Ice skates and their history (2)

An attempt for reconstruction

From a constructional point of view a development from bones to flat iron covered wooden platforms seems obvious. Wood is easy to work and iron is hard-wearing. In the Amsterdam Historic Museum the oldest ice skate found at excavations in the centre of the town is preserved. It was made in the first half of the 13th century and thus is about 800 years old.

Circa 1225 - This photo shows what is left of a wooden platform that was covered by a runner blade of approx. 10 mm wide. The blade was hooked fore and aft as to fix it to the wood. The front is prow like shaped and the rear is right angled. This may present the archetype of the modern ice skate.

Unfortunately, early descriptions of the construction are not available and we depend on what was left by our artistic ancestors in the form of prints. These prints, however, have not been made to explain the construction in detail and therefore seldom are detailed enough to be certain about the appearance.
Thus the best we can present is a good guess.

- The first print with a real skating scene is found in the book 'Vita alme virginis Lydwine' that was written in 1498 by father Jan Brugman. The print concerns the unfortunate fall of the in 1890 canonized Lydwina of Schiedam a hundred year before. The picture shows Lydwina with ice skates under her feet similar to the ones shown in later medieval works of art. Unfortunately, the print does not show exactly what her ice skates looked like but from the posture of the skater in the background we can conclude
that at the end of the middle ages already ice skates were designed in such a way that they could be used to push off with. Most likely they already were provided with a metal strip underneath. Maybe in the way shown in the previous picture.

1553 - This picture shows a detail from an engraving made
in 1553 by Jan Galle after a drawing of Pieter Breughel Senior. It is clear that these ice skates consist of three parts: a platform, a runner blade and some kind of strapping. From elsewhere in the picture it appears that the shape of the platform is triangular and that the runners sit in a vertical slot underneath the platforms. How the blades have been fastened tot the platform is unclear. The strapping looks very similar to the way we use laces to tie on our shoes.

1570 - Here we see a detail from an engraving made in 1570 by Hans Bol. The front of the ice skate already displays a similarity to a curl. The strapping seems to be a leather 'harness' that is tied together by some kind of lacing.

These pictures from the sixteenth century show primitive specimen of ice skates. The scene changes dramatically in the seventeenth century. This period is often referred to as 'the Small Ice Age' due to the severe
winters that then afflicted northern Europe. Ice skates became common objects for the entire population and the blacksmiths that produced them must have had golden times. They must have made thousands of them and consequently the skate designs became more sophisticated. From the following pictures it appears that the foundation laid in the 17th century lasted through to the 20th century.

1614 - This picture shows a detail from an engraving made by Roemer Visscher in 1614. The ice skates have lost their primitive look and appear as gracious skids with beautiful high rising slender prows. The strapping is simplified to just two bindings, one for the heel and one for the toes.

1667 - In 1667 a certain Balduinus composed some sort of catalogue of shoes and boots in which he also inserted this drawing. It shows very clearly that the platform has got the shape of a fiddle and that the wood extends to the end of the prow where the runner blade ends in a tiny bullet. This style of strapping continued to be used on wooden ice skates as far as in the 20th century.

1700 - This detail comes from a cartoon made by A. van de Venne in 1700. These skates are very much like the skates above, but it will be noticed that the tiny bullet at the top of the neck has grown taller and changed to some kind of a curl.

An early relict
All early ice skates seem to have had pretty wide and low blades. This means that the skater stood very close to the ice surface and the movement therefore must have been gliding rather than skating.

This picture
shows a runner blade from the 17th century that is very much alike the skates shown in the last two pictures above. It was found at dredging activities in Zevenhuizen, South-Holland. The height of the blade is 12 mm at the rear and 3 mm at the front; it is 35 cm long. The width of the blade increases from 6 mm at the rear to 10 mm at the front.  The blade has got a triangular shape with the top up at the rear and declines to the front in a flat rectangle. It is thought that 'the wedge' enclosed the most forward part of the platform, which at the rear was kept in place by a screw. The 'curl' contains a master mark consisting of an arrow in which a crossbow is visible and some initials showing W.v.STIN or so.



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