Papa's Got A Brand New (Skate) Bag

If you were a high school student in the nineties like me, it 'wasn't enough' to have a Note Tote. The 'in thing' was the zippered Five Star binder. You also couldn't 'just' show up after school at the rink with your skates in any old bag. The skaters that waltzed in pulling their 'rolly bag' luggage were the skaters that you took seriously. Though it's not something we often think about, the way that a skater transports their skates, guards, costumes and music to a rink is a bit of a status symbol... and believe it or not, one with an interesting history.

Vintage carrying case for ice skates

Though the image of Victorian era working-class skaters slinging their skates over their shoulders and trudging through the snow to the ponds isn't far off, serious 'fancy' skaters - ie. those with money - would sometimes make a show of taking their skates out of a wooden carrying case or bag. The January 3, 1891 issue of "Evening World" noted, "Those who purchase the finest grade of skates ought to have a case or bag to keep them in to prevent them from tarnishing. A fancy lined Morocco case is to be had for $2 and a chamois bag with two pockets, one for each skate, costs 75 cents. The chamois bag is as good as serviceable as the case, and can be used to rub off and polish up the skates when they are taken off." By the 1910's, skate manufacturers A.G. Spalding & Bros. sold cloth and felt double-pocket bags with drawstrings that had a division so that their skates would not clank together.

As competitive figure skating evolved in the first half of the twentieth century, live orchestras became less frequent during the free skating events. In addition to bags or cases for their skates, it became the vogue for skaters to show up at competitions with separate carrying cases for their records. These record cases were often decorated with stamps and decals from the various cities that the skater visited. And so, the perception became that the more decorated the case, the more travelled (and intimidating) the skater.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Interestingly, the first North American patent for a skate bag wasn't issued until 1948. Barbara Chour of Milwaukee's Skate Carrying Bag didn't prove commercially popular. The Carroll Dorn Manufacturing Company of Kansas City, Missouri marketed a Collapsible Skate Bag the same year, which they gave as promotional gifts to the casts of the Ice Capades and Ice Cycles.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In 1949, the West-Over Service Company in Colorado Springs began marketing "the first skating bag designed by skaters for skaters use". Their Skate Bag - which retailed for five dollars and ninety five cents - resembled a normal suitcase, but was also collapsible... and monogrammed. Their advertisement in "Skating" magazine boasted, "Every detail to aid in the skater's enjoyment of his hobby has been thoughtfully taken care of in this specially designed skating bag. Just the right size for skates and you can carry extra costumes or equipment. The separate water-proof inner pocket fastens inside the bag. Made in an attractive, rich maroon water-proof fabric, the skate bag will be the envy of your friends."

In 1954, Frieda Alber patented a U-shaped Skate And Shoe Bag with a shoulder strap. In her patent application, Alber noted, "The transportation of ice and roller skates to and from the rink causes considerable inconvenience to the skater because of the rather large size of the skates, especially when the shoes are permanently attached thereto, and also because of their weight and usually soiled condition, especially after use at the rink. When they are brought to the rink in the usual piece of hand luggage, the problem arises of checking the piece of luggage with an attendant at the rink and when no such attendant is available, it must be left exposed to pilfering and stealing while the wearer is skating." By the late fifties, waterproof Skate Carrying Cases with plastic handles and brass plated locks were being sold by mail order and the USFSA got in the game with it's Skater's Caryall, which sold for a cool $7.95 in 1967.

Ice Originals By Lizette Skate Bag, circa 1960's. Photo courtesy Vintage Purse Museum.

With my days of Axels and double Salchows long behind me, I'm quite content to carry my skates to Halifax's Emera Oval in a beautiful Shutterfly tote with one of Toller Cranston's paintings on the front, gifted to me by Jenny Hall Engelka. For those of us who don't 'need' Zuca, companies like Zazzle offer up plastic rolly bags decorated with beautiful historical skating scenes. Whether you choose to seek out a vintage skate carrying case in an antique store or are a slave to your 'rolly bag', rest assured that it's what's inside that really counts.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":