Artifact of the Month: Ice skates, 1860s

When freezing temperatures dig in, as they did last week and undoubtedly will again before this winter is through, it’s helpful to remember that we’re not the first generation of North Carolinians to know what ice looks like.

Our January Artifact of the Month is a pair of ice skates that belonged to Pittsboro native Henry Armand London, UNC Class of 1865, when he was a student.

ice skates

The skates have fastening rings for attaching leather straps, which the wearer used to tie the skates to his feet. The straps are missing and the iron skates are rusted, but the bent toe guard hints at at least a few days skating. A look at London’s student diary (catalog record here) confirms this assumption.

journal excerpt

(If anyone knows what London means by having a snap, please chime in in the comments!)

After graduating, London went on to become a prominent merchant in Pittsboro, as well as a lawyer, journalist, historian, state senator, and trustee of UNC.

You can view other artifacts that belonged to UNC students in our digital collection Carolina Keepsakes.

6 thoughts on “Artifact of the Month: Ice skates, 1860s”

  1. Here’s a stab at the meaning of “had a snap.” In his book Tar Heel Talk: An Historical Study of the English Language in North Carolina to 1860 (published by UNC Press in 1956), Norman E. Eliason suggests that “snap” means “a recess, to skip.” Eliason combed through material in the Southern Historical Collection to study word usage in the Old North State.

    Eliason offers two examples of usage for “snap.” W.S. Mullins, a UNC student, wrote on February 22, 1841: “Gov. Swain announced a snap throughout the day.”

    J.L. Dusenberry, a UNC student, wrote the following in his diary on January 8, 1842: “I snapped from church today and McNary answered for me.”

    Perhaps London couldn’t bear to face the snow and ice, so, in the tradition of UNC students from all generations, he “had a snap” from class.

  2. Thanks for looking into this, John. The three dates London mentions were a Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so your theory makes some sense. But two questions remain:

    Would someone so successful have skipped class three days in a row?

    What about “took a snap from Fattie”?

  3. Could “snap” in this case mean classes were cancelled (presumably based on the weather) rather than that he skipped them? In that case, I would read “Fattie” as referring to a particular instructor.

  4. Thanks, Leslie; that’s a good theory as well!

    I’ll have to look at the diary again and see how frequently London “had a snap.”

  5. According to the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), “snap” –a verb– means “to absent without permission; to skip a class.”

    I wonder how many UNC students are “snapping” right now.

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