Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Slipping and Sliding Along

QUESTION: I’ve loved to ice skate ever since I was kid. When it got cold enough to the local pond to freeze over, my parents would take my siblings and I ice skating. I remember the first pair of skates I received for Christmas when I was just six years old. Over the years, my interest and love of skating has grown. Even though I’m no Olympic champion, I’m a good skater. I also have an interest in the history of skating and have begun to collect bits and pieces of skating history—old skates, postcards, photographs, and such. What can you tell me about the origins of skating and the possibilities of collecting skating memorabilia?

ANSWER: Even though people have been skating since 300 A.D., the great interest in skating, especially figure and speed skating, grew out of the advent of the Winter Olympics. And while you and others skated on frozen ponds, many people today, especially those living in cities, skate on man-made skating rinks, both indoor and outdoor.

There was a time when ice skates were more of a mode of transportation with even armies known to have strapped on blades before military engagements.

An animal bone strapped to a fur-lined clog-type boot was the earliest form of skate used 1,500 to 1,700 years ago. At times, skaters may have also used a staff, or pole, to assist in propelling them over the ice and uneven frozen marshes.

Elk, horse, cow and deer bones as well as walrus teeth were the most commonly used material for this rather unsteady mode of transportation. Most of the skates measured 11 to 12 inches. Leather thongs went through holes drilled at each end of the bone and tied around boots.

Eventually, skate makers developed a clog type shoe with metal strap for the blade that was fitted to the bottom, called a snow skate . They carved them out of a block of wood and placed  animal hides into the clogs to keep the feet warm. Styles of skates varied depending on the country of origin and purpose.

Historians believe iron blades originated in the Netherlands as early as the 14th century. To help skaters glide over rough ice, the Dutch developed skates with a high curly prow at the front of blade.  They made the sole of the skate from oak, rosewood, walnut or beech. They stuck a sharp pin or screw into the heel of the wooden sole to help secure the boot heel to the skate. But many skaters still suffered broken bones from these types of insecure skates.

The ingenious Dutch also developed a faster way to skate in the 16th century called the “Dutch Roll,” the current method of skating, which allowed Dutch skaters to travel 40 to 50 miles a day. Dutch peasants skated over frozen canals to markets to sell their wares. This type of skating was more about speed than artistic skating style.

Sometimes, skate makers replaced iron blades replaced with brass or bronze ones. The first English figure skate had short iron blades with gently curved bottoms. No more than two inches of the blades touched the ice at any time. Skaters needed great skill to keep their balance on these early skates. Today’s skaters still wear the curved bottom figure skate blade.  And as skate designs evolved, skaters created new moves on the ice.

Early American merchants imported skates from England, Holland and Germany. In 1883,the C.W. Wirths Co. in Germany exported 600 pair of "high quality skates" to a firm in Philadelphia. They had exceptionally high curls on the prow and brass acorns at the tip.

There was an American skating mania from the 1850s to around 1900. As many as 50,000 skaters crowded onto the Central Park ice in one day. E.V. Bushnell, an American mechanic, invented the first integral, all metal footplate and blade skate in 1848. However, thousands of skaters still preferred the old wood platforms. Between 1800 and 1850, 200 skate models, good and bad, came into the U.S. Patent Office. An additional 400 patents related to skates appeared between 1850 and 1900. In 1870, skate makers developed the hollow ground blade  and became a great help in executing sharp edges for many intricate moves.

An important American skater, Jackson Haines, presented skating exhibitions up and down the East Coast of America and Canada. He invented a new style of skate to help develop his skill and artistic skating. His forged his blade onto steel toe and heel plates that could be screwed directly and permanently onto the sole and heel of the boot. He added teeth to the front of the blade to help in jumping. He became known as the founder of the international style of skating, and invented the Sit Spin, which figure skaters still use today.

In 1914, John E. Strauss, a St. Paul, Minnesota, blade maker developed the first closed-toe blade of one piece of steel. He attached the tip of the prow to the front foot plate rather than protruding unsupported.

