Why These Old Nikes Cost Almost $500,000

The Nike “Moon Shoe” is a rarity so prized, it commanded a record price at a recent Sotheby's auction.

A pair of Nike “Moon Shoe” waffle racing flats size 12.5 netted $437,500 at a Sotheby’s auction earlier this week, breaking an all-time record for any sneaker at auction and making a very good case for becoming the most expensive trainers ever.

Crumpled and discolored—though still unworn—the Nikes from 1972 are now the property of financier and collector Miles Nadal who had previously paid $890,000 for other items from the auction—a first-of-its-kind collaboration with Stadium Goods—pre-sale.

According to reports, the pair will soon be on display at the Dare to Dream Automobile Museum, Nadal’s own private exhibition space for his dozens of rare cars and other high-ticket collectibles. Indeed, the “Moon Shoes” are less like some limited-run Virgil Abloh-designed AF1s, than the 1886 Karl Benz Motorwagen, the world’s first motorized car, which is also a part of Nadal’s collection.

Created in 1972 by legendary company co-founder and running coach Bill Bowerman and hand-cobbled by early Nike staffer Geoff Hollister, the “Moon Shoe” is part of the early generation of Nike products whose soles were inspired by Bowerman’s wife’s waffle iron. Indeed, the kitchen appliance served as the mold used to create the prototype for the shoe’s treads. With only 12 of these handmade models ever created—they were intended for use at the 1972 Olympics trials—examples are few, and the lot sold this week likely represents the only unworn, deadstock-condition pair in existence.

But rarity, age, and provenance account for only some of the pair’s worth. As Sotheby’s notes in its description of the lot, “The Nike ‘Moon Shoe’ is one of the most significant artifacts in the history of the multi-billion dollar athletic brand.” But this is not only an early step in brand history (the name “Nike” appears nowhere on the shoes), it’s also somewhat of a leap forward in shoe technology. Rubber soles were, of course, familiar at the time, but the innovation of such high-performance grip and the challenge to the industry the shoe itself represents are hard to overestimate in the history of sports design and commerce.

But does that make this pair of suede-and-Nylon sneaker worth just south of half a million dollars? Yes and no.

Image Courtesy Sotheby's

The collector’s market for shoes has reached new heights in recent years. Indeed, there’s so much capital flowing around it and the crowd of buyers has become so diverse and global, that the arrival of an auction house of Sotheby’s stature into the field isn’t so curious as it is necessary.

With the market reaching a crescendo this week, it was probably inevitable that the surrounding interest would produce a Sunflowers-type incident and it was probably inevitable that it would be this lot (even though Sotheby’s pre-sale estimate was a mere $160,000). In the worlds of art and automobile collection, such watershed sales moments now come with such thudding regularity that they’re part of the landscape—barometers used to see where valuations further down the price scale are going. The sale of the “Moon Shoe” Nikes seems be serving as exactly that for the still-maturing sneaker market: an indication of what’s been achieved and where prices can go.

Essentially, this pair of weathered Nikes cost $437,000 because a young market in search of validation needed it to in order to reach its maturity.

(Photos courtesy of Sotheby’s)

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