Young man with ice skates in Uppsala, Sweden

With the Winter Olympics in full swing, I thought it might be fun to share this carte-de-visite portrait of a young man holding a pair of ice skates in Uppsala, Sweden.  Nineteenth-century images of people dressed specifically for winter sports are relatively rare.  Because of the limitations of early cameras and photographic processes, such portraits were more often made in a studio than outdoors.

The back of the carte has an inscription in Swedish which I can only partially make out.  It includes a name which might be Axel Nevelius, but I’m not sure.  Maybe a kind reader in Sweden can translate?

Man with ice skates in Uppsala by Joh. Sterner 3b

The studio is identified on both the front and the back as belonging to Joh. Sterner.  The Swedish website DigitaltMuseum lists his name as Johan Sterner (1866-1936).  The Swedish genealogy website Rötter (“Roots”) gives his name as John Sterner.  Maybe his legal name was Johan but he went by John?  Both websites display numerous examples of his work.

Man with ice skates in Uppsala by Joh. Sterner 2

Historical evidence suggests that ice skating first appeared in southern Finland more than 4,000 years ago.  In China, according to a 2013 article in People’s Daily Online, its history dates back to the Song dynasty (960-1279).

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In February 2020 I shared an early studio portrait of a boy wearing ice skates in St. Louis, Missouri.  You can see that carte-de-visite in the post titled Dreaming of ice in St. Louis, Missouri.

47 thoughts on “Young man with ice skates in Uppsala, Sweden

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  1. Such a lovely hat and jacket! The text on the back of the card says: “A skilled ice skater in Uppsala end of 1800’s. Could be X, father of Axel X”
    I can’t really make out the surname, hence the X. It could say Neudius as well?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What an interesting photo! His figure and clothes say that he was a serious skater. I wonder where exactly in Sweden people skated? Was there a particular popular place for it? I have always been afraid to skate. I love skiing. But I haven’t gone skiing since I was 25…I think last time was with my friend from overseas)) I’m afraid to teach my daughter to skate, I think it’s very dangerous. Thank you very much for this unique photo and for a very interesting investigation!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve only skated a couple of times in my life. It was easier to learn than I expected. But you’re right, it’s possible to get hurt. I like to ski, as long as the ground is flat. 😄 Downhill skiing is very popular here in Vermont, but I’ve never enjoyed it.


  3. Sounds like you’re on track to identify your skater. I agree with you about the hat – something to keep the ears warm would be much better! But serious skating contestants would not worry about that, I suppose. I’ve skated off and on through life, but now I do worry about falling on ice. Skiing, though, I will continue to do as long as I’m able.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The first thing that crossed my mind when I read the name “Axel” was the famous “triple Axel” that’s such a part of competitive skating. It was named after a Norwegian speed and figure skater named Axel Paulsen (1855-1938). We name babies after famous people; perhaps this Swedish Axel was named after the famous Norwegian skater.

    I loved ice skating, and always spent as many nights as I could at a local park that flooded a huge area to make a rink. I’d walk there after supper, skate for a couple of hours, and walk home. There was a large shelter with two big fireplaces for warming, and minimal lighting. On nights with new snow and a full moon, it was magical. The last time I skated was in Houston, in 1983. We had a terrible freeze, and all the water pipes in my apartment complex burst, flooding the concrete area around the pool. Three inches of ice was enough for me to get out the skates, and have at it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ice skating in Iowa makes sense, but not Houston, haha! Your neighbors must have thought that quite a sight. When I was growing up in Virginia, there wasn’t any place to skate. Local ponds didn’t freeze hard enough. Up here in Vermont, the town clears a pond for skating, but I’ve never tried it. It would probably be delightful, with snowy forest all around.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Admittedly, it looks like it might be a bed, but it probably wasn’t a bed. I’ve never seen a bed used as a prop in a nineteenth-century studio. My first assumption was that it was a fake staircase, but that may not have been right, either. Maybe a large, ornately carved chair? I’ve seen those in studios before. It’s a bit of a mystery!


  5. I love that skating apparel he’s wearing. Looks warm but not cumbersome – a person could really work up some speed in that attire.

    I’ve never tried ice skating with just the blades that you tie onto your shoes/boots. I like ice skating per se, but the thought of those blades makes me very nervous…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There are a couple in our small town, but… The problem with skating on an open surface in Canada is that people will invariably show up with a puck and hockey sticks. It’s hard to have a pleasure skate through a hockey game. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the coat and matching hat! Unfortunately Swedish is too different to German for me to be of any help, but I see that you are already on the way to finding out more.
    I used to skate when I was growing up, I wasn’t very good though, it was just for fun. The local lake used to freeze over regularly in winter, but now not so much.

    Liked by 1 person

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