Skates from the 1850s with metal footplates sell in the $100 to $200 range, depending on their condition. Rust on any skate will detract from its value.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about religious antiques in the special 2018 Holiday Edition, "The Art of the Sacred," online now.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Let's be Crystal Clear

QUESTION: When I was in fifth grade, my family went on vacation in the lakes region of New York State. While we were there, we visited the Steuben Glass Factory. I marveled at the clear crystal figures and lovely bowls and vases, decorated with delicate engravings. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to collect pieces of Steuben glass, but I have no idea where to begin. Can you help me?

ANSWER: You were right to be enamored of Steuben glass. The company produced some of America’s finest art glass.

Frederick Carder and Thomas G. Hawkes founded Steuben Glass Works in the summer of 1903 by in Corning, New York, which is in Steuben County, from which Carder and Hawkes derived the company name. Hawkes was the owner of the largest cut glass firm then operating in Corning. Carder was an Englishman (born September 18, 1863) who had many years' experience designing glass for Stevens and Williams in England. Hawkes purchased the glass blanks for his cutting shop from many sources and eventually wanted to start a factory to make the blanks himself. Hawkes convinced Carder to come to Corning and manage such a factory. Carder, who had been passed over for promotion at Stevens and Williams, consented to do so.

Carder produced blanks for Hawkes and also began producing cut glass himself. Carder loved colored glass and had been instrumental in the reintroduction of colored glass while at Stevens and Williams. When Steuben's success at producing blanks for Hawkes became assured, Carder began to experiment with colored glass and continued experiments that were started in England. He soon perfected Gold Aurene which was similar to iridescent art glass being produced by Tiffany and others. Carder followed Gold Aurene with a wide range of colored art glass that Steuben produced in more than 7,000 shapes and 140 colors.

Steuben Glass Works continued to produce glass of all sorts until World War I. At that time war time restrictions made it impossible for Steuben to acquire the materials it needed. Corning Glass Works eventually purchased the company and made it its Steuben Division. Carder continued as Division manager without any real change in the company's operation except that he now had reporting responsibilities to Corning Glass Works' management. Corning's management tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to limit the articles that Steuben made to only the most popular. Production continued until about 1932.

The Great Depression limited the sale of Steuben, plus its popularity waned. In February 1932, Corning appointed John MacKay to Carder's position, and Carder became Art Director for Corning Glass Works. At that time, Steuben produced primarily clear art glass.

Corning Glass Works appointed Arthur Houghton, Jr. as President in 1933, and under his leadership Steuben changed artistic direction toward more modern forms. Using a newly formulated clear glass developed by Corning which had a very high refraction index, Steuben designers developed beautiful, fluid designs.

Scandinavian techniques, combined with newly developed optical glass composition, replaced it. Steuben hired architects and designers who worked closely with glassworkers. Before then, the engravers had worked at home.

Sculptor Sidney Waugh was among the first to use the new figural engraving techniques for Steuben, with his crystal “Gazelle Bowl.” He created a series of decorative pieces using copper-wheel and diamond point engraving, similar to Scandinavian style.

The themes during this period included "balustrade" designs for water goblets and candlesticks, footed bowls and serving pieces. Decorative forms included wildlife pieces representing owls, penguins and other birds in smooth stylistic forms. Some pieces, such as the Ram's Head Candy Dish, playfully included clean lines crowned by an ornate design (a ram's head, complete with a ruff) on the lid as an homage to its classic earlier pieces.

The company also entered into the field of larger show and presentation pieces celebrating various scenes, such as its cut-away design featuring an Eskimo ice fisherman above the ice and the fish below. In some cases, artisans used sterling silver or gold plating over a metal finish, such as the golden "fly" atop the nose of a rainbow trout. Each piece is signed simply with Steuben on the underside of the object.

World War II cut production of Steuben glass. The company didn’t produce lead crystal pieces until the 1950s. By the mid-1950s, Steuben had begun producing free sculptural pieces.

Toward the 1990s, the company also began production of small objects—"hand coolers"—in various animal shapes.

Items from this period were also noted for their careful and elegant packaging. Before boxing, each Steuben piece was placed in a silver-gray flannel bag (stitched with the Steuben name), and then placed in a presentation box.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about religious antiques in the special 2018 Holiday Edition, "The Art of the Sacred," online now.