Boots & Blades: 19th century brand marks and models

The launch of our next virtual exhibition, Boots & Blades: The Story of Canadian Figure Skating, is coming up in the New Year, so the research into skates continues. In this blog, I’ll take a look at a few of the interesting makes and models of blades that we have been learning about.

One of the earliest skates with manufacturer’s marks in the collection are the three pairs shown in this blog post.

The English Club skates with blades rounded up to the foot bed in the front and in the back, are marked “Moulson Brothers Union Works Sheffield”. Knowing the name of the manufacturer allowed us to find out about the company and the dates it was in operation. It was founded in the early 1830s by five brothers and was reportedly bankrupt by 1875. Family descendants formed Moulson Bros & Co. at some point in the 1870s. For this pair of skates, knowing the date range of the company also helped us estimate a date of production for the skates.

Skates manufactured by the Moulson Brothers in Sheffield, England. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum. Image © 2021 Bata Shoe Museum.

A similar pair of strap-on skates are the Club skates marked “H. Boker”. The blade silhouette on this pair shows a more developed design in the heel profile. We estimate this pair to have been made between the years 1837 and 1870. The company, H. Boker and Co., was founded in 1837 by Hermann Boker in New York City, which was a hardware manufacturing firm affiliated with his brother Heinrich who had his own company in Germany, called H. R. Boker. As an aside, it is interesting to note that the youngest Boker brother founded a branch of the company in Canada at about the same time. The Boker companies specialized in the manufacture of sabers, knives, tools and cutlery, a specialization in to which skate blades fits quite well.

The brand mark of the company is known as the ‘tree’ logo, which was introduced in 1870. As the ‘tree’ mark is not on the blades we have in the collection, we know they were manufactured prior to 1870. The research has aided us in narrowing down the possible date of manufacture to be between 1837 and 1870.

Skates manufactured by H. Boker of New York. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum. Image © 2021 Bata Shoe Museum.

The final pair of club skates have a metal pressure clamp system instead of the leather strap and buckle attachment that most of the skates up to this date have. The leather strap system was hard to tighten and so the skater’s boots and the attached blades were often not moving in unison. That made it hard to skate. The metal pressure clamp system on this pair are likely an innovation that sought to solve the problem. Manufactured by “Hill, Late Coleman” at “4 Haymarket London”, we can verify that these are English in origin and the history of the company shows it existed from about 1855 until the early 20th century. They were knife and blade makers, who also sold outdoor equipment at that address, including compasses, barb wire nippers and folding axes. The company was run by the original owner without his son from 1855 to 1870, and at that point the company name changed to ‘Hill & Son’.

Skates manufactured by ‘Hill, Late Coleman’ at ‘4 Haymarket London’. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum. Image © 2021 Bata Shoe Museum.

This history informs us that this pair of skates were manufactured between 1855 and 1870.

Suzanne Petersen, Collections Manager

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