Maria Dare Dance History Collection

Pointes of Past

(A few have survived as noted)

Pointe (Toe) Shoe History

Pointe (Toe) Shoe History
Anna Pavlova/Pavlowa was 1st to use pointe shoes. They caught on quickly.  During the USA’s “Roaring 20s”, several shoemakers took up the art of pointe shoe making.  At the time, Italy was known for its skilled shoemakers and quality footgear.  Some of their finest immigrated to USA  and began making pointe shoes. 
that moves, filling the voids between the toes and pointe box.
Making the Pointe by Hand

Hand making pointe shoes is an honorable tradition. In the beginning, dancers would go to a point shoe maker.  He would make a pair that matched the dancer’s feet.  He would keep the dancer’s foot mold,  Then dancers could mail order them.  Later, pointe shoes were made in advance, in various sizes, piled on a shelf until a dancer orders them. This is a good thing.  Dancers at New York City Ballet can go through a pair of pointe shoes in a single performance, sometimes 2 pair.  Can’t wait for someone to make a pair from scratch at that rate.  (NYCB purchases 8,500 pairs of pointe shoes each year.)  Ballet Companies often purchase all their pointe shoes from a single company.  This may place some dancers at a disadvantage.  Every foot is unique.  If the foot is V shaped, the dancer needs a V shaped pointe shoe.  If the company only make square boxes, then the V shaped dancer is left with a choice between a bad fit and a poor fit.  For this reason, most companies offer pointes in different “styles.”

There may still be some brands that are completely handmade, with fabric cut, glued, each stitch made by the same hand.  Today, some brands only make the box by the single hand tradition.  Gaynor-Mindens are completely machine manufactured.  Handmade shoes can vary in size and shape, from one maker to the next.  Some companies code the name of the maker into the shoe.  That way, if you find the perfect fit, you can specify the same maker for the next pair.

Pointe Shoe Makers, Past and Present

Advanced Theatrical Company,
See Leo's

Aistons Theatrical Footwear
No longer in operation by that name.
Origin: Chicago IL 1920's

American Toe Shoe Company
No longer in operation by that name.
Origin: New York
Offered a toe shoe with a stretch back by 1934
How Pointes are Named
By tradition, pointe shoes are named after their creator.  For example, the Capezio pointe shoe is named after its creator, Salvatore Capezio, master shoemaker and founder of the Capezio Company.  Like most brands, Capezio pointe shoes come in various “styles.”  At one time, Capezio had styles named “Nicolini” and “Selva.”  These were the names of pointe shoe  creators, and competitors of Capezio.  It is unknown if Capezio purchased the “styles” when the original creators went out of business, or created a similar style and named the style after the original creator.
Ben & Sally
No longer in operation by that name.
Origin: New York
The Perfect Toe" ad found 1924, followed by "Noi-Z-less" 1925. The Ben and Sally "Noi-z-less" Pointe Shoe had a rubber cushion in the pointe, patented Dec. 30, 1924. (And I called the Gaynor Minden ahead of their time for doing basically the same thing.) You could purchase a pr. of Ben and Sally in Satin for $5.25, in Linen or Black kid leather for $4.50. If you wanted soft toe shoes in black with krome sole (whatever that is) it cost $3.50.
No longer in operation by that name.
Origin: New York, 1917
Creator:, Barney S. Bonaventure 
He was an inventor of pointes and accessories. Frequent ads 1924-1934. He apparently had a staff of foreign craftsmen working with him in those days

Barney's patent for his Indestructible Box Toe Shoe was granted Feb. 1925.. 1st ads found for Barney's were for his Strong Arch, that appears to be an insert into a ballet slipper or any shoe.  Barney's Toe Shield, (found in April 1929, The Dance Magaizine ad) was a cushion for toes placed inside the pointe shoe box. He may have been the 1st to produce Toe Shoe Covers. He called them Evernu slipper covers. He also sold lace up ballet slippers.
Available for purchase
Primary distribution pointe for USA appears to be in Reno NV.
Cool Page:
Origin: Sydney, Australia 1932
Creator: Jacob Bloch

L. Bruggi
No longer in operation by that name
Origin New York

Capezio is now a trademark of Capezio Ballet Makers, Inc., headquartered in New Jersey; with a full line of dance wear and a chain of dance centers.  Capezio products are marketed worldwide but mainly found in USA and Europe.

