Saturday, June 23, 2012

What is in a Label? London Cordwainers Identify Work

Excerpt from 
"Silkbrocade: The Commoditization of the London Georgian Shoe and 
Its Reception in Colonial America"
Kimberly S. Alexander, Ph.D.
University of New Hampshire
Durham, NH. USA
Fashioning the City Symposium, Royal College of Art, London
September 2012
Part 1: Thomas Ridout and James Davis
In the world of the Georgian London shoe trade, the survival of dozens of labeled ladies shoes in North American collections  provides a unique opportunity for the costume historian. Having examined an abundance of these shoes, ranging from the 1740s-1810s, the focus of this post will be on two well- established cordwainers and what their labels reveal.

Working both independently and in partnership, James Davis and Thomas Ridout, affixed labels to their shoes by the mid-18th century. Stylistically, the labels are round or feature a "shield" set within the roundel. The border is simple, although, in the example of Mehitable Rindge Rogers (1725-1803) shoe (c.1760-1770) by Davis, the treatment has a more baroque flourish. (Warner House, Portsmouth, NH. USA) The label notes that the shop location was near Aldgate and research reveals that this was in the heart of the Ward of the Cordwainer. Indeed, Ridout and Davis were no doubt at the height of their production, when, in 1763, the late Medieval Aldgate was taken down.

The very existence of labeled work attests to issues surrounding professionalization, recognition and advertising. Further, for those shoes destined for the export trade, the existence of a label may have been a distinguishing factor for tariff payments on British goods. Ladies shoes are frequently listed separately on ship's manifests, cargo lists and Custom House records in seaport cities such as Salem, MA. and Portsmouth, NH.

Illustrations courtesy of
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Warner House, Historic Deerfield

The author thanks Tara Vose, Emma Hope, Bridget Swift, Carolyn Roy, Ned Lazaro and Tom Hardiman for their ongoing assistance.

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