Friday, April 24, 2015

Eliza Lucas Pinckney's Very Special London Shoes, 1760s-1770s

A diminutive pair of pale blue silk shoes adorned with a profusion of costly metallic braid or lace clad the feet of Eliza Pinckney (1722-1793) sometime in the 1760s or 1770s. (They are 6.75 inches in length with a heel a smidge over 2 inches in height.) It is certainly fair to note that these light blue silk satin shoes are distinctive. The fact that we have the name of the wearer of these elegant pumps, Eliza Lucas Pinckney, places them into the category of rare and significant clothing survivals.
Made in London, they bear the label of the Cordwainer Thomas Hose, whose shop was located in the heart of the Cordwainer's Ward on Lombard Street. A well-articled geometrical pattern was created by the careful placement of metallic braid. (This is especially striking in the outline of the heel and culminates in a stylized floral motif at the vamp.) The design is intriguing – for example, the slender Louis heel is made to appear even more slender by the placement of the braid.

In an unusual treatment, and offering further evidence that the shoes were a costly item, much of the interior was lined with two separate striped silks of a salmon pink and white, and an olive and tan. Silk also lines the underside of the tongue, though this detail is found more frequently in high-end shoes of the time. It often goes unnoticed due to damage of this delicate area. The treatment of the inside of Eliza's shoes offer an instant visual 'pop' and in this case, the like of which I have yet to see so fully treated. It is of interest because she (and perhaps one or two intimates, such as her husband) would be the only one to notice this inside detailing.

Eliza was married to Charles Pinckney, lawyer, judge and member of the House of Commons. Eliza is best known for her perseverance and success with her father’s indigo crop, ultimately making it a prosperous crop in the Lowcountry (South Carolina) until the war.

Of particular interest is the use and placement of the metallic braid, which was a treatment seen several decades earlier but the heel shape places the shoe in the 1760s-1770s range. The cordwainer Thomas Hose moved the family business from Rose Street, Cheapside, to Lombard Street at the “sign of the boot” in 1769-70.[1] These are almost certainly bespoke shoes, designed for specially for Eliza. One suspects that perhaps the pale blue silk was a nod to her indigo crop – although that is merely speculation at this point. It is interesting to note that Eliza spent five years in England from 1753-1758 for the education of her children, while her husband served as a colonial agent. Could they date from that time – when she was in her 30s and enjoying the London social life and high profile entertaining? [2]
I ended a nearly five year pilgrimage to view these shoes in person on April 21, 2015. My appreciation to Jan Hiester, the Charleston Museum Curator of Textiles, for her generous assistance. Continued thanks to Colin Hose and Linda Pardoe for so generously sharing information on the Hose family.

All illustrations are courtesy of the Charleston Museum.


An abundance of material regarding Eliza Lucas Pinckney is available online and in print, including readily available copies of The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1739-1762. Ed. Elise Pinckney
1 Thomas Hose (b. abt. 1734 – d. December 12, 1787), apprenticed to his father, John. In 1769, he inherited the business in his father’s will. He was in his mid-30s. Shortly thereafter, he moves the business to Lombard Street. By c. 1770-1787, trade directories show that Thomas senior was in business with his son Thomas junior at 33 Lombard Street, “The Sign of the Boot.” For more, see my Portsmouth Athenaeum Journal article here:

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