I get asked all the time about the definition of a workman’s glove and I have my own very strong opinion. I also see many people mis-labeling them all over the place in my opinion. I put together this blog post with the hopes of shedding some more light on the subject for the benefit of the glove collecting community and I wanted some other perspectives so I asked some experts. It’s a long overdue attempt to standardize the language of our hobby.
Here’s the question posed to some glove buddies and their responses copied and pasted exactly as written below and all independent of each other, even mine. Every one was written separately. Please feel free to respond to this post. If you disagree, send a letter to the editor. : )
Q: What is a workman’s glove?
JD, I have rather firm belief in what I discern as a Workman Glove.
It’s just that, it looks like a “workman’s glove”. . . not like a baseball glove of any sort, sans webbing or padding. I read an early descipription of the very early gloves as “brakeman’s glove” one that brakemen on street cars wore in the 19th century and later.
A workman’s glove used by a baseball players in the late 1870’s to early 1880’s was re-purposed by the player from the construction trades, equipment use and men’s furnishings. Once the sporting goods mfgs. started to copy the design of the utility gloves, I think they were just called ball gloves.
To me it is simple, a workmanship glove was just that. It would have been the same glove worn in a steel mill with more of the padding in the palm and finger areas. I would also consider a tipped glove a workman. Once the crescent or a web was added it no longer fits my definition.
Thanks for including me.
Most common answer – a webless glove. Not entirely incorrect, but definitely too loose to be a definition, and that leaves the opportunity to push the boundaries of the timeline.
In my researched opinion – the workman represents the earliest full fingered baseball gloves, closely related to the fingerless gloves of the same era, if they had fingers. No web, no laces, minimal padding and a simple button or snap closure (though I have also seen a picture of a cool lace-up version). I’d include the Irwin glove due to its simplicity and origin (made by a glove maker, who was at the time, not yet a sporting goods giant). The more progressive task-specific baseball styles (gloves with webs or crescent pads) are definitely out of the discussion. This definition excludes probably 99% of the gloves commonly referred to as “workman” style. If it has a logo patch, it’s too late to be a workman. This definition limits the timeline from roughly the 1880s into the 1890s, beginning with catcher’s gloves and ending with fielder’s gloves.
A true workman glove should look like your hand, tall and narrow. They were made on existing glove patterns and simply padded to protect the hands from repetitive impact. The thought of enhancing play – through any means other than by lessening the likelihood of injury – is something you see in later, non-workman gloves. We’ll call those later gloves what they are, sporting goods – goods created specifically for sporting advantage. In the 1880s until the early 1890s there were enough small companies producing small runs of true workman styles to keep them visible, though the sales numbers were likely very low when compared to the offerings in the Spalding catalog. By the late 1880s Spalding was producing a line of “advanced” baseball gloves while other smaller makers were still holding on to more traditional shapes.
One area where the “rules” don’t necessarily apply are within gloves created for catchers. He took the most abuse, and therefore experimentation and personalization were common since the injuries were very specific to each player. In the guides and catalogs of the late 1880s and 90s you continue to see heavily padded hand-shaped gloves, usually made for catchers, where these lines of definition are blurred. Around this same time you also have rule changes which allow for more aggressive pitching techniques and catchers were becoming increasingly under-equipped, thus the rapid changes and experimentation. As a result of the changes in style of play, you see a rapid transition from gloves, to mittens, to mitts due to the pitching. The early 1890s era represents the last hurrah of the workman style glove. By that point they were no longer commonly used behind the plate, but rather by players at other positions who were starting to adopt glove use. Like veteran hockey players in the 1980s who refused to wear helmets, there were very likely a few players who held on to their simple glove styles longer than most. Therefore, it would not be entirely surprising to hear of a player who insisted on using an outdated glove at his second base position, for instance, into the early 20th century. Most however, would have switched years before to a webless, or webbed crescent for their fielding position.
Hope that helps.
