Sotheby’s has struck gold with sneaker sales recently. Now the auction house has announced a pair of Waffle Spike Shoes crafted by Nike cofounder, Bill Bowerman, it will offer bidders from June 17 to June 26. The historic shoes are expected to sell for $130,000–$150,000.
Bowerman, the 1972 Olympic team coach and former track coach at the University of Oregon, was the leading force behind the transformation of athletic wear who set out to design a lightweight shoe that would enable his athletes to drop time from their races. Bowerman engineered the shoes for one of his runners, John Mays, who is the seller here.
As an entrepreneur, Bowerman produced the shoe sometime circa 1970–71, just before cofounding Nike with former University of Oregon runner Phil Knight. This pair features unmatched soles, one modified with spikes in 1974, which Bowerman had Mays test. Bowerman developed the signature “waffle tread” while experimenting with the design, and a letter written by Bowerman explaining the alteration will go up for sale alongside the sneakers. According to Sotheby’s, only a few versions of the Waffle shoe are known to exist, with another prototype residing in the archives at the University of Oregon.
The sale comes on the heels of the recent record for Michael Jordan’s 1985 Game-Worn Autographed Nike Air Jordan 1s that realized $560,000 at Sotheby’s in May. The pair brought a new auction record for sneakers—beating the previous $437,500 record set in the sale of the Nike Waffle Racing Flat “Moon Shoe” at Sotheby’s in July 2019.
Sotheby’s Director of eCommerce Development Brahm Wachter says the rising demand in the sneaker market is a phenomenon sparked within the last two decades, following major Nike campaigns dating back to the 1980s. “There are several key moments in the rise of the sneaker market,” said Wachter, continuing, “the crucial one was the release of the Air Jordan 1 in 1985, which to this day is perhaps Nike’s most coveted sneaker. … The other one was the release of the 2005 Nike SB Pigeon. In 2005, the release of this shoe almost caused a riot in New York City. In many ways, the release is viewed as the beginning of sneaker culture, and the hype we see around them today.”
Wachter confirms the collecting base for these retro items is a global one, saying the recent Michael Jordan sale, which saw a total 70 percent of the bidders new to Sotheby’s, attracted a young base of clients aged 19–50, indicating “a wide and active market” for sneakers. With an emerging class of collectors new to auction driving demand—and as offerings in pop-culture at top auction houses multiply—the e-commerce sector is strategically staged to convert prospective buyers into long-term clients. As collecting boundaries continue to blur through hybrid and concept-led auctions, new collectors with a penchant for contemporary culture are key to the market. “The clients that are interested in sneakers are also active participants in more traditional categories such as contemporary art,” said Wachter.
For these types of pop culture and collectibles sales, in a new digital era of the art market where e-commerce at auction is expanding, Wachter notes the future of the sales sector is drawing from different industries outside the fine arts. Noting more sales in coming months, Wachter adds, “we are looking at key cultural and historical moments in film, sports, and music, and we have sourced the rarest and most coveted sneakers in relation to these moments.”