This just in, from an email titled "RE: Cool Product," kindershoe.com is a "website that offer [sic] a unique baby shoe bronzing service ideal for baby keepsakes or gifts."
Really? Unique? Because frankly, nothing seems less unique or cool than bronzing a baby shoe.
I remember a baby shoe bronzing display near the entrance of the grocery store when I was growing up. When it didn't perplex me, it freaked me out.
Why do people bronze baby things? When did it start? Do people still do it? Is it to keep a memory of the joy of a newborn baby alive forever?
Because there are two pairs of bronzed baby shoes on eBay right now, dated 1970 and 1972. They're 99 cents.
Hmm. I just did a little digging.
In 1993, The NY Times took a brief look at the baby shoe bronzing industry, which began as a toxic, mom&pop, cut&run business that was consolidated in the 1950's into a single company, the Bron-Shoe Corporation in Columbus, Ohio.
Bron-Shoe was founded in the 1940's by the industry pioneer Violet Shinbach. The company sells the same bronzing service under different names and prices, depending on the distribution channel: The American Bronzing Co. for direct mail; Bron-Shoe for Striderite and department stores; Senti-Metal for sit-down appointments and consultation; Royal Bronzing for catalogues.
In 1993, they reported bronzing 400,000 shoes a year, which translated in to about $10 million revenue. The next biggest competitor mentioned in the article was doing barely 5,000 shoes.
Though the company tried, baby shoe bronzing flopped in Europe. It only continues to exist as a weird artifact of Vi Shinbach's crazy depression-era inspiration and post-war gumption. Last year, Bron-Shoe reportedly bronzed just 200,000 shoes, down 50% in 14 years. Some day, maybe the entire Columbus copper electroplating industry, all 85 of them, may have to move into a different line of work.
Bronzing Memories Happily [nyt]
Previously: They're bronzing umbilical cords in Asia, you know