Ice skates circa 1850

Ice skates (1840-59) from the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This pair of American-made ice skates, dating from 1840-1859, is part of the collection of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The ice skaters I’ve been writing about lately would have been wearing skates similar to these.

While these skates were of a style that had been used for centuries, skate design was on the cusp of dramatic change.  The 1850s saw many innovations, as ice-skating boomed in popularity.  Many different styles of clip-on and strap-on skates were being brought to market, as makers vied to make skates stronger, faster, and more stable.  The toe pick and the elongated blade extending beyond the back of the skate, both features of modern figure skates, hadn’t yet been thought of.  Stopping or turning in these old skates could be tricky!  Note the nail sticking up from the platform of the skate, which embedded itself in the heel of the wearer’s shoe, as a means of making the skate more stable.

American ice skates (1840-60), from the website "Skating ahead of the Curve"

Skating ahead of the Curve documents the newfangled skates being made at the time.  These skates, dating from 1840-60, have taken a leap forward in material and design.  Made mainly of metal, including cast steel, they feature a heel cup and thick leather straps that would have attached firmly to a boot or shoe.

American ice skates (1840-60), from the website "Skating ahead of the Curve"

The heel cup is decorated with a skating scene.

For more on 19th-century skates and skating,
see “Ice Skating in the 1860s: A Fashion and a Passion,”
a wonderful article by Betty Hughes.
This is the fourth in an occasional series on ice-skating.  Click here to read from the beginning.

2 responses

  1. A very informative post and timely as well!. . . . I very much liked seeing the pictures. In my minds’ eye, I see the ultra-sleek skates that the speed skaters use today–what a comparison. Interesting how in ALL fields “improvements are made upon improvements which are made upon improvements” etc, etc, etc.

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    • So true! It is fascinating to look at those periods when a long-familiar object, like a bike, begins to change all of a sudden.
      Stay warm on this wintry night, and thanks for writing in!
      SB

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