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  • Sam

Crockett & Jones Handgrade Water Bison Derby - Vintage NOS review

A successful eBay gamble, this one since I don't buy a lot of exotic leathers or obviously vintage shoes. In the case of the former, I just don't have a lot of knowledge (or patience) on how to care for them; in the latter case, I think they can frequently veer into looking costumey rather than anything that works in the modern-day. The only exotic that really has a big appeal for me is alligator, and it's generally too expensive for the brands I'm typically buying.

This pair were very competitively priced - the seller agreed to a £150 offer - and they are in genuinely, fresh out of the box brand new condition. The leather is as yet uncreased, and the soles are clearly immaculate (a benefit of the logo print on the base is being able to identify this). A charming extra inclusion was the original material tag marking them as genuine water bison - I've since added this to my keyring.

They were made by Crockett & Jones, and they were made some time ago. This is an old shoe - the font of the C&J logo on the footbed has been replaced by a new one for a while My estimate is they date from the 70s (the overall aesthetic certainly hints to that) - I would be surprised if they are any later than the 1980s in origin. Of course, the age makes the condition all the more impressive. As with all NOS, the idea of them quietly hiding away in their box as the decades pass by adds a certain mystique to wearing them now.

This is the Windsor Handgrade model - a plain toe, 3 tie Derby. The size is 9.5 E, my usual C&J size.

An immediate observation in trying them on was how slim the overall fit felt compared to a modern C&J shoe. The last is about 1.5cm shorter, making them an extremely tight fit for any of my usual shoe trees. This is probably due to the toe shape - this is manifestly more old-fashioned looking than a modern shoe - rather square, though not unpleasantly so. The instep is also visibly lower, especially over the large toe. They really are just much smaller in all their dimensions.

Having got a bit of wear on them since taking the photos, I can say the comfort is good. While slimmer than a modern equivalent size, the pliability of the leather makes them easy-wearing. See the below photos in the wild.

The star attraction is clearly the leather - mid-brown water bison uppers are not something you see every day on a dress shoe from a traditional British maker. This is a distinctive material with a pronounced, criss-crossing grain. I've read it has impressive water-resistance and durability characteristics, though time will tell on that too. It's somewhat pliable compared to calf leather, even never having had any wear.

The most polarising design details, and the ones that look most obviously vintage, are the rope-like stitches running along the quarters to the back, which seem to have been slightly burnished for a darker appearance. This isn't really to my taste - it rather reminds me of the ruffled silk of an old-fashion tuxedo dress shirt.

The finishing is good, though less refined than a modern model. The sole is flat rather than having any bezel, with a Crockett & Jones medallion logo and Handgrade logo as well. The heel stack is extremely neatly finished - better than a modern model.

I'll need it to give it some time to see if I keep them around - I'm sure a lot of people would find them pretty unappealing visually, but there is something really appealing in the heritage and rarity of them.

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