Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Crystal Palace in the Palm of Your Hand: 1851

Thursday, January 13, 2011
Susan reporting:

The concept behind the GPS – where am I, anyway? – is nothing new. Guidebooks and maps have been available for centuries to aid travelers. Few maps, however, are as unique as this one: a Victorian lady's glove that promised to keep the wearer from becoming lost by placing directions literally in the palm of her hand.

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations that took place in Hyde Park, London, in the summer of 1851 was one of the first of the grand international exhibitions of the 19th c. Over six million people attended the Exhibition, streaming into London from every corner of the world. These gloves were created by George Shove as a fashionably discrete way for an out-of-towner to find her way about town. The map printed on the palm shows not only the famous Crystal Palace, the center of the Exhibition, but also other popular tourist destinations like Kensington Gardens, the British Museum, and St. Paul's Cathedral: an amusing, useful souvenir of London.

Those are the facts behind this handy map. But, being a writer with the usual writer's over-active imagination, I can't help but think of other, fictional purposes for such a glove. What about a pair for the hapless maidservant who, although fleet of foot while on errands for her mistress, could never quite recall directions to his destination? Or even more intriguing, why not for the young gentleman setting out on a night of entertainment, his gloves ready to guide him home again no matter how much he over-indulged?

Glove Map of London, George Shove, 1861, The National Archives of the United Kingdom


Hels said...

Useful and decorative at the same time :) And better still, a great souvenir of London, once the family went home to their own town.

It is amazing that something as ephemeral as printed gloves survived.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Love it! When faced with making a driving decision, I almost always turn the wrong way and am too stubborn to turn back until it is clear even to me that I've screwed up once again. It's gotten to the point I try to outguess myself, but even then I'm wrong. Good thing for OnStar, altho I am usually too embarrassed to push the button.

Can we get a pair of these gloves made for a certain lady with directions back to Alaska? I hear she reads hands at least.

Laura J. Snyder said...

This is amazing! I mention the souvenir gloves in my discussion of the Crystal Palace in my forthcoming book on 19th century British science/culture, but I had no idea that any gloves still existed! Thanks for publishing the image so all of us 19th century fanatics could see it!

Meg McNulty said...

What a fantastic marketing idea!

Lauren said...

WOW! Those are amazing!

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