Origin: Salvatore Capezio, 1887.
Inside cover ad, Dance Magazine Apr 1930, stated, “Salvatore Capezio, the world's premier theatrical shoe manufacturer; whose 43 years of dedication to the art of creating  dancing foot wear has won him distinguished honer both abroad and in America.” 

I have been informed by a reader that Salvatore Capezio opened a shop in 1887, named The Theatrical & Historical Shoemaker, when he was 17 year old. It was cross from the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. In the 1950's - 1980's Capezio Company head was "Ben Sommers, a non-family member whom the childless Salvatore Capezio thought of as a son." 

Sommers eventually sold the Capezio name to U.S. Shoe Corporation. Then U.S. Shoe Corp was purchased by Nine Ballet Makers, Inc. of Totowa, NJ,, now it’s Capezio BalletMakers, Inc.  Basically, all that remains it the purchased name, “Capezio.”  The ads for Capezio, 1924-1938, show Salvatore Capezio was a big fan of advertising.  His ads were large and frequent.  They featured, all new creations, about the same time, or just after other companies introduced the same all new.  Regardless of all of the above, Salvatore Capezio is to be honored for his hard work, is ability to turn a small shop into a company known all over the world.  In 2012, Capezio celebrated 125 of operation.
Available for purchase.
Gamba, Britain’s oldest brand established in 1903, is now owned by Repetto the reputable French manufacturer. Many world famous dancers wear Gamba and Repetto shoes and dance wear.” 
Origin: Great Britain, 1903
Luigi Gamba
Earliest Ad found in collection was  from London publication "The Dancing Times" 1928.
Luigi Gamba, was making Pointe Shoes in London by 1912. Prior to this English dancers imported thier shoes from Italy. The first Englishman to make pointe shoes for Anna Pavlova was Gamba's shoemaker, Alfred Furse for more visit
New York Theatrical Shoe Co
No longer in operation by that name.
Origin: Unknown.  Once located at 218 S Wabash Ave Chicago ILL

No longer in operation, however the name became a style of shoe sold by Capezio.
Origin: Romeo Nicolini
His pointe shoes were on the feet of Pavlova and Tamara Karsavina. Shoes were almost silent on stage. For pics of 1914 shoe see vam collection uk
It is said the Pavlova found them too light.
Chicago Theatrical Company
No longer in operation by that name
Origin: Chicago, Illinois
Extensive advertising from 1925-1934, specializing in Italian Shoes. My favorites: The 3 mile walk in pointe shoes, and a description of the Hoffert Italian Point Shoe that makes me want to put a pair on. In 1938, they offered free rabbit fur toe pads with purchase of pointe shoes.

Available for purchase.
Freed is a deep vamp, and not pre-arched. Dancers who push too far over pointes and snap shanks find this lack of arching an advantage.
Origin:  Great Britain, 1928
Creator: Fredrich Freed and wife.
Freed had been employed Gamba, before branching out on his own.  According to Wikipedia: “In 1990, Freed was taken over by a large Japanese company called Onward Takiyama.  The Freed of London headquarters remains in England. Originally located in Covant Garden, its new home is at Well Street, East London.5"
Illinois Theatrical Shoe Co.
No longer in operation by that name
Origin: Chicago
Appears to have had a pointe shoe in the 1930's called the Meritoe, and Merit.

La Mendola
Now LA Mendola Dance & Gymnastic Footwear, 1795 Express Dr N, Hauppauge, NY 11788
Origin: New York
Ads appeared in the early 1930's.  Shoes were available in the late 1970's.  Their shoes were extremely sturdy

no longer produced.
Origin: E. Landi, New York, 1925 or Before
In 1929 one could purchase a Landi in pink, white or black satin for a whopping $5.25 plus 0.20 postage. Ribbons cost 20 cents per yard.

Landi's pointe shoes, were made with excellent craftsmanship. Maria Dare owned some so it appears the company had a long life. Ads began for "E. Landi, Dancecraft Slippers, Hand Built" by 1925.
Landi's "V" vamp was advertised by 1927. Landi's "V" seems to narrow front and back as well as sides. The front/back narrowing would seem to keep toes flat, distribute weight evenly, reducing tendency to "knuckle under" and perhaps reduce toe drift. While the term "V" shape has survived, the Landi's Toe Shoe have not for reasons unknown.

In 1925, Miss Lola Menzeli created the Heeled Toe Shoe and licensed Landi to make and sell them.

