the passion of the serious collector and I am pleased to say that many such items are to be found in my website under “Collectors Shoes”
“The earliest version of the gentleman’s ankle boot, the pointed-toe version seen here, can be dated to mid-century and was made by one of the earliest American shoe making firms, the Edwin Clapp firm of East Weymouth Mass. Clapp began it operations as a textile mill in the first quarter of the 19th century, provided uniforms during Civil War. After surviving a catastrophic fire and a subsequent bankruptcy Clapp transformed itself in the middle of the century into a shoemaking operation and remained in operation, to my knowledge, until at least 1969. For much of the early 20th century, the Clapp shoe was synonymous with luxury and considered the panicle of the shoemaker’s craft. Their products were favoured by musicians and other celebrities, businessmen, and well dressed men of leisure. Jelly Roll Morton, speaking of jazz and turn of the century life in New Orleans, remarked in a 1938 recording now preserved in the Library of Congress, “I didn’t rest until I got myself a Stetson hat and a pair of Edwin Clapp shoes”. Clapp sold its products through regular trade channels but also operated two retail stores of their own in New York.” more imagines here
As I delve ever deeper into the subject, the products of small, obscure workshops and masters, past and present comes to my attention. The great English, American and Central European shoemakers are well known and for good reason but, in comparison, the miniscule output of certain great local craftsmen goes unsung. These are my present interest and I hope to collect and display more of their masterpieces in my website.
Many use bygone shoemaking techniques, the Goiser construction and the similar “true” Norwegian construction, the use of wooden nails and other nowadays unusual hand-production methods. These are naturally of interest to the collector both from the technical perspective and the esthetic. A superb example of the type, hand-sewn, is a mid-century rarity by the great Florsheim.
The three basic shoes, if a gigantic field can be so drastically distilled, would still depend upon the person whom they were to serve. Presuming the person arrived utterly new to this question, I would recommend the Black Cap-Toe Oxford (unbrogued), the Brown Suede Full Brogue (Oxford or Derby) and the Brown or Cordovan Monk. These three shoes should accommodate day and night, business and leisure, town and country. One would soon tire of this meager selection, of course, but they would be at least “adequate” to any occasion….and let me re-emphasize to this theoretical newcomer to shoes, this chap who has just emerged barefoot from the jungle, buy the best quality of these three shoes you can afford. If you have only three shoes, that had better be great shoes. Here, in what we like to call civilization, people are watching!
Giuseppe Marini established his workshop in Rome in 1899. The business continues uninterrupted in the same street and still in family hands, now in the third generation.A fixture in the life of the city, Marini’s shop and workrooms have attracted luminaries of the silver screen such as Marcello Mastroianni, Gregory Peck, Anna Magnani, Robert De Niro and Sergio Leone as well as such celebrities as Gianni Agnelli and others who frequent this superior bespoke shoemaker to the exclusion of all others. This model, the Wing-Tip Brogued Loafer is emblematic of the custom-made shoe and has only recently been offered by better producers ready-made. This shoe is hand lasted (notice the slightly squared and chiseled toe box, hand welted (that is to say that the sole is sewn to the welt by hand) and the quality of the leather is such that it has taken on a patina of great beauty, almost the finish of an old piece of mahogany furniture. No modern shoe and certainly no new shoe can offer the depth and richness of colour of this masterpiece. more imagines here.
The once great Stacy-Adams firm of shoemakers, established in 1875 in Brockton, Massachusetts, has long since devolved into a mass-marketer of low-end shoes. But until the 1960s they were a shoemaker to contend with, producing, as seen here, classic pre-war models on traditional early 20th century (and earlier) lasts. The long curve of the last and the 6-eyelet vamp are earmarks of their style, a style preferred by exceptionally well dressed American men of the early and mid-century. In spite of its excellent, even superior, properties, a tensile strength ten time stronger than cowhide, the use of Kangaroo skin is mostly restricted to custom shoe making today and to a few specialty bootmakers. Its uniformly oriented fibre bundles allow it to be split thinner than cowhide and retain remarkable strength; in shoemaking this makes for a lighter and more durable shoe and an extraordinarily comfortable one. Kangaroo was widely in use in the first half of the 20th century and well regarded for it light weight, malleability and conformity to the foot. Indeed some say the Kangaroo leather shoe will spoil the wearer for any other leather. The Kangaroo leather used by Stacy-Adams was from Australian tanners, plentiful at the time but hardly available today. The age of these shoes and their fine condition is witness to the durability of this superb material. more imagines here
Little need be said about this good shoemaker, neither the family run shop in London nor its branch opened in Paris at the beginning of the last century and acquired by Hermès in 1976. John Lobb is of course, the premiere workshop for traditional English Shoes and stands noticeably above even the other superior shoemakers such as Church´s or Crockett & Jones, Alden, Weston etc., and along with Edward Green and (I believe) the old Peal & Co., is in the top category of shoemakers in the world. Ready made shoes from Lobb are in the $1200-1600 category and bespoke shoes like these about three to four times that price. Shoe trees alone are now 465 Pounds Sterling ($600 thereabouts) http://www.johnlobbltd.co.uk/main/pricelist.htm .The present shoe is a superb example of the great traditions of shoemaking and, for being made of horsehide (Shell Cordovan), a great rarity even among Lobb’s bespoke shoes and a object of history that anticipates by 20 years the great popularity of shell cordovan in Europe today. Considering that Lobb’s bespoke shoes are made by a variety of “cottage” contractors and vary in style of hand-work and construction, a word needs to be said about this particular shoe. The sculpted form of sole and moulded instep are to my eye as close to perfection in shoemaking as I have seen. This shoe is a prize for the advanced collector. (more imagines here)