A Cautionary Tale – Patent Leather

This is a sad tale, and it is not pretty.

You might remember these shoes that I posted about a couple of weeks ago.  They were a gift from Monica Murgia.  When she sent these, she included a second pair, identical in styling, but differing in color.  They were black patent leather with cherry red leather ties, and unfortunately, they were ruined due to poor storage.

The shoes were stored in the original box, wrapped in what was most likely the original tissue.  And while I love finding things in the original packaging, it is usually not good for the item, especially when the item is made of a sensitive substance like patent leather.  Shoe boxes and most tissue contain acids which can cause a lot of damage to textiles and leathers.

It’s my guess that these were stored in an attic, causing the patent leather to heat up and become sticky.  The tissue then stuck to the leather finish.   It was not just a simple matter of washing the paper off, as it had actually disintegrated the finish of the shoes where the paper had come in contact with it.

As I said, it is a sad story, made sadder by the fact that these are such sweet shoes.  The maker, Andre Perugia, was one of the great shoemakers of the 20th century.  These were made for American firm, I. Miller, with whom Perugia had a long-standing relationship.

Okay, no more sad photos, but if you are a collector of shoes, you might want to read a post I did about a year ago on how I store my shoes.  I use acid-free boxes and I wrap the shoes in muslin.  I also support the interior of each shoe with muslin.

I tend to avoid materials – like patent leather and fur – that do not age well.   But if one collects antique and vintage fashions, it is almost impossible to collect only items that will not have age issues.  Silk shatters, leather molds, wool gets eaten by moth larvae.   It’s a real battlefield!


Filed under Collecting, Designers

15 responses to “A Cautionary Tale – Patent Leather

  1. Danette

    Great to have help with this, Thank you! Was wondering why old patent gets a tacky feel and loses it’s luster. Appreciate your wealth of knowledge always!


  2. whatifoundpatterns

    Acids can destroy other things too. My dad had a large collection of $2.00 bills, many uncirculated. He kept them in a binder with plastic pages like we used to keep photos in. After he died we found out they were so damaged they were worthless. The years of plastic had done them in. You’d think money would be pretty tough, but these were in shreds.


  3. Candace Crawford

    Hey, just want to say how much I am enjoying your blog posts! Interesting stuff, thanks so much!

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Good advice as always Lizzie. Thank you. 🙂


  5. I was always told to clean patent leather with milk. Although it works very well, I’m wondering about the wisdom of it as it seems milk would be quite acidic and maybe damage the patent in the long run. Have you ever tried it and would it be something you recommend?


  6. I usually use vaseline (petroleum jelly) to clean patent shoes that have become sticky or have tissue or even worse bubble wrap stuck to them,
    it usually works but takes time, use it with a soft cloth.


  7. Joyce Bradley

    As I read this I was thinking..I got to share how, as a kid, we would put Vaseline on them to shine up the scuffs… I knew it worked!!!


  8. What a beautiful pair of shoes! – such a shame that they’ve been irreparably damaged. I’ve never actually bought a pair of vintage shoes as I always find they’re too slim for my reasonably wide feet, here’s hoping that I find some in the future!


  9. Teresa

    Oh, those poor shoes! 😦
    This is a very good reminder to make sure I store things correctly!


  10. Deb Jordan

    I have found a sweet round black pattent leather purse in the original paper shopping sack. Of course the paper attacked the pattent leather and left it completely scarred. So sad to find a treasure like this yet it still has the original $1.98 price tag. I believe the bag is from the 1940’s. The handles and trim is black taffeta.


  11. sad shoes. Really a shame. But it’s a good reminder to me to go attend to some 1990s 2 tone patents I have in the closet.


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