If the shoe fits

Back in the new days of the old Esquirem magazine there was an artist named Petty who drew girlie pictures. He had much talent, and we were told his daughter was his model.Today, the Petty girls wouldn't cause much of a ripple, but they were fairly advanced graphics in their time. It is not for this that I remember him; he once painted a picture of a shoe, and it took me some 15 years to wear that shoe out. The matter comes to mind every time I think on the present price of footwear.

I grew up in a shoemaking town, the same town in which Mr. Leon Leonwood Bean made his famous Maine Hunting Shoe and built it into a many-millioned mail-order business. Mr. Bean was then on the earlier part of his first million, and his factory was an improbable makeshift in the original opry-house of the community. There was no effort in those days to carry on a retail store, so no arrangement was provided to greet the occasional tourist who wandered in. The theater's stage was storage for hides; fishing flies were tied in a one-time dressing room. If unaccustomed to the Bean layout, you could wander around for an hour trying to find a way out. You'd come upon ladies stitching canoe shoes, and upon men putting buckles on snowshoe harnesses. In what, I think, was the ticket booth, Raymond Stowell had his office, and as a boy I would stop in now and then to visit him. Mr. Bean called Raymond a "buyer," but he was more than that -- his advice and assistance had much to do with the success of L. L. Bean, Inc.

An early Bean quality shoe was a Scotch- grain Oxford that stayed in the catalog many years. Artist Petty had bought a pair of these shoes, found them pleasing, and wrote a little letter to Mr. Bean commending him for his product. The letter was used in promoting sales of that shoe, and thus Mr. Petty became a proud member of the L. L. Bean effort.

One day I peeked in on Raymond Stowell. He looked up from his desk of papers to say, "What's your shoe size?"

"Ten-D, why?"

"Don't ask me why, just give me three dollars."

It wasn't every day, then, that I had three dollars, but that day I did, and I handed them over to Raymond without any notion of what was being transacted. Then Raymond said, "Go to the front lobby and tell Jim Cushing to give you a pair of the Petty shoes."

Jim did, and I had the finest pair of shoes of my life and with a few trips to a cobbler it served me, as I say, some 15 years. Three dollars! Now, the explanation:

Artist Petty was a golfer, and when he bought his Scotch-grain shoes from Bean, their style and quality gave him an idea for some golfing shoes. He thereupon went to his easel and lavished all his gift and gouache, hitherto reserved for Esquirem readers, on a portrait of a pair of golfing shoes. The shoes, thanks to his care, were as artistically handsome in their own way as any girl he ever drew. Then he sent the painting to Mr. Bean with a letter than ran like this:

"I am so pleased with your Scotch-grain Oxford that I have taken the liberty of adapting it to a golfing shoe, as per enclosed illustration.If you can make me a shoe like this, I will take one dozen in size 10-D."

Raymond Stowell had such a shoe made for Artist Petty, but ordered two dozen. The factory sent the two dozen along in a week or so, one dozen was shipped to Mr. Petty at $24.00 the pair, and in a few days Mr. Petty wrote that he was delighted. And he should have been. Using the extra good quality leather of the Oxfords, plus the two-inch crepe-rubber soles that were like fleecy summer clouds, the factory had faithfully followed his picture. The price of $24.00 a pair was exorbitant for those times, but Mr. Petty had his private shoes and he could afford them. The cost price to L. L. Bean was $3.00 a pair. Twelve friends of Raymond Stowell, whose foot sizes were also Mr. Petty's foot size, thus came to own some Petty shoes at a pittance. For some years the Petty painting of a pair of golfing shoes, framed, was on the wall of Raymond's office.

That morning when Raymond took my $3.00 and told me about Artist Petty's $24. 00 bargains, he added, "Don't ever spend more than three dollars for a pair of shoes -- the best shoes made can be made for three dollars."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.