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Table of Contents
   Artilleryman Magazine, Vol. 32, No. 4 by John Hughes
   Ice Skating in the 1860s: A Fashion and a Passion by Betty Hughes
   A Peek into the Past: Researching with CDVs by Kris Lindquist

Artilleryman Magazine Article by John Hughes

Ice Skating in the 1860s: A Fashion and a Passion

by Betty Hughes

Published in Citizen's Companion, Feb/Mar 2007

                                THE BALL IS UP  

                                  The ball is up at the Central Park!    
                               Come, gather your skates and away;
                       There’s glorious health, and the heart’s true wealth,   
                                        Out on the ice to-day.
                                Ah! Now I see your flashing eyes-   
                                   The ice is a wonderful spell-
                                Yes, she is there, that maid so fair,   
                                     She whom you love so well.  

Thus went the first verse of a poem in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine published in February 1862, by an unidentified author, extolling the virtues of skating, the promise of good health, and the assurance of romance to be found.  That poem and others in publications ranging from the venerable Godey’s Ladies Book and Peterson’s Magazine to educational texts such as The Primary Standard Speaker painted a vibrant picture of skating at the mid-nineteenth century.  This article will attempt to flesh out the poetic with a closer look at the details involved with skating in the time around the Civil War.

Skating was a common winter pastime by the mid-century in any area fortunate enough to have freezing temperatures of sufficient duration to actually freeze natural water surfaces thick enough to support skaters.  That seems obvious enough, but in fact, the natural ice skating season could amount to as few as 5 or 6 days in the course of a season.  The further north a location was the longer the potential skating season.  This was usually accompanied by a lot more snow, which needed to be cleared off the ice before it could be used. A wet snow could ruin the ice for an entire season.

During those days when the ice was found to be fit for skating, avid skaters would rush to take advantage of it.  A sort of holiday spirit prevailed around these occasions, and a breathless excitement ripples through factual and fictional descriptions of skating parties.  The ball referred to in the poem above was a large red ball which was raised in a tower in the Central Park when the ice on the skating pond was fit for skating. It could be seen from a considerable distance, since New York was not yet a city of skyscrapers, and its presence had people rushing by the thousands to skate at the park.  Other cities with good skating venues employed similar signals; for example, Ann Arbor, Michigan used a white flag with an orange circle on it to designate good skating.  If the flags were up in the morning, there would be good skating in the afternoon; if raised in the afternoon, good skating was expected for the evening.

The ideal weather for creating ice fit for skating was found around Philadelphia, PA during the time we are looking at.  Cold weather with periods of thaw and rain made wonderful ice.  According to skating historian James R. Hines, Philadelphia averaged 15 to 20 skating days in a season   A long enough cold spell would freeze the Schuylkill River and afford the town even more skating opportunities. The interest in skating, especially in skating figures, which we will look at shortly, led to the formation in 1849 of the first skating club in America, the “Skating Club of the City and County of Philadelphia”.  In 1861 it merged with the Humane Society (no, not a dog rescue organization) and became known then and still is today as the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society.  The humane society aspect was involved in rescuing skaters who had fallen through the ice, a not uncommon happening in this time period.  

Other cities along the eastern seaboard were infected with the skating mania, and in 1858 New York City opened the skating pond in Central Park, which was followed by other less well-known venues around the city.  The skaters still had the vagaries of weather to contend with, but this did not seem to dampen their enthusiasm.  On Christmas Day, 1860, there was an estimated crowd of 100,000 people at Central Park for skating.

With this much attention given to skating, no wonder the rest of the country caught the skating fever, and ponds were developed wherever the weather was conducive.  The danger of falling through the ice was somewhat less on these commercial venues, as they were usually no more than 4 feet deep.  Some of these ponds developed an alternate use in the summertime: baseball. 

The next step was building a roof over the ice to minimize the snow problems, and these covered areas became known as ice rinks.  They were introduced first in Canada around 1860, and were becoming available in the United States by 1865.  Not limited to the eastern seaboard, smaller cities such as Quincy, Illinois had a state of the art covered, engineered ice rink by 1869. It was described with pride in the History of Quincy as the “finest building of the kind in America”, built at a cost of $15,000. The rink featured a bed of clay for the ice surface to form on from water piped in from wells and springs. It was still dependent on the weather for freezing, and a good season of skating even in this wonderful arrangement was only 6 weeks. Commercially feasible artificial ice such as we can skate on now was still decades away.  

