Storing a Collection of Skates

In 1995, just before the BSM opened to the public, the entire artefact collection was moved from its temporary location to its new permanent home. Previously, space was limited and the entire skate collection was stored in boxes. Now with new shelving and more space, the dilemma was how to safely store these artefacts so that they would be visible.

As one can imagine, skates do not naturally stand on their own! If left to their own devices, the skates would have to lie on their sides. This would expose the blades, creating potential for scratching their neighbours and making them challenging to handle. The storage solution needed to hold the skates in an upright position, support loose straps and shield the blades. The materials needed to be inert meaning they wouldn’t off gas, creating harmful vapours, which would make the metal corrode and cause degradation of the other materials of which the skates are composed. These could range from leather to modern plastics, depending on the age and specific function of the skate.

We settled on traditional and tested materials: polyethylene (PE) foam and polypropylene (PP) corrugated plastic sheet (Coroplast). We decided that in the upright position, in its support tray, the skates needed to be visible from the front and the back. This meant that you could see what the upper section of the skates look like without having to take them off the shelf, reducing over handling.

The storage containers are tailor made for each pair of skates. Each skate was placed in an acrylic ‘puck’ that held them in an upright position. The pair was placed, side by side, one facing forward, its mate facing backwards with enough space between so that they would not touch. The centre foam block was cut to these measurements plus the length of the skate blade, which is usually longer than the boot. Next two side blocks were cut to the same length but to a narrower width which is determined by the distance from the side of the blade to the widest part of the boot or footrest. A sheet of PP was cut to a dimension that would enclose these PE blocks, creating a base and covering the sides. The exposed surface of the PE blocks was covered with PE foam sheet to prevent scratching the metal blades or the sole of the leather boots at the point of contact. The overlapping corners of the PP container were skived down, then secured with hot melt glue. The foam blocks were placed inside the container, leaving a space between the outer blocks and the central block into which the blades would nestle. A variety of solutions is used to support the leather straps as they vary in condition and design.

Lastly, the artefact number is applied to the front of the container for two reasons: to tell you what the artefact is without having to remove it from the shelf and to match the storage tray back up to the skates should they become separated.

The end result is a collection of 111 skates that stand vertically on the shelves in the storage room. The support container keeps everything tidy and makes it easy to lift the artefacts without incurring damage.

Ada Hopkins, Conservator

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