What’s that for? A Shoe Book in the DHM Library

Charlotte Lenz | 24 October 2023

In our current showcase exhibit on the topic of “That isn’t a book – Unusual book forms in the DHM Library”, there is an artistic Shoe Book from the year 2019. This provides Charlotte Lenz, staff member of the library, with the occasion to examine interesting questions about why a scholarly library specialising in German history should collect unusual book formats and publications about fashion.

As one of the largest museum libraries in Germany, the library of the Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM) collects current research literature on German history and on special topics that are treated in the temporary exhibitions. The library also acquires relevant historical prints that supplement the subject matter of the DHM collections. Another component in this field is made up of books that are collected primarily as potential exhibition objects rather than for the information they contain. Among these works is the Shoe Book, which was acquired in 2020 – an art book published by Faber & Faber Verlag that resembles the kind of shoe-tree made by a shoemaker.

The Shoe Book, Vol. 1 [ladies’ shoe] and Vol. 2 [men’s shoe], Leipzig: Faber & Faber GmbH, [2019] | DHM-Bibliothek R 2020/21 -[1] / [2]

There is still no precise definition of the genre art book or artist’s book. This might have to do with the fact that it is a hybrid object that could belong to several different academic fields, above all literature, aesthetics and book studies. It always has to do with “elaborately produced books”.[1] In principle, the main element of books published in this genre is their overall design and optical appearance and not what is generally understood as the true purpose of a book – to be read. Art books are therefore above all demanding in their artistry and bibliophilic in their nature.[2]

In keeping with their maxim “Nothing is finer than to forsake uniformity and seek individual expression,” the publishers Faber & Faber reconvened their activities in 2019 after a long break and now offer a publishing programme that combines art and literature in a unique way.[3] As one of their first publications, they produced the shoe book shown here in the form of a pair of unmatching shoes – a ladies’ shoe and a men’s shoe. While the ladies’ shoe contains descriptions of extravagant shoes sometimes manufactured limited editions, the men’s shoe relates stories of shoes that have made history. For the book design, Michael Faber, one of the founders, combined his own affinity for shoes with the basic idea of the publishing house – to produce books that stand out from the rest.

At first glance, objects of this kind that are merely attractive to look at do not seem to belong in a library specialising in German history. But there are many arguments in favour of acquiring them. To justify such purchases, the DHM Library takes both bibliographical and museal considerations into account.

From the viewpoint of the library, a book that is proposed to be acquired should first of all correspond to the subject matter of the collection. This is the case with the present Shoe Book insofar as the DHM Library collects books not only in the above mentioned categories, but also literature for the work in other areas of the museum, including the department of Everyday Culture: Civilian Clothing and Textiles – Politics – Religiosa – Badges. Of course it collects not only clothing and fashionable accessories, but also selected footwear. Since many of these objects were acquisitions or donations from private persons, it is often possible to determine who, when, and on what occasion a special article of clothing, such as a certain pair of shoes, was worn. In this way museum visitors can learn about history through such stories. On the other hand, this literature provides explanations and additional information for the museum’s staff members when they document fashionable objects in their daily work.

Another criterion in expanding the museum’s library collection through new acquisitions is the significance of the book as an exhibition object. As the national museum of history, the DHM endeavours to acquire not only sources of past history in all different fields, but also contemporary objects that document current political, social, economic and cultural trends for the future. The contribution of the Shoe Book to this effort is its optical appearance as a representative of the book genre art books and thus evidence of “differentiated manifestations” of modern book and media studies. The Shoe Book is moreover a perfect example of an object that possesses not only “practical value” through the knowledge it conveys, but also so-called “collection value” measured on its “aesthetic appeal” and “individuality”. This publication can also be examined for its relevance to topics of “materials science” and to the process of book and art production. Not least, the Shoe Book stands for the constantly changing “cultural relevance” [4] of books and thus for their importance to human society. For such books have long been produced not only as conveyers of information that are only profitable when they are read.

The shoe as an object has a fixed place in the collections of the Deutsches Historisches Museum. It is therefore not surprising that the DHM Library has taken in a great variety of such publications over the years, of which the Faber & Faber Shoe Book is a prime example. Anyone who is interested in further information about this extraordinary object or other publications about the history of shoes is cordially invited to view the current showcase exhibit during the opening hours of the DHM Library (Mo-Fr, 9 am to 3 pm) or to examine the fashion side of the library virtually in the online catalogue.

[1] Hildebrand-Schat, Viola: Die Kunst schlägt zu Buche, Offenbach: Die Neue Sachlichkeit, 2013, p. 19ff.

[2] Cf. Rehm, Margarete: Lexikon Buch – Bibliothek – Neue Medien, München [i. al.]: K. G. Saur, 1991, p. 167

[3] Faber & Faber: Über uns (https://www.verlagfaberundfaber.de/ueber-uns/) last accessed: 11.10.2023

[4] Fabian, Claudia: Der Altbestand in 50 Jahren – ein Versuch zur Zukunft des schriftlichen Kulturerbes. In: Zeitschrift für Bibliothek und Bibliographie, 66.2019, 3, p. 131ff.



Charlotte Lenz

Charlotte Lenz is Deputy Keeper of the Library of the Deutsches Historisches Museum