Outside major cities, skating was being done on natural lakes, rivers, and ponds, with all the attendant dangers from cold and falling in.  In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott describes a scene of the ice on the river breaking, with Amy falling in.  It may or may not have happened to Miss Alcott or one of her real-life sisters, but it was common to fall through unsafe ice. Members of the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society were required to carry a small reel of rope with them for the purpose of assisting in pulling someone out; skaters might carry a pole with them that could be used to advantage to get themselves out of a hole, or pull another skater out; skaters, especially women, were advised to avoid skating alone.

We have ice, now we need skates.  Early in the 19th century skates were being imported from Europe, as well as being produced here in America. They had a wooden platform for the shoe to stand on, known as the stock.  The blade was hand-forged by a blacksmith, but was sometimes made from the blacksmith’s worn-out files. The method of fastening the skate to the boot was usually straps of leather about ½ inch wide, with a variety of tie or buckle arrangements. These straps would be threaded through the stock and then fasten over the toes, instep, and wrap around the ankle. All of these arrangements were found to be less than ideal, with the straps coming loose frequently, or the feet getting cold from lack of circulation due to straps tied too tightly. To give the foot more security a large screw was often built into the heel of the skate, which was screwed into the heel of the boot or shoe before the straps were fastened, and many models had two small nails near the front of the stock pointing up which would dig into the sole of the shoe to prevent the foot from slipping around on the front of the skate. Skates still slipped, making skating difficult, and complex maneuvers such as turns or spins dangerous.  

A number of inventive ideas were tried out to address these issues. In 1848 Mr. E.V. Bushnell made the first all-metal skate, eliminating the wooden stock.  This lightened the skate, and made it stronger, but it was still fastened on the foot by straps. As the 1850s and 60s progressed, methods of clamping the skate to the boot were developed, giving the skater much more security. The skate manufacturing firm of Barney and Berry were pioneers in that innovation.  Other designs had features such as a cup of leather around the heel, developed especially for the female skater. Its selling point was to give more stability to those “weak ankles.”  One design patented by J.F. Blondin in 1860 and produced commercially had metal supports up the sides of the ankle with fastenings just above the ankle. These still had the old wooden stocks, as did many skates sold throughout the 1880s, even up to the very early 1900s. By 1890 the all-metal skate seems to have finally won most of the market, but the idea of fastening the blade directly to the shoe didn’t take hold until the early 20th century, though it was introduced to the skating world as early as 1697 by the Czar of Russia, Peter the Great.

Other modifications to the skates during the 1850s and 60s included changes to the blade shape itself.  Early skates usually had a curly prow, or point, on the front of the blade.  It curled up over the toes and pointed back toward the skater or continued the circle to end pointing down to the toes.  They were beautiful and graceful looking, often with a brass acorn on the very end, but not very strong.  As skating skills progressed, the curly prow became a hindrance to the skater, not allowing the toe area to be put to use.  At the back of the skate, the blade usually ended right under the center of the heel, with a square corner.  If the skater leaned back too far, they lost their balance and fell, and the squared off end made skating backward difficult and dangerous, and as a result throughout the early history of the sport, backward skating was considered neither desirable nor graceful. 

In time, the prow was shortened or eliminated all together in favor of connecting the front of the blade to the stock.  The back of the blade was still squared off, but was stretching out toward the back of the heel.  Skating backward became much easier. Adding a curve or “rocker” to the blade from front to back made turning on the ice much easier. Mass production was on the rise, making skates much more affordable.  Skaters could also rent skates by the day from vendors at the city ponds, much as we do today, if they did not wish to make the investment in a pair for themselves.

From ice and skates, we move on to skaters. It seems that anyone and everyone was skating.  Young, old, rich, poor, male, female, no one was excluded. Though some of the clubs that formed in cities implied privilege, skaters in general were a very democratic society.  Skating was encouraged as healthy exercise for all, and many clubs welcomed women as equal members with men.  Skating was an activity that a woman could participate in un-chaperoned, and a married woman could skate with a man other than her husband without censure. Little wonder that the poetry and prose published in the popular magazines regularly combined skating and romance!  

Peterson’s Magazine,
in 1865 published a series of lessons for ladies on how to skate, though it was not by any means the first mention of skating in that publication. The lessons are actually not bad, from a skater’s point of view. They started by instructions in what skate to use and caution against buckling the straps too tightly. A boot that is “stout in the sole, and level in the heel” was recommended. “Grooved skates” were to be avoided.  Those were skates which were not totally flat on the bottom of the blade, like a box cut in cross section which would have straight sides and flat bottom.  In contrast, all skate blades sold today are grooved, or to put it into modern terms, ground with a hollow on the bottom of the blade, so if you were to look at the blade in cross-section it would appear to have a semicircle cut into the bottom of the blade, with a sharp edge on each side. The concept of using the edges of the blade was well over a century old by the 1860s, but the practice of grinding a hollow into the blade was a fairly new concept, and not universally accepted. Further on in Lesson One, basic stroking was described, but the lady was admonished to move quickly from that to a graceful glide from side to side to achieve forward movement, known today as slalom motion, taught in basic skills classes in the earliest levels.

