Roller Rink Stickers: The Social Network of 1942

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's easy to believe that the phenomenon of "social networking" is unique to the Internet era, but a new collection here at Hagley shows that people have been making long-distance social connections long before Facebook, Friendster, and heck, even before the first online chat rooms. The Genevieve Pittner Collection of Roller Skating Rink Stickers arrived here at Hagley a few months ago and gives a fascinating snapshot of a World War II era social network revolving around, of all things, stickers.

Starting in the early 1940s, a handful of enterprising roller skating rink owners looking for a clever way to promote their rinks began giving away colorful stickers printed with the name of the rink and a skating-related graphic. Available for free from the rink's skate shop, snack stand, or ticket counter, the stickers quickly became wildly popular among the young skating crowd; not only were they great for decorating roller skate cases, but they soon became highly collectible as more and more rinks began printing their own unique stickers, and skaters began trading stickers with other skaters from other states.

As sticker trading heated up, collectors started printing their name and address on the back of stickers, hoping the stickers would reach other collectors interested in swapping by mail. Before long, a network of roller-skating sticker trading existed throughout the United States and Canada. Collectors were happy to mail stickers to complete strangers, and, often, they received new stickers and a friendly note in exchange.

The Pittner Collection holds both stickers and notes received by Genevieve Pittner between 1941 and 1942, and gives a captivating peek into this social network of roller skating enthusiasts. Many of the Pittner notes show a strong camaraderie among the web of sticker collectors; collectors frequently struck up friendships with each other, and, while vacationing, often made a point of visiting the "home rink" of their fellow collectors, skating a few rounds with new friends and showing off the regional skating style from back home. Further, a number of the Pittner notes show a broader view of an extraordinary point in American history; written at the start of the United States entry into World War II, the notes clearly reflect the wartime atmosphere; one sticker collector writes that he must give up collecting because he's been drafted into the armed services; another writes about how difficult it is to get to the roller skating rink due to rationed gasoline.

Despite the troubling events of the time, sticker collectors show a remarkable bond through their love for roller skating and kindness toward each other in their mutual endeavors to collect stickers from rinks all over the United States and Canada.

View selections from this collection in the Hagley Digital Archives

Sources: Genevieve Pittner Collection of Roller Skating Rink Stickers, accession 2012.213, Hagley Museum and Library.

Brooks, Lou. Skate Crazy: Amazing graphics from the Golden Age of roller skating. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2003.

Judy Stevenson is the Pictorial Collections Archivist at Hagley Museum and Library.