1896 RITTER ROAD SKATES (The Road Skate Co, 271 Oxford St, London)

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Every year throughout the late 19th century and early years of the 20th century, more amazing ‘novelties’ on wheels made their debut. Engineering companies throughout the industrial world were cashing in on a remarkable consumer boom in new forms of personal transportation, and professional and amateur inventors everywhere were cobbling together primitive ‘vehicles’ of all sorts to satisfy public demand.

Bicycles were the latest fashion in the mid-1890s. So you can almost imagine Mr Ritter waking up one morning with his ‘eureka’ moment …a pair of roller skates with the skater standing on top of a pair of miniature bicycles! It’s a credit to the foresight of the inventor and the engineering company that produced them that an original pair such as this survives twelve decades later in full working order.

Each Ritter skate is stamped either LEFT or RIGHT with the size underneath. This matched pair is a size 11, reflecting the length of the top of the skate, where the boot stands, in this case 11 inches.

Each Ritter skate has a brake with an eyelet at the top. String is attached to the eyelet and the other end could be held in the skater’s hand; a handle could also be attached, to put into the skater’s pocket.

The well known Bartleet’s Bicycle Book, published in 1931, shows a pair of Ritter skates with the top of the string tucked through the leather strap at the top of the wooden leg support. The text accompanying the illustration (below) states: “…The skates weigh 40 lbs each and each skate is secured to the boot by clips on the principle of the ‘Acme’ ice skate. The wheels run on ball bearings and, as you can see below, feature a braking system reminiscent of that of the velocipede. The brake is applied to the rear wheel by pulling the cord which follows the wooden strut up to within a few inches of the skater’s knee.”

However, this gives the impression that the skater would bend down and pull the string to activate the brake, which is wrong… and rather dangerous if you needed to brake while skating! In fact the string did not end at the knee, but was fitted with a handle and was long enough to be placed in the skater’s pocket.

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1896 RITTER ROAD SKATES

Size 11

Wheelbase of each skate: 8.5″

Wheel Diameter: 6″

Length of top of each skate: 11″

Manufactured by the Road Skate Co, 271 Oxford St, London 

Ritter skates are very well constructed. Each skate carries Ritter’s patent stamp. This pair is in excellent original condition and ready to use. The wooden leg supports (described as ‘hinged struts’ in Ritter adverts) are in good original condition, as are the straps and buckles. The Edwardian ladies boots, made by J Collinson & Co of Liverpool, are a narrow size and are excellent too. I keep them in shape with a pair of wooden boot trees. It’s rare to see the brake handles fitted; this beautiful pair of Ritter Road Skates is the nicest set I’ve owned.

 

 

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THE ROAD SKATE Co

271 Oxford St. London W, England

The skates were marketed by The Road Skate Co of Oxford Street, London. The company also issued a booklet – free of charge – on ‘Road Skating’ which purports to give ‘every information on the subject.’ The design was unique to this style of skate. One of the company’s adverts proclaims:

Unlike other skates, the Ritter Road Skate has a hinged splint on either side of the leg, which in conjunction with the brake, entirely prevents any twisting or undue strain on the ankle joint. People with the weakest ankle may therefore use this skate, and derive great benefit from the exercise. It only requires a little practice on the new Ritter Road Skate to enable anyone who has never had on a pair of skates to attain proficiency, and be able to skate on the roads at any speed up to 16 miles an hour.

‘Road Skates’ were the ancestors of roller skates. They were invented by Mr. Ritter, a Swiss, who was foreman at the original Napier Works at Vine Street, Lambeth, London, where (later) the first Napier motor-cars were made. The Ritter skates were popular around 1897/ 1898, and several well-known cyclists, notably M. S. Napier, Walter Munn, and A. Hoffman, formed a club and skated on the road every week-end. When last heard of (1929) Mr. Ritter was in business as an engineer in Paris under the name of Ritter and Smith, 35 Rue Batignolles. (These premises are now occupied by a hair salon ‘Caroline Coiffure’).

H.W Bartleet says of the skates in his own collection:

No. 50. Pair of ‘Ritter’ road skates. Though strictly speaking, not qualifying for inclusion in a collection of cycles, these instruments of travel are very closely associated with cycling. The men who made them and the enthusiasts who used them were all cyclists, and, indeed, each skate is in reality a tiny bicycle. 

These skates were invented by Mr. Ritter, a Swiss, who was foreman at the original Napier Works at Vine Street, Lambeth, London, where (later) the first Napier motor-cars were made. The Ritter skates were popular about 1898, and several well-known cyclists, notably Montague Napier, Walter Munn and A. Hoffman, formed a club and skated on the road every week-end. 

When last heard of (1929) Mr. Ritter was in business as an engineer in Paris under the name of Ritter and Smith, 35 Rue Batignolles. The skates weigh 81 lbs. the pair. They were presented to the Collection by C. G. Bowtle, the well-known racing cyclist.

 

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BRAKE DETAILS

 

 

 

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LEFT SIZE 11

Above, you can see the clamp. The lever on the side opens the clamp to fit the sole of the shoe into place. Afterwards it clips under the skate (below).

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RIGHT SIZE 11

 

 

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EARLY SKATES

Skating is an art to which all ladies should attain. It is especially feminine in its character, graceful, elegant, requiring little apparent force, and yet affording good exercise. Ladies soon learn to skate. I have had the honor of initiating several ladies to the art, and have been surprised by the felicity with which they learn it. Whether from some innate quality of the feminine sex, I know not, but it is invariably the case, that if a boy and a girl, or a gentleman and lady, of equal ages, and having enjoyed equal advantages, are put upon skates for the first time in their lives, the lady always manages to skate independently sooner than the gentleman.

– The Eclectic Magazine, Agnew, John Holmes & Bidwell, Walter Hillyard; Feb, 1863, New York, USA

The difference between the first two-wheeled (inline) skates and subsequent ‘quad’ skates of the 1860s is comparable to that of the Ordinary (later called ‘penny farthing’) and the safety bicycle introduced in 1886.

The early two-wheeled skates were hard to turn or stop. What would become known as ‘quad’ skates were invented in 1863: these provided much greater control over the skates, so greatly popularised the hobby.

Just as cycling was lampooned when the first velocipedes appeared on the streets in 1869, George du Maurier’s wry observations of (inline) skating appeared in the 17th February 1863 edition of Punch magazine (below).

1866 17th february du maurier cartoon punch skating

Although quad skates made inline skates obsolete by the mid-1860s, inline road skates such as the Ritter became popular again in the 1890s. While ice skating and quad roller skating were favoured by women, road skating subsequently became a predominantly male sport. Serious ice or fen skaters and racing cyclists liked to use Ritter Road Skates to keep up practise out of season.

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J. COLLINSON & Co BOOTS

 

 

 

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Ritter Road Skates were also marketed around the world, as these articles from New Zealand newspapers illustrate.

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* Ice Skating: A Pleasure for All, by Victoria Rumble