Lesson Two got you into backward skating, and it gives directions which if followed to the letter would likely have you sprawled on the ice in no time at all.  The directions are to “Skate forward to a good speed; throw all your weight upon your toes, lean well forward and swing round.  In the action of turning your skate will ‘bite’ the ice.  That is what you want.”  What they are trying to teach is a two-footed three turn (more on this later) but with these directions, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. Nowhere in the lessons is the concept of stopping addressed!  The usual methods of stopping were leaning back on your heels to allow the rear of the blade to dig into the ice, or turning or jumping quickly to dig the blades into the ice at a 90 degree angle to the direction you were going.  This is known as a hockey stop today.  

Lesson Three continues on into the “Outside Forward;” beginning to teach a lady to use the edges of her blade to trace a circle on the ice.  Given the number of skating opportunities per year, it might take three to four winters to learn to skate on the outside edge.  Then a lady might begin to learn the art of figures on the ice. The term “figure” means the tracing which the skate blade leaves on the surface of the ice, but could also mean what the skater was doing with the upper body.

The first known textbook on figure skating had been published in 1772 by Lt. Robert Jones in England, and was still available in the 19th century.  It was a landmark work, and shows how far skating had come.  When he wrote, skating was still a male-only pastime in England, but he felt, and wrote, that ladies should be included.  In his book he described several figures, which by today’s standards are rather basic.  In the early 19th century, other authors published instruction books in Europe, but large advances in skating technique were not evident until the 1850s in such manuals. 

It was in 1867 that an American published a work on skating: Edward L Gill wrote The Skater’s Manual; A Complete Guide to the Art of Skating.  This was a formal skating textbook, and I do not know how widely available it was. They are rare today.  One figure  described included a form of the spiral, which involves skating on one foot while raising the other and extending it behind you.  Spread Eagles were popular and are accomplished by placing the feet at least shoulder-distance apart with toes facing outwards, and moving in a circle on either the inside edges (easiest) or the outside edges (hardest and most admired). Other figures included three-turns, loops, serpentine patterns, ringlets which were a series of smaller loops, and grapevines, which seem to have been a series of edge changes and turns on two feet. Spins were being done in an upright position, but jumps are seldom mentioned, and the toe rake, or pick, had not yet been added to most skates. Toepicks are essential to several of the jumps we know today. When jumps are mentioned, they are usually referring to jumping over barrels, or heaven help us, bodies lined up on the ice, as a stunt.  

Several books published for young people with instructions in sport had chapters on skating in them, but the sources I have seen cover little more that the basics that Peterson’s covered in their three little lessons. Walker’s Manly Exercises included very general instruction in stroking which was quoted in the Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Fashion by Cecil Hartley in 1860. Along with the advice on stroking, Mr. Hartley expounded on a gentleman’s behavior on the ice, reminding him to be considerate of his skating companions, and to render assistance to anyone needing it.

For the benefit of ladies learning to skate, there was developed a safety skating frame, which was a wooden framework connecting runners for the ice surface to a pole at about waist height for the lady to hold on to.  You might see its descendent at a public skate session made in steel or aluminum tubing being used by the preschool crowd.  For ladies who did not wish to skate, but still wanted to be in on the fun, there were skating-sleds, which were essentially a chair mounted to a pair of runners.  It did require the service of a willing gentleman to push the sled around!  Some accounts mention an old rocking chair being put to the same use.  

I should mention, as well, that the lack of skates was no impediment to joining in the fun.  One book for young boys goes so far as to specifically give some instruction in sliding on the ice.  As if they needed it!  A look at many drawings published of groups of skaters on the ice will reveal a number of men and boys enjoying the ice without benefit of skates. It was, however, very destructive to shoes and boots.  

Could it be long before the popular press took note of all this fun?  Of course not!  Skating began to receive attention in the form of instructions such as above, in syrupy poetry, in fiction installments and short stories, in health forums such as Hall’s Journal of Health, and in merciless lampooning in publications such as Harper’s Weekly and Vanity Fair.

