In the mid-1700s and into the early 1800s Limerick gloves were all the rage. They were made from the finest leather available, tanned from the skin of unborn lambs, calves, and kids. This put them head and shoulders above the famed kid gloves, which were made, crassly, from goats that had gone through the trauma of birth.

Limerick gloves were the cream of the crop as far as hand wear went. They were ridiculously thin and delicate. The gold standard was determined by the walnut shell test -- if the pair of gloves could be folded so tight that they would fit into a walnut shell, they were suitable for the upper classes. (Some went by the ring test -- if a glove could be easily pulled through a ladies ring, it was a truly high-quality glove). Some pairs were so delicate that they could only be worn once. There were, of course, lower quality Limerick gloves that were sold to the middle class.

Limericks were prized not only for their delicacy, but also because they were smooth inside as well as out, something unknown in a leather glove at the time. They were also said to be wonderful for improving skin quality, and at times they were very popular as a means of skin care, in which case they might be infused with almond oil and spermaceti, and worn at night to help keep ladies' hands plump, soft, and white.

Limerick gloves were originally from Limerick, Ireland, but the manufacture quickly spread into other parts of Ireland and then to England. Even gloves from France might be referred to as 'Limericks' if they were fine enough, although there was apparently a bit of patriotic chauvinism where gloves were concerned, and these were looked down upon by some. True Limericks were seen as something of a specialty of Ireland for most, if not all, of the time that they were in fashion.

The manufacture of Limericks was a true cottage industry, and one that employed a good number of workers. It started with higglers who would travel from village to village collecting the skins of unborn animals (called morts if the mother was slaughtered while pregnant, or slinks if stillborn). The skins were tanned and delivered to female sewers; tens of thousands of women were involved in the sewing of gloves, although I do not know what percentage of these specialized in Limerick gloves. It was apparently not unheard of for the well-to-do to return from trips to Ireland with bags full of walnuts shells (yes, literally), containing Limericks.

Limericks were also known as chicken-skin gloves, although chicken skin was prone to have holes in it after plucking, and I have been unable to determine if gloves made from actual chicken skin were ever popular. There are rumors of rat-skin gloves sold when traditional forms of fine leather were in short supply, but this, too, may be mythical.




References:
Chambers's journal, Volume 26 By William Chambers and Robert Chambers, 1852. (Here)
New international encyclopedia, Volume 10 Dodd, Mead, 1915 (Here)
The French Porcelain Society, Summer 2010 (Here)
BBC: Chicken skin gloves and Nelson
The Penny magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Volume 4 By Charles Knight, 1835. (Here)
Old and Sold: Dress Of Women - Gloves, Shoes, And Stays

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