Prima Soft
Available for purchase.
Prima Soft continues to produce pointe shoes, now offering 6 styles. Visit Prima Soft
Origin: 1996
. "Prima Soft pointe shoes are made of natural materials and no plastic, fiber- glass or rubber is used in the shoe construction." Their first style was a professional grade shoe - very light weight. It had a unique high vamp of cloth but low vamp of sturdy materials making roll-up easy and fitting some feet that are difficult to fit. Styles introduced later were more appropriate for student use
No longer in operation by that name.
Origin: New York
Little is known. Ads found provide little info.

No longer in operation by that name.
Origin: Chicago IL
Creator: Professional Shoe Corporation
Tempo Toe Shoes offered a “V” instep to grip the foot, “like a friendly hand.” This was not an original idea. There were ads as early as 1925 showing pointes with the arch hugging design.
Gaynor Minden
Available for purchase.
Their web site offers great info about ballet, health and safety as well as about their great shoes: Gaynor Minden's
Origin:  New York, 1993
Liza (Gaynor) Minden John Minden
Gaynor Minden's custom cushions & over 2,900 combinations of sizes & options are a retailer’s nightmare, but sharply increase the chances of shaping a shoe to your unique feet rather than forcing your feet to shape to an average shoe. All the size options cause confusion. I assure you a 9W4 121 22 is not the same size as a 9N2 121 11 see Gaynor Minden web site for full list of sizes and explanations BEFORE you buy.

The shoe has many features including, moisture absorbing lining; drawstring exit at instep ends dangling ties and gouging knots; space age isometric plastic one piece box and shank means no more box separation; shock absorbers in pointe and heel to help cushion joints on landings. It's a shoe built to protect and last. Research indicates that Ganyor Minden can reduce "cycling" on pointe, a condition which has contributed to many a ankle strains & sprains.  Laboratory tested, Gaynor Minden shanks out-last many other brands. While not all brands were tested, Gaynor Minden out lasted the others tested 3 to 28 times. All time is good time. Almost no break-in required. Buy today & perform in them tonight without a single thud, thunk, or clunk!

Their web site offers great info about ballet, health and safety as well as about their great shoes: Gaynor Minden's

Grishko Ltd.
Available for purchase
Origin: Russia 1988
Nikolai Grishko
Grishko removed draw string to reduce sawing action on tendon. It stays on just as well as any other shoe, perhaps better. Grishko is a durable shoe that requires a lot of time to break-in. Produces several styles and box shapes. The "Fouette" is a square box. The "Vaganova" is a V shape. Ulanova is a U shape. Their hard/strong shank is very strong. Width X is very narrow, width XXXX is wide enough to fit some men's feet.
Leo’s is now a brand owned by Bloch.  In 2017, they introduced the Leo’s Split Sole Pointe Shoes for professional usage.

Origin: Leo Harris, Chicago Illinois, 1924
The relationship between Advanced Theatrical Company and Leo Harris is unclear.  I suspect Leo was a gifted european immigrant pointe shoe maker who struck a deal with Advanced Theatrical Company to make pointe shoes,.  Pointe shoes were probably just one division of the company.  According to Dance Lovers Magazine, Oct. 1925,  “Out of The West Comes A Young Shoemaker With a New Idea!  Great is the interest this year in the toe shoe designed by a young Chicagoan, Leo Harris. ...Artists who take their work seriously have been quick to grasp the advantage these new Advance Ballets afforded them....A Shoe That Supports As Well As Fits.  Provision for the support of the body’s weight , which so often rests with terrific force on the toes, has been made.  Leo Harris solved this age-old difficulty of support by designing two shoes.  He saw the error of turning out ballets in sizes only, like street shoes.  There are 2 kinds of feet.   One has a low arch, the other a high arch.  Each is weak in a different place.... Leo Harris designed one shoe for the foot with a low arch; another for the foot with a high arch...” (Toe slippers in linen or kid leather were $4.50 each and in satin, $5.25)  It also displayed “Leo” as a trademark and listed Advance Theatrical Shoe Co’s address as 159 N. State St.,Chicago IL. This was probably in the middle of Chicago’s theatre district.  Sometime after 1934, Advance Theatrical Co. disappeared and Leo’s Dancewear appeared.  At one point, Leo’s Dancewear had more than 150 employees and a 100,000 square foot office space, manufacturing facility, warehouse, and distribution center.  For a long time the company was located on 1900 N. Narragansett Ave.  In 2012, after being sold to to Bloch, the company downsized.  Most divisions were closed.  It may now only be a retail store with some factory 2nds in the back.
No longer in operation by that name
Origin: New York, 1924 or before
Available for purchase.
Origin: Paris

Rovick Theatrical Shoe Co
No longer in operation by that name.
Origin: Once located at  431 S Wabash, Chicago IL, near NY Theatrical Shoe Co.