Hall’s Journal of Health appears to be a most serious publication, always erring on the side of caution in every activity.  Some of the injunctions about skating include: “If the thermometer is below thirty and the wind is blowing, no lady or child should be skating.” “Always keep your eyes about you, looking ahead and upward, not on the ice, that you may not run against some lady, child, or learner.” “Arrange to have an extra garment, thick and heavy, to throw over your shoulders, the moment you cease skating, and then walk home, or at least half a mile, with your mouth closed, so the lungs may not be quickly chilled by the cold air dashing upon them, through the open mouth; if it passes through the nose and head, it is warmed before it gets to the lungs.”  And the final caveat: “ The grace, exercise, and healthfulness of skating on the ice can be had, without any of its dangers, by the use of skates with rollers attached on common floors; better, however if the latter are covered with oil-cloth.”  The above were recommended by Scientific American in their January 10, 1863 issue, quoting from an earlier Hall’s publication.

Vanity Fair found this too much to leave alone, and responded to Hall’s original recommendations on skating and other subjects in its January 18,1862 issue:

   “Upon skates, Hall’s Journal of Health is particularly strong. ‘If the thermometer is
   below thirty’, says It, ‘and the wind is blowing, no lady or child should be skating.’ We
   don’t know about this.  If the lady is ‘below thirty,’ and good looking, let her skate,
   thermometer or otherwise.  If she is the reverse, let her slide.”

   In response to the recommendation to use rollerskates instead of ice skating outdoors: “By
   doing this kind of thing you will keep your lungs inflated with plenty of good stale gas, which
   is wholesomer than fresh air, but do not neglect to cover yourself with oil-cloth, as directed.

   We think it is Hall’s Journal of Heath, but we are not sure, which states that a cold may be
   caught by spilling a couple of spoonfuls of water upon one’s clothing.  There is a curious
   principle involved in this, and it is the very same as that upon which a man may become
   thoroughly corned by placing a salt-spoon of salt upon the top of his head.  It is to be
   hoped  that our readers will follow carefully the precepts contained in Hall’s Journal of
   Health. Thus doing, they cannot fail of becoming strong, and handsome, and good; though
   of course these conditions would be sooner attained by them if they could only be prevailed
   upon to wrap themselves permanently up in tissue-paper and live in band-boxes.”

Harpers Weekly on January 28, 1860 commented skating seen in Central Park, in particular the great variety of falls to be seen.  “There are…eight degrees, forms, or modes of tumbling.  No more, and no less. There is the ‘Fling utter,’ the Smash complicated,’ the ‘Stagger victorious,’ the ‘Scramble ineffectual,’ the ‘Drop sudden,’  and the ‘Fall facetious,’ the ‘Crash truculent,’ and lastly the ‘Crash unresisted.’”  

Novelists and authors of short stories were quick to exploit skating in their writing.  Charles Dickens mentions skating in several novels, Louisa May Alcott, as mentioned above, and in other novels uses skating and its dangers to enhance storylines.  One writer in particular I wish to mention here is Theodore Winthrop.  Winthrop became an aid to General Benjamin Butler at the start of the Civil War, and was killed at Big Bethel early in the war, a few weeks before the battle of First Manassas. Prior to his military activities he had spent time traveling in the west, then practicing law, and writing.  He was 32 at the time of his death in June, 1861.  His writing career was not particularly successful, but a short novel was published posthumously by Atlantic Monthly magazine, in two parts, in January 1862, and February 1862. It is essentially a romance, titled Love and Skates.

The hero of the story, Richard Wade, is everything one could want: good-looking, intelligent, resourceful, and an accomplished skater. He is commissioned with the job of  running an iron foundry which has fallen on hard times, complicated by labor issues. In the process, he of course meets fair lady (on the ice), falls in love, wins fair lady, and pulls her out of the water after she falls through.  What makes this story stand out is the description of the town’s festivities on the ice on Christmas day, and the extensive repertoire of skating skills Mr. Richard Wade possessed. 

He did pirouettes, spread-eagles, cross-overs, change-of-edge, spirals fast and slow, pivots (these are done by standing on one foot while the other foot draws a circle around you as you rotate around),  ran on his toes, slid on his heels, did spins, turned somersaults, jumped “over a platoon of boys laid flat on the ice; the last boy winced, and thought he was amputated; but Wade flew over, and the boy still holds together as well as most boys.”  He could cut letters into the ice and did not fall. Oh, yes, he also was a wonderful speed-skater, too, later in the story.  That Charles Winthrop wrote from much of his own experience and knowledge was brought out by Charles Nordkoff writing, also in Atlantic Monthly, in August 1863. In an article about Mr. Winthrop, Mr. Nordkoff writes “none but a born skater could have written those inimitable skating scenes in his story of ‘Love and Skates’.”