The most often misused term in vintage glove collecting is “workman”. It’s constantly thrown around in auction catalogs and on eBay by people trying to overhype a glove and purposely sell you something it’s not. Worse yet, if they honestly don’t know the definition of a “workman” and how to properly categorize a glove, do you really trust them enough to buy from them?
First off, a glove that simply lacks a web does not make it a workman’s glove. If you spend time researching period catalogs, and I highly encourage everyone to do this before they begin to spend larger sums of money, webless gloves were prevalent up to the late 1910’s. They were large, well padded and NOT workman’s gloves in the classical sense of the term. Stepping back to the 1895 to 1905 era, some webless gloves were manufactured with crescent padding in the pocket. Valuable? Yes, very difficult to find and very much in demand, obviously. But are they workman’s gloves? No.
Workman’s gloves, in their purest form and what we’re once and for all trying to define, are from the 1875 to 1890/95 period and were often paired with fingerless glove. They lack a web, as well as a crescent. In fact, they had minimal padding and resembled a glove a railway worker would have used. Usually buckskin, they were often cut in a square pattern. In 25+ years specifically collecting vintage baseball gloves, I’ve seen less than 5 true examples of a workman glove. Odds are, 99.9% of the time you see the term used, the glove is not a workman’s.
To me, a workman glove is a collector-created generic term describing more form-fitting obvious older style gloves in between fingerless and the larger full webs more prominent in the early 1900s. There’s been a debate over the years about whether or not a workman can have a web or not and I fall into the group that believes they can. Glove features evolved and some companies tried new features before others so I don’t subscribe to the belief that there was a distinct separation. There are pre 1900 ads that include both webless and non webless versions and neither are actually referred to as workman in the ad. This unfortunately muddies it up as some kid’s size obvious full webs are mistakenly described as workmans but that adds to the fun/challenge of glove collecting.
This was fun!
A workman’s glove was a glove most likely manufactured prior to the existence of most sporting goods companies. That’s my line in the sand. Some say they were modeled after or made from the brakeman’s gloves a railroad engineer would wear. They were in fact primitive, probably made of buckskin or a non-tanned leather and not mass-produced and were probably, more often than not, homemade or dual purpose work gloves. They were used more for protection than for function. A workman’s glove would never have a web between the thumb and forefinger and would never have a crescent padded heel – never, ever, ever because those were baseball innovations, and thus, baseball gloves. Workman’s gloves date from the late 1870’s and 1880’s. They were utilitarian in nature and modeled or produced for some other purpose first.
If Charlie Waitt was one of the first players to wear a glove in 1875, and Albert Goodwill Spalding started to produce sporting goods in 1876 (after seeing him wear it), and if Peck & Snyder of New York as well as a few other manufacturers were already making sporting goods and baseball goods prior to Spalding, then it’s widely believed that gloves kind of evolved in the late 70’s until the sporting goods manufacturers started producing ’em. Workman’s glove is a term for the most primitive style of a glove that ended up getting used for baseball.
So then what’s a webless glove? Is it also a workman’s glove? This to me is the only (slightly) gray area in my opinion and is mostly a subjective thing. A webless glove was made for the intended use of baseball and would more often than not be manufactured by a sporting goods company. Webless gloves in glove terminology start to resemble professionally made or manufactured baseball gloves as opposed to the crude and dual purpose work glove and that’s usually how I denote or discern the change in terms from workman’s glove to webless glove. Often webless gloves are called workman’s gloves and that’s generally OK because it’s not always quite clear what was made for baseball and what was not so no one usually complains when the two terms are interchanged. There wasn’t a black and white line for what was made for baseball and what wasn’t so I use the term professionally manufactured as my line of demarcation. For the record, I have never seen a sporting goods catalog with the term “workman’s” in it because by the time they started producing them for baseball, they were baseball gloves.
As you can see, there are many similar positions and a few differences, which makes this debate interesting and worthwhile, and you can see why the term is often misused or overused. This was a fun exercise and I hope you all find it enlightening.