Volunteer Spotlight: A Glove Typewriter

December 11th 2019 by Susan Ing

Another fascinating, if not slightly bizarre discovery has been found amongst our paper mill journals: a novelty invention from 1891, a typewriter in the form of a glove operated with one hand.
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In these days, the conventional typewriter comprised of an oak box, 13 inch by 5 inch, with a “feeder” at the top where paper was to be drawn through during writing. An inventor, a Mr Cary, who was clearly not a big fan of these standard machines, made a bold claim in his patent that the “human hand will perform this operation far better than any set of wires invented by man.” 

According to an article in the papermaking journal series The Quarterly, an examination of the glove-typewriter shows it to have been made of a wash-leather with rubber letters fixed upon the fingers in “terraces.” The lower-case letters were on the “fingers inside the hand, while the capitals are on the back of the fingers.” As far as we know, all numbers were omitted from this device in its early patent stages. To use capital letters, it would be necessary to turn the thumb uncomfortably away from the body. The inventor also describes the apparatus as possessing many advantages over existing typewriters, or typewriting machines. For instance, a glove typewriter would be much quieter to use, simplicity maintained, and novelty secured. It is understood that despite its very limited success, Mr Cary had the opportunity to exhibit his invention before the London Shorthand Writers’ Association.


In 1897, another reference was made to the glove typewriter which suggested that some ‘improvements,’ or certainly changes, had been made to the design. Now both hands were to be used, with “Caps” on the left hand and lower-case letters on the right. The ink was supplied by a couple of pads that were fixed to the palms of the gloves. An “alternate opening and shutting of the hand was supposed to bring it into contact with the type.” Then the operator was to dab the impression of the letter they desired to “use upon the paper in front of him.”

Whilst this is certainly an intriguing idea, it appears as though little progress was made with it. Disappointingly no records of anyone using this device, or paper samples, have been found.