There were some skaters in real life who could match or exceed the exploits of the fictional Mr. Richard Wade. One of these was Jackson Haines.  Mr. Haines was born in 1840, and was raised in New York City.  Early on he gravitated to the stage and was a ballet master. He was the first to integrate dance and ice skating, developing a free-flowing and graceful style on the ice.  He is still known today for the invention of the sit-spin, which involves a skater spinning while in a deep knee bend on one leg, with the other leg projecting straight forward, parallel to the ice. The modern practice of attaching the blade permanently to a boot began with Mr. Haines, as well. In 1864 he went on an international tour, first to Toronto, then to England.  His style of skating was scoffed at in England, and he moved on to Vienna, where he found a spiritual home of sorts, and skated programs and waltzes to great acclaim.  The skating school he founded there would eventually give rise to the International Style of skating, which is essentially the style practiced today. Though Mr. Haines passed away in 1875 in Finland, he is a direct link from the American Civil War era skater to us today. Skating history remembers him as “the American skating king.”

Many images of Civil War era skaters exist, in magazines as woodcut illustrations, as lithographs by Currier & Ives, and as photographs such as CDVs and hard images. The magazine drawings and lithographs of course reflect the artist’s view and may be idealized, but some general information is to be had. They reflect a skating scene that was inclusive and enjoyable.  In 1856, Currier & Ives published a lithograph titled Winter Pastime, which showed boys skating on a frozen country river, playing a form of hockey, while the only girl in the picture is an onlooker.

Six years later, in 1862, they published Central Park Winter, which is a view of the bustling skating pond in the Park. It is full of skaters most with skates, with all ages on the ice, young men pursuing a young woman in a dress adapted for skating, with a pillbox style cap trimmed with fur with ear flaps of fur tied under her chin, a couple skating hand-in-hand, a lady being pushed over the ice in a sled-chair, another being assisted after a fall, children learning to stroke, men skating in top-hat and overcoat, boys skating in cap and scarf. In the background are warming houses and the building with tower for the red-orange ball. It is a wonderful work, and probably among the best known and most approachable of Currier & Ives’ large body of lithographs.

Photographic images of skaters are harder to find, and sought after by collectors.  The image of the young lady with her skates on is a favorite of mine, and shows someone dressed for warmth, with skirt raised by some sort of skirt-lifting device, and a decorative petticoat underneath. Further details of her coat are difficult to see, but she is wearing skates with an up-to-date blade attaching to the front of the stock.  They are being held on by straps over the shoe.  With close inspection, it appears she is wearing furs or other thick material over her boots, held on by the straps.

The accompanying picture is a CDV reputed to be Commander Miller of Providence, RI. The photographs were taken by F. Kindler of Newport, RI. Though it is hard to see, they have the same backdrop. The stock on his skates is quite thin, and may be a pair of the all-metal variety.  The young man in the picture is fastening buckles on Commander Miller’s straps.  Cold is not likely to be a threat, as he is wearing a heavy cloth coat with a fur piece that stands up around the neck and also extends down over the chest.

The little boy in the next photograph may be slightly post war, but he is ready for skating in a zouave style jacket and long pants, and a thick cloth cap with a bill in his hand.  The chair next to him has a substantial-looking outer garment of some type with wide fur borders.  His skates have wooden stocks and the more modern leather heel-cup which closed with buckles at the bend of the ankle, and with straps and (probably) buckles over the toes. He was photographed in Mohawk, NY.

You can’t get much more stylish than this little skater.  She is wearing an outfit specially designed for skating, with matching ruffled Turkish trousers underneath a skirt and jacket in the zouave style.  She has warm gloves and striped socks, and a Scottish cap with cockade and feather, and plaid trim.  Her skates also have the leather heel cup and retain the heavier wooden stock.  This image was taken in Wellsville, Ohio, and bears a tax stamp on the back. Her costume fits the description quoted from Godey’s 1864 below.

Another image is of a large group of young folks on a skating pond at the Annapolis Naval Academy. Who they are is not known, but they are wearing a variety of jackets and coats, conveying the idea that some of them know how to skate as a pair, or hand-in-hand, as it was called, and about 1/3 of them are not wearing skates but are still on the ice. The dog is a nice addition to the group as well. The image dates to approximately 1867.  

Clothing from the period which can be clearly identified as skate wear is rare.  One lovely English costume is preserved in the Costume Institute in New York City.  It is a quilted silk loose-fitting jacket with matching quilted skirt large enough to require a hoop.  White fur trims the neck, front closure, and around the bottom of the paletot-style jacket, and modified pagoda sleeves. The costume is a gorgeous shade of magenta, and is dated to the late 1860s.

