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Treasures Afoot

, 248 pages

99 color photos, 10 b&w illus.

September 2018



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Treasures Afoot

Shoe Stories from the Georgian Era


In Treasures Afoot, Kimberly S. Alexander introduces readers to the history of the Georgian shoe. Presenting a series of stories that reveal how shoes were made, sold, and worn during the long eighteenth century, Alexander traces the fortunes and misfortunes of wearers as their footwear was altered to accommodate poor health, flagging finances, and changing styles. She explores the lives and letters of clever apprentices, skilled cordwainers, wealthy merchants, and elegant brides, taking readers on a colorful journey from bustling London streets into ship cargo holds, New England shops, and, ultimately, to the homes of eager consumers.

We trek to the rugged Maine frontier in the 1740s, where an aspiring lady promenades in her London-made silk brocade pumps; sail to London in 1765 to listen in as Benjamin Franklin and John Hose caution Parliament on the catastrophic effects of British taxes on the shoe trade; move to Philadelphia in 1775 as John Hancock presides over the Second Continental Congress while still finding time to order shoes and stockings for his fiancée’s trousseau; and travel to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1789 to peer in on Sally Brewster Gerrish as she accompanies President George Washington to a dance wearing a brocaded silk buckle shoe featuring a cream ground and metallic threads.

Interweaving biography and material culture with full-color photographs, this fascinating book raises a number of fresh questions about everyday life in early America: What did eighteenth-century British Americans value? How did they present themselves? And how did these fashionable shoes reveal their hopes and dreams? Examining shoes that have been preserved in local, regional, and national collections, Treasures Afoot demonstrates how footwear captures an important moment in American history while revealing a burgeoning American identity.

Historian Kimberly S. Alexander, a former curator at the MIT Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, and Strawbery Banke, teaches material culture and museum studies at the University of New Hampshire.

"Alexander's use of selected surviving shoes to tell historical stories, as well as her considerable research to document the tales she spins out, makes this book accessible for both casual audiences and historians."

"A fresh approach that provides a good bridge between scholarship and people-stories that bring artifacts to life."

"In this lavishly illustrated, meticulously researched book, Kimberly Alexander tells the fascinating, hitherto untold story of the shoe in early America—of the cordwainers who made them, the factors who advertised and sold them, the men and women who bought them, and, eventually, the museums that catalogued and displayed them. Treasures Afoot is a must-read for anyone interested in the material culture of the founding era."

"Treasures Afoot is a much-needed work on Georgian shoes, blending historic research and biography with material objects, elevating the importance of footwear from a dress accessory to a central element of an entire wardrobe. Alexander's book is a must-read for costume and shoe historians and sets a precedent for future scholars."

"Kimberly Alexander brings the history of Georgian era shoes to vivid life in prose as lively as the purple silk and red wool used to make them. She traces shoemakers from London to the colonies, to sophisticated American consumers as bold in their fashion choices as their politics. A must read in eighteenth-century fashion history."

"Alexander’s book is a time machine that transports the reader, vividly evoking the workshops of the finest shoemakers of eighteenth-century London, then following their coveted shoes across the Atlantic to explore the lives of those who longed for, bought, and wore their fine footwear. Treasures Afoot is a glinting mine, a trove rich with photographs and illustrations of sumptuous shoes and silks. I didn’t know how good a history book could be until I read this one."

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