Let us talk about shoes. Yes, shoes. There will be no mention in this article of the 19 word or unrest or politics. There are many other sources for that. We will discuss vintage shoes. Classic American shoes. Shoes made with leather. From a horse. The horse might have been from France or Quebec but no matter, it gave its life for these shoes. And maybe a steak or hamburger as well.
This is a bittersweet post. I loved this pair of shoes. But their time came. And that time was in mid-February. It was a different time. I worked in an office. With people. There was an espresso maker. And a high-tech automated beverage machine with touch-screen display that dispensed four flavors of waters with selectable levels of carbonation and sweetness.
“They look dry”, I thought to myself that day. Then I noticed a crack. And then another. This happens with vintage Shell Cordovan shoes. When Shell goes, it seems to go all at once. There was a brief period of denial. Soon after anger and bargaining showed up. Depression followed that. Months later came acceptance. And then a plan to dissect the pair. I needed to learn more about Nettleton construction. We needed this. Yes. “It’s science” as Ron Burgundy once told me.
At one time, Syracuse, New York-based Nettleton was one of the premier shoe manufacturers in the United States of America (USA). This pair likely was produced in their factory in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Nettleton’s slogan was “The Slowest Made Shoes in America.“ Slow is good for beef brisket or a eephus pitch but not so good at when trying to make money producing shoes. Nettleton went through several ownership changes from the mid-1960s on before finally closing its Syracuse factory in 1984. I did some research on the firm and found out that their employees worked onsite. They did not work from a home office and they had no video conferencing capabilities. Strange.
My plan was to cut one shoe in half. More on that later. The other shoe was to be disassembled using a cobbler knife and a pair of pliers like I did with a pair of Florsheim 93605. This process began with the removal of the substantial Nettleton heel.
The heel was a single block constructed out of three leather pieces and attached to the outsole with thirteen nails.
Nettleton used a round metal plug instead of a v-cleat in the heel. Allen Edmonds also used a similar heel in the 1960s. Taking apart the heel, I was a bit surprised that the plug was fairly shallow. It did not extend past the top lift.
On the top of the heel was imprinted “Montello Heel Co”. I was surprised that this company still exists (I am easily surprised). Montello Heel Company continues to make heels in Brockton MA. They have done so since 1908. In fact, they make the heels for Alden and Allen Edmonds. Which is the entire remaining US dress shoe industry. Most of the heels in vintage pairs (including Florsheim), were purchased from suppliers like Montello. Heel blocks came as a single unit and ready to use. They were attached to a pair and excess material was trimmed off.
The hefty double leather outsole was next, and it came off quickly using a blade to slice through the sole stitching.
Underneath the outsole was cork filling and a steel shank. The steel shank was attached to a firm piece of leather which might be a leather shank or additional midsole support.
I was able to remove the leather reverse storm welt by basically pulling out the welt stitching. That revealed a thick leather insole.
Along with the Syracuse shoe factory, Nettleton maintained facilities for their corporate office workers. This space included a sizable room with an expansive wooden desk surrounded by chairs. These office workers would sit in the chairs, look at charts and discuss business topics. The space was known as a “conference room”. It was quite popular and was, at times, hard to book. When unavailable, schedulers would become annoyed and claim the lack of availability impacted the company’s ability to conduct important business. I have uncovered no evidence though that these conference room scheduling issues directly resulted in the demise of the firm.
Instead of attaching the welt to canvas gemming glued to the insole, Nettleton channeled the leather insole to create a rib and stitched the welt to this leather rib. Canvas gemming was glued behind the channel and must have acted as a reinforcement. Insole channeling is the method used by Viberg on their boots. Viberg has a good description of the process on their website.
The heel counters are made of stiff leather board (I believe).
The lining was comprised of two types of leather. The rear lining is soft kip skin. The vamp lining is thicker, perforated veg-tanned leather.
Removing the leather lining revealed a cotton faced Shell Cordovan upper. The dark purple stains on the medallion area cotton indicated that Nettleton added additional stain to the upper during the manufacturing process.
You can see the original color of the Shell Cordovan in the areas that were below the welt. It looks like Horween Color 4 but that is a guess.
All the various pieces that made up the pair were marked with “55703”. I assume this was the order number.
Further research on Nettleton revealed that after work, many employees went to a place called “the bar”. There they would be served alcoholic beverages. By a barkeep or bartender. The employees felt more comfortable to speak freely at the bar. They recounted humorous stories to current and former coworkers. They might complain about their work, coworkers, and leadership. Occasionally one of the employees enjoyed the bar and the drinks too much. He got home and fell asleep on the couch in his work clothes (in bygone days, work clothes were clothes people wore to work). He woke up at 3:00am and desperately needed water. The next day, he vowed this would not happen again. He broke this vow the next day.
Inspiration for cutting the second shoe in half came from the Rose Anvil Youtube channel. Which is very entertaining. But unlike the guy in the videos, I did not have an amazingly sharp blade that can seemingly cut through any material. I used a hack saw. This took some time. I also don’t have a cat. But my dog is just as unhelpful.
The midsole leather materials were about three quarters of an inch thick. The amount of quality leather used in the pair was impressive. The weight of just one of the shoes was 30 ounces. That is five ounces more than a similarly sized Alden 975. And two ounces more than vintage Florsheim Imperial 93605.
I don’t know what Nettleton charged for a pair back in the day but if you were to buy a pair of similarly constructed Shell Cordovan Viberg shoes or boots today, they would set you back about $1000. While that is a lot of money, at least you can buy a pair of Viberg shoes. Finding another pair of Nettleton Traditionals 0208 for sale in your size and in excellent condition is almost impossible. And that’s what makes the loss of these shoes sad for me.
Hope you enjoyed the article. Leave a comment. Below are a few more photos.