The fashion periodicals offered advice for skating clothing for ladies. Following are some excerpts:

Godey’s, February 1864, Fashions. “Skating is now so universally recognized as an institution among ladies, as well as gentlemen, that not a little taste and ingenuity are exercised in getting up costumes, which will be at the same time warm, comfortable, convenient and picturesque.  To be sure, most ladies content themselves with drawing up their soft woolen and merino dresses over gaily striped and ornamented underskirts; but not a few invent, or have invented for them, charming skating costumes, specially adapted to the requirements of this graceful and healthful exercise, and also pretty and graceful enough to suit the most exacting taste.  

The most suitable and admired of these costumes are made in French flannel, and consist of a Garibaldi, Turkish pants, and short skirt, which leaves the limbs free for exercise.  The body part of the material should be dark grey, brown, or black, and the bordering in a bright color.  Gay woolen plaids, the Stuart or 42d, makes a very pretty relief to any color. Solferino is a good contrast to gray and crimson, or magenta to brown, either will do with black.

Very handsome costumes are made of Humboldt purple flannel, trimmed with bands sof black velvet.  The bands, whether colored or black, are much handsomer put on in sections, or in waves.  

We have seen a costume of cuir-colored flannel, ornamented with bands of red leather, with steel ornaments.  Another  of black flannel, with bands of scarlet merino, elegantly braided.  One of gray merino, with Solferino flannel bands, finished with narrow black velvet with a Solferino edge.  All these were made by Madame Demorest, although with patterns and a little ingenuity, they could be readily made at home.  The pants should be pretty wide and drawn with an elastic band.  Where it is not convenient to procure a costume, an ordinary walking dress, drawn up over the Balmoral skirt with one of Madame Demorest’s excellent elevators, of which we gave our readers a description last month, answers just the same purpose.  The only advantage of the regular costume is, that there is less weight to carry, and it is certainly more effective.  A long skirt is, of course, worn over a skating dress in going to and from the place of rendezvous.” A lengthy quote, but so wonderfully descriptive.

In May 1864, Godey’s mentions colored stockings remaining in fashion as a result of the “skating mania” in a letter from Paris in the Armchair column. It also mentions them being silk, spun silk, and fine wool, and chosen to match the dress.  

January 1866, Chitchat…upon fashions tells us that “the newest skating-gloves are of bright scarlet blue, or white cloth, stitched with the same or a contrasting color.” The following month we are told that “skating costumes are this season very elegant, and fur is the accepted trimming.  A very picturesque costume is a scarlet skirt scalloped and trimmed with applications of black velvet cut out in the shape of skates and chainstitched on the skirt.  The dress skirt is of black material gracefully festooned by means of scarlet cords pendent from the waist, and having on the end of each a steel pin in the shape of a horseshoe or skate….A broad band of fur borders the tight-fitting paletot of black velvet cloth, and the black velvet turban is likewise trimmed with fur. Scarlet cloth gloves, Polish boots with scarlet tassels and tongues, and Eureka muff and collar complete the costume.  The effect is greatly heightened by wearing a scarlet scarf fastened on one shoulder and tied under the arm at the opposite side.  …for skating it is not requisite that the fur trimming should be real….It is, however requisite that all the trimmings should be of the same kind, otherwise the effect will be completely marred.”

An 1867 sketch of “fancy skating” shows a couple performing “the backward roll.” Their names are given as Mr. Engler and Miss Bedell, with Miss Bedell shown wearing a full but short (calf-length) skirt, a fitted jacket with somewhat of a peplum, a wide fur collar closed with tabs and buttons, generously cut sleeves that narrow to the wrist, and a wide fur cuff on those.  A sash or scarf that matches the skirt encircles her waist and long ties fringed on the end swirl around as she skates. On her head she has a pill-box style hat with a couple of feathers trimming the crown.  Her boots are adorned with tassels at the top. 

 Mr. Engler’s attire is more conservative, but is designed for warmth with a jacket that extends well over the hips and is trimmed in a light contrasting fur edging and generous collar and cuffs.  He wears a sporty cap which has a turned up edge and straight sides with a flat crown. Sorry, no tassels on his boots, but he gives a very jaunty and assured impression in his dress. Jackson Haines was photographed in a similar coat, as were later-century skaters of note such as Axel Paulson of Norway, and Ulrich Salchow of  Sweden. If those names sound familiar, it is because they invented jumps that bear their names, the axel and the salchow, which skaters perform routinely today.

Most of the men in photographs, and depicted in drawings, are wearing clothing which is regular streetwear, with accessories such as scarves or fur collars for added warmth. One 1840s European account mentions men skating in pea jackets with red woolen knitted scarves.  

