This article describes the 19th-century glass slippers and boots pictured, noting which are the rarest and most desirable for collectors. It originally appeared in the June 1942 issue of American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.
In recent years collectors of antiques, particularly American, have displayed an ever-increasing tendency toward specialization. This may be due to the fact that our collecting tempo has steadily increased. So much so that the most sought after items can no longer be as readily acquired from owners of long-established households. Many of them have already passed into the possession of collectors or dealers. In any case, specialized collecting in these chaotic days is a cheering form of mental relaxation.
Apparently novelties in the form of little slippers and boots were made in many countries, both in glass and in china, over a long period of years. Just what material was used for the first of these interesting objects has not been established, but I am inclined to believe that the earliest may have been of blown glass.
There is a tradition that blown glass boots were made in England during the reign of George III in derision and ridicule of the Earl of Bute. While the former was still Prince of Wales, John Stuart, Earl of Bute, acquired great influence over him and indeed put into the head of that misguided and obstinate monarch an exaggerated idea of the powers of kingship which some years later was to cost him thirteen American colonies.
After George became king, his friend and confidant was raised to a position of importance, first becoming one of the principal Secretaries of State and then Prime Minister. He lasted about a year in the latter post. His private life was above reproach, but he was probably one of the worst public servants England has ever known. His policy was one of royal absolutism and his levying of excessively high taxes met with no favor in England. So great was his unpopularity with the people that in 1763 he was practically forced to resign as Prime Minister. It is quite possible that the slang phrase “boot him out” may have originated at this time.
There is an obvious difference between a slipper and a boot. According to the dictionary a boot is “a covering, usually of leather, for the foot and more or less of the leg.” In the United States, the word boot is distinctively applied to the form reaching at least well up on the leg. Otherwise, both here and in England, boot is a term generally used for any high cut shoe. Thus, a baby’s shoe is referred to as a bootee. A slipper of course is a low shoe, easily slipped on or off the foot.
Last January it was my good fortune to be able to have photographed the large and varied collection of four hundred and sixty-eight glass slippers and boots belonging to Mrs. Lloyd B. Wilson, for use in my forthcoming book. Mrs. Wilson has been a discriminating and avid collector and her collection is undoubtedly the most outstanding in this country today. From the examples shown here, one may get an excellent idea of the variety and scope of this phase of collecting. In Illustration I, we see three boots blown in bottle form and a fourth delicately swirled and in the shape of a rummer. The latter was a favorite in early days at hunt clubs.
In Illustration II may be seen a number of perfume bottles in the shape of Dutch slippers and also in boots. The Dutch slippers may be encountered frequently, though seldom in the tiny size pictured. The other forms pictured are more scarce. In Holland, years ago, blue china Dutch shoes filled with eau de cologne were seen in all shops carrying novelties for sale.
Rarities in large boots are pictured in Illustration III. The tallest measures 10 1/4 inches high and so far, has only been found in clear glass. The largest shoe bottle is pictured in the same illustration. It is a very elaborate frosted and clear high button shoe, resting on a hassock. Its total height is 12 inches. It is so similar to many French perfume bottles that one wonders if it may not have been imported. Its style would denote the time of our Philadelphia Centennial, in 1876.
A scarce and interesting shoe is the type shown by the last three examples, to the left, in Illustration IV. These are of “case” glass, a process of glassmaking which shows a white lining on the interior of the objects. All three of these shoes are decorated with applied leaves and small festoons of clear glass. Two are mottled in coloring and might easily be designated as “splash ware:” The third is a clear rose color.
Of considerable interest to glass collectors are the three pointed slippers to the right, in the same illustration. These appear to be china, but are of glass and two are hand decorated. There was a time when all such decorated wares were lumped under the heading of Bristol. An old catalogue issued by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Co., which has come into my possession since the publication of Sandwich Glass, pictures such a wide variety of painted glassware that I think items made by them may well have included slippers.
Among the rarest novelties in slippers are the little thimble holders. Four are pictured in Illustration V. They are exceedingly scarce today, doubtless due to their diminutive size, thereby causing them to be easily lost or overlooked. Two are slippers, in shape similar to our modern “mules.” They measure 2 1/4 inches in over-all length. These were made for the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, N. Y., and have been found in several colors. The little blue high shoe has white enameled lacings. The very dark one is in a deep amethyst, with frosted or satin finish. The detail is exceptionally fine. It is an oxford style, with four lacings. One wonders whether it could not have held a tiny scent or perfume bottle, rather than a thimble.
An indication of the popularity of blown glass boots in Europe, is shown by the two pictured in the center of Illustration VI. One carries a view in the City of Hamburg and is further embellished with gold decoration. The similar boot beside it is plain, with no decoration, but would appear to have been produced by the same company.
The two slippers at the right of the boots are both rarities. One is frosted and very nicely cut; the other is of heavy glass with a small applied decoration. All of the slippers display an interesting variation in the style of the heels. The last one described has a high “spike” heel. The over-all length of this slipper is 7 1/4 inches.
The two satin glass boots pictured in the same illustration to the left are standing on an oval base. The story accompanying these boots is that they were made at the Mt. Washington Glass Co. as a gift to the wife of one of the company officials for her new baby, by one of the glassworkers. They are said to be the only pair made of that kind and that they were produced in 1883. I cannot vouch for this story. If it is true, then the mold for the boots must have been destroyed. It will be interesting to learn whether any others like them ever come to light.
The Daisy and Button slipper shown in the center of Illustration VII is attached to the oblong tray, which is in the Fishscale pattern. This design was originally made by the old Bryce Bros. Company of Pittsburgh, where it was known by the trade name of “Coral.” This slipper on the tray is difficult to find today, though I have seen it in crystal and in colors. In the Bryce Bros. catalogue, it was labeled as an ash tray.
The boot to the right of the tray is in an opaque blue. It is decorated with a leaf pattern and has a diamond point design on the heel. This is one of the rarest boots pictured. The high shoe with the tongue hanging downward is equally hard to find. It is in amber and has hobnails edging the sole. The baby’s bootee next to it is in an opaque color and has a dainty, lacy pattern. Some of these smaller boots and bootees were designed to be used as match holders and also as toothpick holders.
The boot salt and pepper shakers with pewter tops, shown in Illustration VIII, are fairly scarce items. They are seen in crystal as well as with a frosted finish. They were probably made at the time of the Centennial in Philadelphia. I have heard that similar boots were produced having screw tops and a handle in addition, and that they were sold filled with candy. Another style had a pewter top with a lid designed to be used as a mustard jar.
There is an almost unlimited field of action for the collectors of old slippers and boots: For instance, some shoes may be found in pairs, with a right and a left shoe. Then there are those bearing the names of the manufacturer. One sometimes found marked is the Centennial Exhibition (1876) slipper produced by Gillinder & Sons of Philadelphia.
A curiosity is the “Depression” shoe bottle with screw cap, put out during the depression in 1893 and said to have been given away at Christmas filled with whiskey, by hotels. We wonder! Then there are the Daisy and Button slippers which were designed to hold bottles of perfume. Several styles are pictured in Illustration VIII.
Shoe lamps having a small round handle at the side may be found marked “Pat. June 30-1888.” These occur in blue, amber and in crystal. There are also those slippers bearing paper labels, some advertising old-time shoe stores. It is no wonder that enterprising present-day shoe manufacturers find the collecting of these glass novelties a fascinating hobby.
This article originally appeared in American Collector magazine, a publication which ran from 1933-1948 and served antique collectors and dealers.