People who think footwear is collectible may be taking a step in the right direction. Not only are there more than a century of shoes to choose from, there is the related material in the form of boxes, advertising, premiums, catalogs, accessories and signs.
People who specifically collect shoes generally fall into two categories – those who display them and those who wear them.
Footwear collected for display has long been a significant category. Decorators regularly seek out shoes, boots and other vintage clothing to be used to accent a room. “Shoes are one of the great indictors of prevailing fashions and often delineate a specific era even more than the garments,” notes Maryanne Dolan author of Vintage Clothing, 1880 to 1980. “Each time (period) has its typical footwear.”
Most experts start the collectible period for shoes in the 1880s or 1890s. Older shoes and boots are rare and likely found only in museums.
A woman of fashion in the 1890s would likely have a fine pair of hightop boots which either laced or buttoned to close. Generally the lady’s footwear had slightly rounded toes and medium high heels. There were some white leather boots, but most were a highly polished black.
In 1908 the Sears and Roebuck catalog boasted selling 20,000 pairs of shoes daily. That year the catalog offered several pages of selections including the Esmeralda hightop for women, World’s Champion Baseball shoes for men, and Kangaroo shoes for children “made expressly for tender feet.”
“The high lace top or button boots of this time are much sought after and can frequently be found in respectable, wearable condition,” according to The Consumer’s Guide to Vintage Clothing by Terry McCormick. “However, when you finally find one to fit your foot, it can be a shock to discover that it’s virtually impossible to close it at the ankle.” Feet may have evolved somewhat over the years, but the shoes were likely uncomfortable for the original owner too.
One of America’s legendary shoe brands, Buster Brown, had its origins in the latter 19th century when George Brown began mass-producing shoes in the Midwest. The Buster Brown brand for children was launched at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and became a major success. Also a hit at the fair that year were Red Goose Shoes. They were a product of, the Gieseke Shoe Company also founded many years earlier to meet a growing market.
Among the emerging children’s shoe companies of the 1920s and 1930s were the Peters Shoe Company and their “all leather for all weather” Weather Birds, and famed Poll Parrot brand from the Parrot Shoe Company. These three children’s shoe brands in particular and the surge for the market in general produced a vast variety of children’s clickers, comic books, whistles, pin-back buttons, and other premiums.
Buster Brown, for one, “advertised extensively, gave away millions of novelties and comic books, and offered a wide variety of premiums that today furnish collectors with a multitude of collecting options,” points out Ted Hake author of Hake’s Guide to Advertising Collectibles.
Pin-back buttons were an especially attractive medium of advertising for Buster Brown during the first half of the 20th century. Examples include Buster Brown Blue Ribbon Shoes and the Buster Brown Bilt Club.
In the 1950s Poll Parrot began sponsorship of the Howdy Doody Show on television and thus began distribution of a special line of related premiums. Among the giveaways were rings, Poll Parrot’s Howdy Doody photo album, and Howdy’s campaign cap.
In other areas there was a Red Goose wristwatch, Peters Classic Shoes pocket mirror, Nolan’s Fine Shoes trade card calendar, and the Anderson Shoe Company catalog of 1918 offering 110 styles direct to the buyer at home.
Beyond the basic shoe-related items, collectors can also select from toy banks, coloring books, key chains, clocks, thermometers, and even greeting cards.
Much of the material used at the retail site of commercial shoe sales is available including signs, figurals, displays, and even rugs once used to proudly proclaim the name of a famous brand of shoes.
It is rare to find classic old shoes without at least some wear, or cherished premiums as mint as they were when first passed to eager children. But for the most part look for shoes and shoe-related material to be in the best condition possible.
There are exceptions even in the world of collectible footwear. In recent years Kovels Antiques and Collectibles newsletter reported the sale of a Selz Shoes sign depicting famed early 20th century baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson. “When he wears them, Shoeless Joe Jackson wears Selz Shoes,” declared the sign. Even in poor condition it brought $1,000. And in the highly collectible shoe-related advertisement Shoeless Joe wasn’t wearing any shoes.
Shoe store chairs which promote Selz Shoes, Chicago
Hanan & Son women’s shoes, black, ca. 1930s
Pair of child’s lace shoes, white, with box
Plastic sign featuring Buster Brown and Tige, store site display