Two other skating accessories deserve mention: the lantern and the skate bag.  The lantern was made in a variety of styles, but the common feature is size: they are small, perhaps 6 inches tall, with a tall handle to allow it to be carried in the hand without danger of burning.  These were a source of light for nighttime skates, and were made as candle lanterns or for oil.  The skate bag was a bag long enough to hold the skates, with a strap for carrying and a flap to close over the front.  Patterns for these were published in the fashion magazines, and some were highly decorated.  

A great winter activity for a living history group would be to organize a skating party for their members and guests. The party can be held on natural ice if available and safe, but an indoor or outdoor artificial rink will be safer and can be counted on to have ice on the appointed day. If group finances permit, you may purchase an hour or two of ice for your exclusive use, but it will be far less expensive and give your group more public exposure to attend a regular public skating session. These will also usually have rental skates available, and I cannot recommend using antique skates of any vintage.  The damage to the skates themselves, and the potential injuries you could sustain are too great. If members balk at using modern skates, it may help to point out that a modern figure skate boot is closer to an 1860s boot than many boots you may see at living history events, and that Jackson Haines himself used boots with blades permanently attached. Skate safely and have a good time!

Activities for a skating event might include skating to waltz music (some covered rinks had bands playing music for the skater’s pleasure), doing a Virginia reel on skates, scattering oranges or wrapped candies on the ice for children to scramble for, and races for the boys and men.  If you are on a public session, be sure to get permission from the manager for putting anything on the ice.  You will be welcomed back if you observe the etiquette of the rink as well.  This is commonly that the flow of traffic moves one way, any racing is on the perimeter if allowed, and the center of the ice is the place for practicing turns and spins, and any organized activity such as the reel.  

To expand into a larger social event, you might have a carnival on ice, which was something of a fancy-dress ball on the ice.  These were evening events, skated under torches or lanterns, with organized activities and food and drink. Perhaps too much drink in some cases.  A drawing of a carnival in Brooklyn in 1864 features, along with skaters in normal attire, a man in a horse costume, another wearing a lady's cage crinoline over his suit, an Indian in full headdress, a highlander costume, and a devil with pitchfork.   

Non-skating souls can participate in readying refreshments, which could be any period food which could be easily transported to a rustic location or sold from a stall near the city skating ponds.  Included in this are hot drinks such as cider and hot toddies.  

Nineteenth century skating was exhilarating, sociable, democratic, and challenging. Figure skating was the focus of this article, but another aspect deserving of attention is speed skating, or racing in this time period.  More aspects of it that I have not addressed are the beginnings of hockey as a winter sport, and the joys of river skating, or touring, where one might skate for miles on a well-frozen river. They are beyond the scope of this article, and remain to be more fully explored.  Until then, in the words of Rev. Ephraim Peabody, D.D.:

                            Let others choose more gentle sports,  
                               By the side of the winter’s hearth;
                            Or ‘neath the lamps of the festal hall  
                                Seek for their share of mirth.
                                 But as for me, away! away!  
                               Where the merry skaters be;
                   Where the fresh wind blows and the smooth ice glows,  
                                   There is the place for me.


Athletic Sports for Boys.
New York, Dick & Fitzgerald 1866 Brown, Nigel.
Ice-Skating a History.
New York. A.S. Barnes and Company 1959
Godey’s Ladies Book
Hartley, Cecil B.
The Gentlemen’s Gook of Etiquette , and Manual of Politeness;
Boston, G.W. Cottrell. 1860
Harper’s Weekly
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine
Herner, Russell.  Antique Ice Skates for the Collector. Schiffer 2001
Hines, James R. Figure Skating A History University of Illinois Press and the World Figure Skating
   Museum and Hall of Fame 2006
Lambert, Luna. The American Skating Mania Ice Skating in the Nineteenth Century
   Dec. 1978 – Feb.1979 National Museum of History and Technology, Smithsonian Institution,
   Washington, D.C.
Making of America,www.cdl.library.cornell.edu, and www.hti.umich.edu
Marsh, Heidi. Compiled by; Ladies’ Sports of the Era of the Hoop Marsh, CA, 1993
Norris, David A. “The Lexington of the Civil War,” American History Vol 36, No. 4 (October 2001),
   pp. 48-55.
Peterson’s Magazine

Redmond, Pat. H. History of Quincy, and Its Men of Mark. Exirs & Russell 1869
Sheffield, Robert and Woodward, Richard.  The Ice Skating Book. Universe Books 1980
Scientific American

U.S. Figure Skating Association. The Official Book of Figure Skating.  Simon & Schuster 1998 Vanity Fair
Winthrop, Theodore. “Love and Skates” The Atlantic Monthly January 1862, and February 1862
   Boston, Ticknor and Fields.