Available for purchase.
Origin: FR Duval
Sansha's designer is French, but may have some link to a visit in China
Sansha offers a replaceable wood shank in some pointe shoes. The newest she is the Duval

Selva & Son
No longer produced

Origin:  New York, before 1924
Jimmie Selva appears to have been an inventor as well as a skilled craftsman. "Selva Exquisite Toe" ad found Oct. 1925.

Anna Selva-Koppinger’s father was Samuel, the “son;” her grandfather Jimmie,  was the “Selva” of Selva & Son.  According to Anna, Samuel Sleva, the “son,” was sole designer for Selva & Son.  Samuel also designed the Fred Astaire Tap. Originally the finest Italian shoemakers were employed to make the shoes.

According to Sarah Helen Williams, James Selva left Capezio to start his own company.  in 1925.  Selva filed his 1st ballet slipper patent in 1926.  It was  constructed of canvas, glue, and satin.

An ad claimed, "Helen Brown Premiere Danseuse of the Ziegfeld Follies wears Tu-Toe." The Selva Tu-Toe. patented Nov 1927, offered two layers of fabric over the pointe so that it would last twice as long. Perhaps this was the predecessor of the "Duro-Toe."

Selva & Son grew into a major dancewear company became Selva Dancewear, and rivaled Capezio into the late 1900s.

In the USA, several early pointe shoe makers were clever inventors. Ads from about 1925 onward show how they experimented with the design and created ways to protect the feet.  Todays V-shaped vamp, arched shank, and toe pads were all invented in the 1920s.  Landi advertised his V-shaped vamp in Dance Magazine 1927.  Fortunately not all the “improvements” survived.  The pointe shoe attached to a heel from a lady’s dress shoe is but a memory.  So too the pointe shoe designed to look like a Greek Sandal.  Probably the worst and most dangerous invention were toe taps. They became unpopular after dancers were injured.  Their popularity returned in the 1980s and hopefully has once again become unpopular. 

Modern makers continue to experiment with design and cushioning.  Most of the “new” inventions, apply new materials to create a variation of the old.  For example, the Gaynor Minden box and shank are made from a special  type of plastic.  Their box shapes and shank strengths were invented long ago.  The “new” from Gaynor Minden is uniting the box and shank into one piece.  This ends separation of the box from the shank.  Their “new” is a shank that can be shaped to match the dancer’s arch, using a blow dryer.  Gaynor Minden also added a cushion at the end of the box.  Selva & Son advertised a cushion on back cover of American Dancer, March, 1934.

An example of “new” cushioning is the “Ouch Pouch.”  It’s shape is the same as a cushion found in The Dance Magazine ad April 1936, stating is was designed and invented by Mr & Mrs. Keeling of the Lucyle Keeling Sch. of Dancing in Oklahoma City.  It is basically the same as Barney’s “Toe Shield” displayed in a 1929 Dance Magazine ad.  The “new” is that the “Ouch Pouch” is filled with a plastic jelly that moves, filling the voids between the toes and pointe box.

New in 2017 is the Leo’s Split Sole Pointe shoe from Bloch.  This design may have been given Leo Harris’s name because Leo worked hard to create a pointe shoe that matched the dancer’s arch.  The “Split Sole” only removed the outer layer under the arch.  The shank buried within the shoe remains in one piece.  It is designed for quick break in, for professionals who have to grab a new pair of shoes during a performance.
Above: Capezio adjusts his new adjustable toe taps, American Dancer, Dec. 1934
Haney Toe Taps 1929
Above: Landi Toe Slipper with heel & Ruth Page
Above Leo Harris & his rainbow arch for low and high arched feet.
Above: Capezio Pointe Shoes, Dance Lovers Magazine, 1925
Above: Barney's 1925
Above: Landi V shaped vamp, Dance Magazine, 1929.
Above: Mr. Selva on the roof of Selva Shoe Company.
Above: Selva's Sandle Toe Shoe.
Above: Barney's Toe Shield
Above: Mr. Capezio
Above: Capezio Toe Taps
Above Leo's Pointe Shoe
Pointe Shoe Ads 1924 - 1938
Updated: Feb. 21, 2021
© = R. W. Faulkner