In the past, cleaning shoes and boots was a job for the maid-of-all-work. Here's how it was done:
Q. How do you clean gentlemen's boots and shoes?
A. I first scrape off the dirt with a piece of wood shaped something like a knife (but a real knife must never "be used for the purpose), and then—the boot or shoe being perfectly dry—I thoroughly brush off the rest of the dirt, as well between the upper leather and the sole as from every other part. Then, with a piece of stick with a little bit of sponge, or of rag, at the end, I put a very small quantity of blacking on the blacking-brush, and rub it over a part of the shoe or boot.
Q. Why do you not rub it over the whole at once?
A. Because the blacking would then get too dry to receive a proper polish.
A. As soon as I have applied the blacking to the first part of the shoe or boot, and while it is yet damp, I take the polishing-brush, and rub it briskly, but lightly, till a brilliant gloss is produced. Then I proceed in the same manner with the other part, till the whole is done.
Q. When you have finished your boots and shoes, what do you do with them?
A. I hang them on the boot-horse, in the bed-room, or set them against the door, as I may be told.
Q. I hope you take care never to set wet or damp boots or shoes very near the fire, for them to get dry; because that shrinks, cracks, and spoils them?
A. Yes, ma'am; I always keep them at a distance.
Q. And how do you clean ladies' boots and shoes, and gentlemen's dress-boots and shoes, which are now generally made of the patent prepared polished leather?
A. Mostly they require very little cleaning—the chief care is not to scratch the polish.
Q. But what is your method?
A. Should they be very dirty, I carefully wipe the edges of the soles, and also the upper leather, with a wettish piece of cloth—afterwards with a dry piece—and then I rub a few drops of pure sweet oil over the polished leather. But, generally, the wiping of them with a bit of cloth slightly damped is sufficient, adding a few drops of oil.
Q. But should the polish happen to go off, either by wet or any other accident?
A. Then it may be renewed by preparations for the purpose, sold by boot and shoemakers.