Scarce decorative advertisement for skating equipment sold by Conover & Walker, a hardware and sporting goods store on Broadway in lower Manhattan. The playful composition is a long horizontal form shaped like a skating blade, with men, women, and children skating on top -- including one hapless fellow who has taken a fall. The accompany text states that the company is the "Central Park Skate Emporium" offering “Skates From 25 Cents to 25 Dollars. Everything in the Skating line (except ponds) to suit everybody." This is a large separately issued broadside, very rare -- possibly the only extant -- due to is ephemeral nature. Conover & Walker also placed similar small ads in Harper's Weekly in the early 1860s with the same blade graphic as the broadside, without the illustration of skaters, but with the same address, prices and a similar slogan (see References below).
Central Park came into being beginning with an act passed on July 21, 1853 by the New York City Common Council authorizing the construction of a public park bounded by 59th and 106th Streets, Fifth and Eighth Avenues. The park was conceived to provide recreational open space for citizens of the growing city, which then had few open squares. The site that was destined to become Central Park was then “a bleak, rubbish-strewn area littered with squatters' shacks.” (Deák) Central Park opened in 1857, and in 1858, the job of improving and expanding it, transforming the area into a pastoral oasis for the “toiling masses,” was awarded to Calvert Vaux, a young British architect, and Frederick Law Olmstead, an American farmer and magazine editor. Reconstruction began that same year and was completed in 1873.
Beginning in the late 1850s, the Lake south of the Ramble drew huge crowds of New Yorkers of all ages and social classes, male and female, seized by what one newspaper called "skating mania," some to skate and thousands of others just to watch. On some winter days upwards of 75,000 people showed up. As one of the few respectable vigorous athletic activities for women, the skating pond also became a popular hangout for young men and women to meet and flirt.
The skating craze caught the notice of Harper's editorial side, which published an engraving after Winslow Homer of the throngs enjoying themselves on the "Ladies' Skating Pond" in 1860 (shown on the Smithsonian's web site, see References below). Meanwhile, the entrepreneurial Currier & Ives, always attuned to popular culture, published a color lithograph of Winter on the Skating Pond in Central Park in 1862, which captured the light-hearted atmosphere. In contrast to the famous and oft-reproducted works of Homer and Currier and Ives of skating in the park, this Conover & Walker broadside, also illustrating the early days of Central Park skating, is possibly heretofore unknown.
Edward Bookhout was an illustrator, wood engraver and designer based in New York City. He exhibited at the American Institute in 1851. He contributed engravings to numerous books, including several children's books published by the American Tract Society in the 1850s and 1860s.
Full text: "'Central Park Skate Emporium.' Skates From 25 Cents to 25 Dollars. Everything in the Skating line (except ponds) to suit everybody. Conover & Walker Hardware Dealers, 474 Broadway between Grand and Broome Sts., N.Y. We are happy to announce that our assortment is now complete, as we have made arrangements to give one of these beautiful 'Ponds' with each pair of Skates sold. Bookhout Engraver. Copyright Secured."
Condition: An inscription verso in brown ink has bled through near the toe of the skate, and when reversed as a mirror image reads, "Filed Dec. 18th, 1860." The fact that this example was put away as a file copy may be the reason it has survived. As an ephemeral broadside it is generally in very good condition. It was recently professionally cleaned and deacidifed, and old folds flattened, minor losses at folds and intersections filled and replaced in manuscript, all as now backed on Japanese tissue.
"Advertisements: Civil War Harper's Weekly, December 7, 1861." Son of the South. 2003-2008. http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1861/december/advertisements.htm (25 March 2011).
Deák, Gloria Gilda. Picturing America: 1497-1899. Vol. 1. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988. pp. 535-536.
Groce, George C. and Wallace, David H. The New-York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America 1564-1860. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969. p. 65.
Rosenzweig, Roy and Elizabeth Blackmar. The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992. pp. 229-232. Online at Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=sp93FnkRKiIC (29 March 2011).
"Skating on the Ladies' Skating Pond -- Central Park, from Harper's Weekly, January 28, 1860." Smithsonian American Art Museum. http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=37052 (29 March 2011)."Winter on the Skating Pond in Central Park." Super Stock. 2011. http://www.superstock.com/stock-photos-images/475-200 (29 March 2011).