This is a pair of vintage basketball shoes, circa 1910s, hand constructed of leather and heavy canvas. These early high top models were built in the “Blucher cut” style commonly associated with boots, and predate the introduction of rubber soles.
They are just one set of over 150 items on display in the first-ever museum exhibition on the Black Fives Era, at the New York Historical Society from March 14 to July 20, 2014.
Early basketball shoes were cut, machined, fabricated, stitched, and finished by hand. Midsoles had not yet been introduced and instead of rubber, basketball outsoles were of standard shoe leather.
The uppers of high-end basketball shoe models were often made of best quality kangaroo calf leather, whose tensile strength and suppleness after being split were far superior to cowhide. These qualities made kangaroo ideal for a game that required durable material that was also flexible.
As an alternative fabrication, basketball shoemakers introduced canvas, a light weight textile with similar performance qualities to kangaroo leather, and reinforced the construction with leather banding.
Later, rubber suction outsoles were pioneered by companies like the Converse Rubber Company and A.G. Spalding & Bros., the the leading basketball shoemaker as well as the market share leader for all sporting goods equipment.
In our opinion, these would make a nice pair of downtown hipster shoes today.