Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sneakers may have started in Colchester

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A now-defunct Colchester factory may have gotten the very first jump on basketball shoes.

Gary L. Pifer, a California vintage clothes collector, said he owns a pair of 113-yer-old handmade sneakers manufactured by the Colchester Rubber Co.

"It actually changes basketball and sneaker history," Pifer told The Hartford Courant. "Colchester was always No. 1, but no one knew it."

Pifer, 48, of Oceanside, Calif., said he found the rubber-soled shoes in the closet of a house being emptied for an estate sale in San Diego County in December and paid $2 for them. The shoes carried the insignia of the Colchester Rubber Co.

After researching the company on the Internet, Pifer said he learned Colchester Rubber closed in 1892, one year after James Naismith invented basketball. The first recognized pair of high-tops, made by Converse, debuted 25 years later, Pifer said.

"It didn't compute," Pifer said. "(Converse) sneakers came about 1917. They have always been the first basketball design ever."

A phone message was left Saturday for a representative of the North Andover, Mass.-based Converse Inc.

The Colchester shoe has pivot points and rubber soles consistent with later designs.

Pifer suspects that the Colchester Rubber Co. may have created the shoes as a prototype for Naismith, who invented basketball in Springfield, Mass., about 50 miles north of Colchester.

Matt Zeysing, historian for the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, said that scenario is possible.

"Certainly, Naismith at that time was approached by different companies," Zeysing said. "It was the companies doing stuff with rubber that came up with the concept for basketball shoes."

Zeysing said that before Converse, the Spalding Co. had introduced a shoe in 1896 that could be used for basketball. But the Colchester Rubber Co. shoe would predate them all, he said.

Pifer said whoever owned his $2 sneakers took care of them, storing them carefully in a Victorian-era chest along with other belongings. He doesn't plan to resell them.

"They are priceless," he said.

Pifer wants to dedicate the shoe to Harry Lew, the first black pro basketball player, who played with a New England league in 1902.

Pifer said he might donate the sneakers to the Basketball Hall of Fame after he has copies made. He'd like one of the first pairs to go to Colchester.

"I think we would definitely take advantage of it and be very proud of it," First Selectman Jenny Contois said. "What a wonderful thing we would be known for."


  1. I have owned a few pair of Colchester Co. sneakers since it's reproduction run started. I cannot say enough about them. I also had the pleasure to meet Mr. Pifer and he is a wonderful man with a great knowledge about the early history of sneakers and rubberized sole shoes. Keep an eye out for the future of Pifer. It will not be disappointing.

  2. They looked promising. Glad to hear from someone who owns some.