A Peek into the Past -- Researching with CDVs

by Kris Lindquist

Published in Citizen's Companion, 2007.

Carte de visites (cdvs) were created by the Duke of Parma in 1857 who instructed his photographer to mount his image on his calling card.  The size was, therefore, set at approximately 2 ½ by 3 ½ inches.  (The larger cabinet card was not introduced until after the Civil War.  Tintypes were also available during the Civil War and remained in production into the 1940s.) Cdvs appeared in America in1860 and were an instant success.  They quickly became affordable to the general public and, luckily for us, having one’s photo taken was all the rage.  In America, cdvs were not used as calling cards; a better analogy is that of school pictures.  People gathered images of loved ones, celebrities, art work and famous places into albums; soldiers carried them off to war.  Cdvs were small enough to be tucked into letters. 

Because millions of cdvs were produced, many have survived which can be used to understand the Civil War era.  Fashions, particularly of women, help date cdvs but other clues exist. The card stock tended to be quite thin (similar to today’s Bristol weight) unlike later cdvs which are thicker.  Banding in red or gold is often seen near the edges.  Revenue stamps, which raised money for the war, were required on the backs of photographs produced between August 1864 and August 1866.  When a photographer’s name is printed or stamped on the reverse, records containing the years of operation can also help date an image. 

These images show us not only fashions but how outfits were coordinated. Sitting for one’s photograph was an exciting event using state-of-the-art technology.  Early photos show people wearing their absolute best in stiffly formal settings.  As shutter speeds improved during the war, the images became less stilted and formerly blurred subjects, such as children and pets, appear in sharp focus.   

There are many wonderful guides to fashions of this era but early on, the skirts on dresses tended to be full and bell-shaped.  Many skirts had flounces and ruffles.  As the war wore on, skirts simplified and the weight of the skirt began shifting to the rear.  The decorative touches, sleeves, collars and belts can all be studied as can hair styles, head coverings and outerwear.  Personal items such as glasses, mitts, parasols and the rare purse may also be present.  Medical conditions can sometimes be seen especially eye problems, old scars and goiters.  

With whom one chose to be photographed is also of interest -- couples are obvious as are families.  Women with children and no husband are often interpreted as widows but the cdv may have been taken as a keepsake for the father (a check of her clothing may clarify the point).  Young women often had group photos done of their school classes.  A personal favorite of mine are those people shown with a cherished pet. The relationships in many photos sadly will remain a mystery to us. 

Common pitfalls in studying old photographs include the belief that every item in a photo belonged to the sitter.  Props were commonly used both by studios and traveling photographers. Occupational cdvs do exist showing people with various tools of their trades; women are occasionally seen with needlework.  Another challenge is that colors imaged very differently from those created with modern black and white film.  Violet, blue, purple, pink and magenta imaged light.  Other vivid colors imaged dark.  A woman in a “black” dress may actually be wearing crimson or yellow!  Every woman in dress which appears black is not mourning; other details in her attire will help one decide.  

It can also be difficult for us to interpret photos within the context of their time.  Our modern views would make photos of the dead seem macabre but, due to the recent introduction of photography, this may have been the only image of a child or other loved one left to preserve a cherished memory.  Another challenge is wedding pictures -- if a bride could afford a separate wedding dress, her attendant might be dressed similarly. These are often interpreted as double weddings but were merely a practice of the day.  Women are frequently pictured holding hands, a sign of close friendship but probably nothing more.  I’ve seen a rare few photos of men in bonnets and one in a tossed-on dress -- I am suspicious this was a lost bet or some other silliness.  Short hair on a young woman doesn’t mean she lost her hair with a serious illness.  Caroline Richards’s diary reports in 1859, “It is all the fashion for girls to cut off their hair and friz it.  Anna and I have cut off ours…”   

To create your own collection of cdvs, start with your old family photos and old albums.  Ask your friends and relatives if they have any you could study.  Antique shops frequently have collections of old photos and an occasional album.  The availability of Ebay has added a new opportunity to see and buy images from the comfort of your own home.  Backmarks and revenue stamps can help distinguish American images from foreign (the latter also can be very interesting in their own right).  Prices for civilian cdvs can vary from a few dollars to $40 or more for an unusual image or elaborate dress.  An identified subject or a revenue stamp on the back tends to increase the price.  Images of soldiers run much higher.  As with all antiques, condition matters but some information can be gleaned from nearly any image from the era. 

Other opportunities exist to study older images without the expense of collecting the original cdvs.  These include books on Civil War fashion, books on early photography, paintings of the era, websites devoted to the era and the Library of Congress collection of images.