Artifact Corner: Victorian Ice Skates

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at these beautiful ice skates from the early Victorian era. These skates are a combination of wood, brass and steel. The base is made of wood, the heel cap and the hardware surrounding the blade is made of brass, and the blade of the skate itself is made of steel. There are also five steel spikes sticking up from the base of the skate. These were meant to be worn with your existing boots, which would have had a heavy leather sole. The small steel spikes would help you keep the skate in place. These also would have had leather straps tied around them, to keep your shoes from slipping. The steel runners are flat, so there have been no edges cut into them. For a modern skater trying these out today, I’m sure they would be very difficult to use. Let’s learn a bit more about ice skating, and winter in the north country.

Ice skating dates back about 4,000 years to Finland as a way to save energy for long winter travels across ice. Ice skating spread in popularity through Northern European countries, mostly as a way to speed up travel and less as a leisure activity. That was not the case in China. During the Song Dynasty, which lasted from 960 to 1279, the royal family enjoyed ice skating as a sport and entertainment. In Europe, in the 13th & 14th Centuries the Dutch added edges to their skates, which allowed them more control on the ice. By the 17th & 18th Centuries in the colder European countries, ice skating was still used as a means of travel, but was also becoming more or a leisure activity for people. In England, when the river Thames froze over, it was very common to see dozens of people out skating and enjoying themselves. In Edinburgh Scotland, they organized their first formal skating club in the early 1740’s. Ice skating spread to America with the influx of northern Europeans, but was mostly a sport enjoyed by men. That is until the women’s fitness movement during the Victorian era, when ladies wanted more outdoor pursuits.

We have a lovely example of this from an article in the Plattsburgh Republican dated, January 21, 1860. It reads as follows:
“Skating is a great institution in these cold regions of the North, which are frozen up nearly half the year. The Lap’lander, the Norwegian, the Swede and the Russian make skating a national business. The Russian ladies all skate and the great Empress Catherine was a first rate skater. The ladies of Boston, and Albany, and New York are great skaters, and by another winter we shall have some first rate skaters here. Let us out upon the ice! Make the skates ring and the ice fly – only be careful and don’t bump our heads!”

Winters in Plattsburgh often meant a couple of months where Lake Champlain was frozen over, and recreational activities could be indulged on the ice. Ice skating became an incredibly popular winter activity for both men and women!

Our ice skates are in fantastic condition. There are a few scrapes on the wood, and there is some light rust on the steel of the skate, but that is to be expected. These skates are between 150 to 200 years old, so small signs of wear and some surface rust are minor to their overall condition. These are beautiful examples of early Victorian sports equipment, and give us a glimpse into winter recreation in the North Country. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,