Friday, September 28, 2012

Shoes Preserved Under Glass

As noted in prior posts,  certain industries and trades of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries made particular use of the glass paperweights as a means of advertising their merchandise.   Among them were steamships,  newspapers, funeral homes, automobiles, soft drink makers,  and the subject of this post:  shoe manufacturers.   These artifacts give us an enduring look at the shoe styles of yesteryear.

The women of the mid-to late 1900s now could buy their shoes through the growing number of department stores and other retail outlets.  While getting one feet shod by the local cobbler may have persisted in some quarters, for most Americans,  shoe were, as they said, “store bought.”

Women were accustomed to squashing their feet in tight shoes.  Their footwear buttoned at the side -- usually with help of a button hook --  had pointed toes and very high but somewhat blocky heels.   The Intervale Manufacturing Company of Haverhill, Massachusetts,  founded in 1882, clearly was designing for that market.  It emphasized the “hand sewn” nature of its tops and buttons,  reflecting an emphasis on craftsmanship.

The W.H. Goodger & Company of Rochester, New York,  displayed a similar lady’s button down shoe on its paperweight.   Its line was called “Famous Shoes” and the particular model “La Belle,”  illustrated by depicting a bell.   The Goodger folks also provided customers with a motto:   “No how cheap but how good.”  My assumption is that if  “La Wife”  wanted “La Belle,” it could be expensive.

The following weight shows a formal man’s shoe.  As we see here,  shoes for men were mostly over the ankle boots.  Toe cap, lace up boots in black, gray, or brown were the most common for everyday wear. Formal occasions called for formal boots with white uppers (spat style), they could be buttoned or, as the one shown here, laced.  This weight was made by the Graeser Mfg. Co. of Pittsburgh for V. Schoeneck Boot & Shoe Co. of Milwaukee, a city which once boasted at least a dozen shoe manufacturers.

Like Goodger,  the John Heckel Company was a Rochester, New York, manufacturer.  Heckel did not make the shoes, he made the steel shank that underlay the foot.  As he showed in his paperweight,  the steel shank kept the foot well supported while a shoe without his 1893 patented device apparently could lead to fallen arches.   Although this weight is not marked it looks was made by the Abrams Paper Weight Co., of Pittsburgh and other cities.

The Heywood Boot & Shoe Company for many years was one of America’s most successful.  Tracing its origins in Worchester, Massachusetts, back to the Civil War era (e.g. 1964),  the company featured an oxford toe, laced over the ankle man’s shoe,  a type that became popular in the late 1900s.  Among the company slogans was:  “Outside your foot steps in style, inside our footprint in leather.”   Making good shoes and advertising widely,  the Heywood Company survived two World Wars and the Great Depression, going out of business in 1953 due undoubtedly to foreign competition.

A similar shoe, only partly laced, was the product of the Dorsch Shoe Company.  Its paper weight tells us that it was located next the Engine House but neglects to tell us in what city.  In reality it was located in Newark, New Jersey.   Known as the makers of “The Bull Dog” shoe line,  the firm probably issued this weight about 1908.

Information about the origins of the Streng & Thalheimer firm are scanty.  They were a Louisville, Kentucky, outfit who claimed to be both manufacturers and jobbers (e.g. middle men) in the shoe trade.  Two brands are advertised on the weight,  “Squire Carter’s Glace” calf shoe and “Dr. Palmer’s XXXX” calf shoe.

It was rare for a woman’s name to be associated with a manufacturing enterprise in those days, but Mrs. A. R. King is prominently identified with the “The Kant Slip Shoe.”   Assuming she was an actual personage, she made her footwear in Lynn, Massachusetts, specializing in a low woman’s button shoe with a rubber bottom.   Her weight was a marked Abrams product, this one bearing a Mystic, Connecticut, address.

Although the next paper weight mentions a Rochester, New York, distributor, the manufacturer was Goodyear’s Rubber Glove Company, located in Connecticut.  As the story goes, the first vulcanized rubber overshoe was made in a factory in Naugatuck.  The daughter of inventor Charles Goodyear demonstrated the process for a group of highly impressed investors in 1843 and manufacturing began shortly after under a license granted by Mr. Goodyear.

Eventually there were four rubber companies in Naugatuck.  Goodyear himself invested in a company that moved from Litchfield, Connecticut, to Naugatuck and changed its name to the the one shown here.  In addition to the traditional rubber galoshes and boots, this firm manufactured rubber gloves for telegraph linemen.

The most colorful weight has been left for last.  It was issued by the Gray Bros. Manufacturing Company of Syracuse,  New York.  It shows a the white tip of a elegant example of footwear.  It seems far from the ordinary shoe.  My guess is that it was an opera boot, dress pump, or dancing slipper that readily would have been recognized by the women of the era.

There they are, ten glass paperweights, each one providing a glimpse at  what people walked around in a century or more ago.  A hundred years  from now I wonder:  Will future generations be just as astonished about a $600 pair of sneakers in our day as we are that our ancestors could pay as little as $3.50 for a Dorsch shoe?

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