Monday, May 12, 2014

Artefact Focus: 18th century shoes from the Joseph Box Collection at the Powerhouse Museum

I realised I haven't posted anything on my blog for over a month! I've been super busy with my PhD, but to make up for my absence I thought I'd post some photos of eighteenth-century shoes that are in the Powerhouse Museum's Joseph Box collection. Click the artefact description underneath the pictures to be taken to the museum catalogue.

Embroidered linen tie shoes, England, 1675-1725, Powerhouse Museum - H4448-55 
First we have this pair of shoes dated to the late 17th or early 18th century and were first exhibited in the Bethnal Green Museum Shoe Exhibition held in London, England in 1897. 


In curatorial notes from the Powerhouse Museum it is stated that these are: "a women's pair of straight tie shoes of white rand construction with fingertip pointed toes and covered Louis heels. Shoes consist of linen uppers embroidered with pink blue and yellow floral motifs featuring medium high tongue and small open sides with short un-pierced latchets to tie over the tongue. Side seams and edges are all bound with heel covered in matching fabric. Shoes lined in white kid with leather insole arrow shaped and turned over to form toe puff. Leather sole stitched in the channel."

Pair of embroidered linen laced shoes, 1685 - 1735, Powerhouse Museum - H4448-7
Secondly, and similar in appearance to the previous shoes, these are also a pair of women's straight laced shoes of rand construction with visible stitching and upcurved blunt pointed over a needlepoint toe, and with a covered Louis heel. The uppers of these shoes consist of embroidered linen, lined with silk and leather, featuring a high cut vamp with square tongue, under latchets tying in centre front, oblique side seams, centre back seam and leather soles. The edges are bound in pink silk.

Interestingly, although these are believed to have been made in England between 1705-1715, when footwear specialist June Swann was invited to view them at the Powerhouse Museum she noted that: "Although shoes were made "straight" and would normally have been swapped daily to equalise wear, each shoe has been pieced at the bunion joint where wear would be greatest, if worn continually on the same foot. There is no evidence the piecing was done after the present soles were attached. This suggests that the uppers were either made into shoes on a previous occasion (probably not before the late 17th century when women's toe shapes change to a point) or, less likely, that the uppers were pieced during the making of this pair. I suggest testing whether there is enough material in an early 17th century coif, which seems unlikely; they are probably made from a bodice. There is a smaller piece of piecing in the quarters. I am sure that, having been saved for almost 100 years, any embroidery not used in the making of a pair of shoes, would have continued to be saved, and would be available, say, a year or so later to piece and re-make this pair"

So it seems that the uppers on these shoes were possibly made from an older bodice or jacket? When I first saw them I noted in my mind that the embroidery motifs certainly do not resemble those of the eighteenth century. For example, if we take those given in the V&A's Seventeenth Century Women's Dress Patterns, which are taken from Randle Holme's The Academy of Armoury, as well as extant examples from their collection, it seems likely that the fabric used for the shoe uppers was from an older 17th century garment.


The shoe uppers that are decorated with a pattern of silver scrolls and silk flowers embroidered in the centres closely resemble extant 17th century garments such as these below:

Jacket - 1590-1630 - V&A - 919-1873

Jacket - England - 1600-1625 - V&A - 1359-1900
As an historian of the early modern period there are few surviving extant clothing examples, not only due to the age and fragility of these items, but also because many were remade into other items in later centuries (the nineteenth century was notoriously bad for this!). But that's not always a bad thing, as it can lead to garments with an interesting history likes these shoes.

Silk brocade buckle shoe, 1740 - 1749, Powerhouse Museum - H4448-85/1
Lastly, here is a pair of silk brocade buckle shoes dated to the 1740s. According to the Powerhouse Museum files these are "Women's straight buckle shoes of white rand construction with visible stitching, needlepoint toe and covered louis heel, white stitched. Shoe consists of petrel blue, ivory and pink silk brocade upper featuring rounded tongue, slightly pointed straps to buckle over tongue and short dog leg side seams at waist. Edges bound in olive silk with upper lined in linen and white kid and the insole of brown leather continuing into a toe puff. Heel is covered in matching silk brocade. Brown leather sole is flesh out and stitched in the channel."

The show also has some maker's markings. The sole is stamped with 1 + 2 rings: "U.CK", and the maker's inscription is on the liniing, "6 over 2 wharehouse".

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