Nike Origins | Bowerman Built

17–26 June 2020 • 8:30 AM EDT • New York
Nike Origins | Bowerman Built 17–26 June 2020 • 12:00 PM EDT • New York

S otheby’s is pleased to present Nike Origins | Bowerman Built – a special single-lot, online auction for Bill Bowerman’s Handmade Waffle Spike Shoes from the early 1970s.

Created by Nike’s co-founder prior to Nike’s existence, and made exclusively for his runner John Mays, the pair has remained in Mays's possession since its last modification in 1974. One of only a handful of pairs known to exist, these shoes mark the first and only pair of hand-crafted Bowerman shoes to ever appear at auction.

Produced in the early 1970s, Mays wore these shoes in the 1972 Olympic Trials, however they were later adjusted in 1974 by Bowerman after which they were never used again.

The right shoe demonstrates a beautiful example of Bowerman’s need to innovate, displaying a design he thought might be effective for Mays – incorporating a waffle sole that is absent on the left shoe. The waffles of course, represent an important moment in the history of footwear, as Bowerman invented the design after being inspired by his wife’s waffle iron.

The shoes are accompanied by a letter from Bowerman, asking Mays to test his design.

The Anatomy of Bill Bowerman’s Handmade Waffle Spike Shoes
Click the red hotspots to dissect the shoes.
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  • These shoes were handmade from scratch by Bill Bowerman using raw materials and track spikes likely pulled from another shoe model. As compared to the Nike Moon Shoes, for which the nylon uppers were imported from Japan and Nike Swooshes and Waffle Soles were then put onto them, these shoes started off as an idea and raw materials.

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  • These shoes were made for and worn by John Mays in the early 1970s, predating Nike. Bill would often tinker with his designs, and the most recent modification was made in 1974.

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  • These shoes were glued together, not stitched. The glue is brown and can be seen all over the uppers, especially where the layers of material are held together. Unfortunately, later in his life Bowerman suffered nerve damage and walked with a cane due to years of exposure to the fumes from these glues, particularly as he was known to work in areas with poor ventilation.

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  • The pair on offer has its original laces. The aglets are frayed from wear, and the lace-holes were hand-punched by Bowerman. There is a total of 14 on each shoe.

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  • The insoles, original to the shoe, are perforated. The insoles show signs of wear.

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  • The shoes read MAYS on the heels in Bill Bowerman’s handwriting (Bowerman handmade shoes just like these for his athletes and wrote their names on them in pen).

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  • The soles on these shoes do not match one another.

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  • The right shoe’s sole has waffles on it. The spikes show wear but the waffles and the back half of the shoe show no wear. Bowerman was constantly innovating and tinkering with his designs, and he made this final modification for Mays in 1974. Mays received these shoes, along with a handwritten letter from Bowerman that year, but he never wore them again.

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  • The left shoe’s sole has 6 spikes on it and no waffles. The sole of the left shoe shows signs of wear – from heel to toe – with the exception of the lateral support panels.

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Estimated to sell for $130,000–$150,000, the present shoes are among the most valuable pair of shoes ever offered at auction, following Sotheby's record-breaking sale of Michael Jordan's Autographed Nike Air Jordan 1s from 1985 that achieved $560,000.

This auction was created in collaboration with Jordan Geller of ShoeZeum.

Bill Bowerman's Handmade Waffle Spike Shoes, early 1970s

The Innovative Bill Bowerman

Bill Bowerman is recognized today as the heart of Nike, and one of the greatest innovators of his generation in regards to shoe ingenuity and design. Obsessed with weight and performance, Bowerman would build shoes for his University of Oregon runners from scratch, often using an assemblage of raw materials.

This pair, made by Nike’s co-founder exclusively for his runner John Mays, represents an important chapter of the origin of one of America’s greatest companies, Nike.

A Letter from Bowerman to Mays

A letter written by Bowerman to Mays, which will be sold alongside the pair of shoes states:

1961 E. 19th 10/14/74

John - the right shoe interval heel is the one we are testing for wear.

Can you write on this sheet the approximate mileage or yardage you put on this on the track.

Example Oct 14 4 X 110 - 3 X 165 - 110 - 55 - = 3/4 Mi

Track Jogging M/2Mi

Call me occasionally & tell me what the situation is

Bill Bowerman

Runner John Mays on Bill Bowerman
“Often times, Bill would talk to me about a new company he was involved with. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time. One day, he asked me to help test a new sprint spike shoe he was designing. Of course, I agreed and was excited to be chosen. He took measurements of my feet and started building the shoe, and in about a week he had the shoes ready for me. Bill had me test the shoes by running in them during practice and in meets. I gave him feedback about the feel of the shoes; if they were comfortable, if the footplate was too hard, if they tore and where. As seen in the accompanying letter, he left me notes to tell me what type of workouts he wanted me to put the shoes through. Bill continued to make revisions on the sprint shoes, even to the point of writing my name on them. Eventually, I wore them in the NCAA Track and Field Championships and the 1972 Olympic Trials in Eugene. It’s a pleasure to be offering these historic shoes at Sotheby’s, who have been leading the field in selling sneakers and shoes as a reputable collecting category.”
LEFT: JOHN MAYS RUNNING A RELAY RACE. RIGHT: JOHN MAYS PICTURED NEXT TO STEVE PREFONTAINE IN THE 1973 OREGON TEAM PHOTO.

The pair represents an important chapter in the history of Nike, and embodies Bowerman's legacy as an innovator.

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