Thursday, October 9, 2014

George Washington Orders London Shoes for Mrs. Washington…..

Miss Mary Flint Spofford Wedding Shoes, English, c. 1765
Historic Deerfield; photo by Penny Leveritt
Martha Washington asked her husband, George, to purchase hers from London; Dorothy Quincy received them as a gift from her fiancé, John Hancock, while he was in Philadelphia “on business” in 1775. What was this special token requested by these two women and purchased by countless others? Calamanco shoes. Calamanco (there are many variations on the spelling such as callimanco, calimanco, callamanca) is a worsted wool with a glazed surface which could come in a variety of weaves including plain, damasked and brocaded. It was popular for petticoats, waistcoats, bed coverings and other household items the throughout 18th century. Orders for calamanco textiles show up in countless account books and references to the shoes in countless advertisements. Calamanco shoes were very popular in New England, as they offered more warmth and durability than silk. Advertisements in newspapers in Salem, Boston and Portsmouth, make it clear that they were produced in large quantities in Lynn, MA. by the mid-18th century. However, many consumers (with financial wherewithal) preferred to purchase their calamancos from Great Britain rather than from American cordwainers. Despite their large numbers, calamancos are now a relatively scarce shoe to find in New England collections, most likely due to their hard wear and “work a day” appearance in comparison with the delicate, elegant silk “special occasion” shoes.
A pair of black callimanca pumps for Mrs. Washington. George Washington to John Didsbury, London, Boot & Shoemaker, 10th August 1764. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.
The rosy red calamanco wedding shoes (top) are special survivals. Purchased in England, by 1765, Miss Mary Flint Spofford donned them for her wedding in South Danvers, MA. Historic Deerfield (; Accession #2004.46) holds these cheerful calamancos and another equally interesting pair.  Wealthy Peck Bardwell’s pink baby shoes (c. 1763) are particularly fine examples.More here 

Looking at these shoes adds to our understanding of the breadth of type of shoe available - for a price - to the British American consumer.

Calamanco baby shoes, c. 1763
Historic Deerfield; photo by Penny Leveritt

For more information on a breakdown of shoe type found in newspaper advertisements, see: Nicole Rudolph
Calamanco shoes top the list.

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