Snow Queens

Snow Queens

a wall of Victorian painted sleds
Many of Paul Cote’s late-1900s sleds combine stenciling and hand-painting. One exception: the burgundy coaster from the first World’s Fair, which is all hand-decorated and, sadly, slightly water stained due to its prior use as a plant stand.

A century ago, elegant painted sleds from western Maine ruled sliding hills, appraiser John Bottero writes. 

Photographed by Cait Bourgault

In 1861, Henry Morton began making wooden sleds in his Sumner home — speedy, low-slung models for boys and taller ones with daintier frames for girls. His wife, Lucilla, and later other local artists, hand-painted the sleds with simple motifs and words on boys’ versions and intricate nature scenes on girls’, which are prized by toy and folk art collectors.

The sleds’ shapes reflected the mores of the day. Victorian boys tended to run with their coasters, aptly called “belly-floppers,” and launch themselves down hills on their stomachs, whereas girls sat and waited for a push. The latter practice led to wear on the backs of many girls’ sleds, “from all the boot-kicking,” says Oxford collector Paul Cote, whose sleds are shown here.

Morton and a partner incorporated as the Paris Hill Manufacturing Company in 1869, and went on to fill orders from Macy’s and Marshall Field’s and the explorers Admiral Peary and Donald MacMillan, who brought custom sleds on their Arctic expeditions. By 1900, Paris Manufacturing Company — by then, “Hill” had been dropped — employed 300 people, who produced sleds, skis, children’s wagons, furniture, and more at its South Paris factory, a portion of which still stands.

Early, hand-painted girls’ sleds may fetch more than $1,000 apiece, while later stenciled models go for a few hundred dollars. The belle of this collection? A prize-winning, burgundy-and-gold model from the first World’s Fair that Cote coveted for more than 10 years before acquiring.

John Bottero is the vice president of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries. Constantly in pursuit of incredible finds, he sees dozens of people each week on Thomaston’s Free Appraisal Day and travels the state helping Mainers bring their collections and valuable heirlooms to market.