Most of us have at least one pair of scissors at home. Many of us have more than one pair. We have scissors for different purposes like cutting paper, cutting fabric, or cutting nails. But did you know that scissors have been around for thousands of years or that antique scissors can be valuable?
In this article, you will learn more about these everyday items. Here, we have collected information about their history, different manufacturers and types of antique scissors. You will also find out how to identify antique and vintage scissors and how to restore them as well as how to work out the value of antique scissors.
History of scissors
The inventor Leonardo da Vinci has often been credited as the person who invented scissors because he used a scissor-like device to cut canvas. However, the invention of scissors predates da Vinci by nearly three thousand years according to the earliest evidence.
Scissors during the ancient times
There is evidence that shows the ancient Egyptians using a version of scissors as early as 1500 BC. They used a device, typically made of bronze, with two blades controlled by a metal strip that kept the blades apart until they were squeezed. From Egypt, they spread to other parts of the world through trade.
Around 100 AD, the Egyptian design reached Rome. The Romans adapted the design and created cross-blade scissors closer to the style of scissors we have today. The scissors were mostly made of bronze, but sometimes iron was used, too.
Scissors during the Middle Ages and Renaissance
How scissors were made changed during the Middle Ages and Renaissance when spring scissors were created by first heating and shaping a straight bar of metal. It was then bent into a curve and tempered.
These scissors had two sharp blades that were connected at one end. The user would squeeze them together to perform a cutting action. The blades opened again once the hold was released.
The mass production era begins
The 18th century brought along the industrial era and made it possible to manufacture scissors in large quantities. In 1761, Robert Hinchliffe of Cheney Square, London, England, produced the first modern-day scissors. He advertised himself as a “fine scissor manufacturer”.
These scissors were pivoted, which means the blades were connected at a point between the tips and handles. These types of scissors were reportedly used in ancient Rome, China, Japan, and Korea before Hinchliffe made them popular in Europe.
You can find a more in-depth history of scissors on the New World Encyclopedia website.
Manufacturers of antique scissors
During the 1800s, the number of scissor manufacturers increased and there were hundreds of thousands of scissors produced in Europe and the United States. Here we have listed some of the best-known scissor makers from Europe and the US.
Sheffield was the headquarters of English scissor production, because of the quality of the steel from Sheffield. One company from the area is Ernest Wright, established in 1902. The company is still in business and known for its handmade scissors.
Another Sheffield company was William Whiteley & Sons, which has been around since 1760 and made scissors for people from all echelons of society, including the Royal Family. The company patented the “sidebent” scissor, which is the blueprint for all dressmaking shears today.
If England had Sheffield, then Germany had Solingen known as the City of Blades. One example of a Solingen-based company making scissors is The Witte Group established in 1792.
The founder of the company was Daniel Peres who established one of the oldest industrial cutlery factories. Later, their product selection grew to include scissors. The company is still running today and making a range of scissors.
Interestingly, the scissor manufacturers in Solingen had a strong link to Sheffield. Knowing that steel from Sheffield was of the best quality, they would import steel from Sheffield to Solingen until the Second World War.
Fiskars was founded in 1649 and is one of the oldest companies in the Nordic Countries. In 1832, the company founded its first cutlery mill and expanded from knives to forks and scissors. Fiskars still makes scissors today and their products are known for their durability and high quality.
The United States
In the United States of America, there were over one hundred companies making scissors from the mid-19th century until the 1930s. However, there were certain areas in the country where makers of American scissors were more prominent than in others.
These areas were:
- Naugatuck Valley, the birthplace of the Lenox Sheer Company where the employees were mainly immigrants from Sheffield;
- Newark, where many German immigrants settled, was home to both Heinisch and Wiss scissors;
- Fremont, Ohio where the Henkel and Claus Shear companies both started. Later these two merged and became the largest scissor and shear manufacturers in the world.
For more examples and pictures of manufacturers and their scissors, we recommend this article.
Antique scissors types
Scissor makers realized early on that not all scissors were suited for all tasks and developed differently sized and shaped scissors better suited for specific tasks. Here are some examples of the type of antique scissors you can find. You might recognize most of the types because many of them are still in use today.
Buttonhole scissors are small, two-handed scissors with a short blade.
Conventional scissors were large, two-handed scissors.
Embroidery scissors are small two-handed scissors that have scalloped blades.
Hair-cutting scissors are medium-sized with thin blades.
Pinking shears are large and have scalloped blades.
Tailoring/Sewing scissors have a flat edge and they are large, two-handed scissors.
How to identify antique scissors?
Some antique scissors may have maker’s marks, but most often this isn’t the case. Since many antique scissors do not have the name of the manufacturer, it can be challenging to identify them. What we suggest is using the heft (the weight) and the materials used to make the scissors.
Old scissors and shears are usually heavier than modern scissors because most of them are made entirely out of steel. Today’s scissors use much lighter materials such as plastic and aluminum. The materials used in antique scissors other than steel were silver, gold, and brass.
If you need help with identifying a pair of antique scissors, you could try posting a picture of them on an online forum such as Antiquers. Someone might recognize the scissors and help you identify and date them.
How to value antique scissors?
In order to know the value of your antique scissors, you will first need to identify their origin and their date as closely as possible. You then need to determine the value of your scissors and there are a couple of different ways to go about it.
One option is to go to an antique dealer who might give you a price estimate. You could also try an online antique dealer or an auction house. Some of them might value them based on pictures. However, bear in mind that you may have to pay for this service.
Another route is more laborious, and it is to search the internet to find out what scissors currently on sale are selling for. Finding scissors similar to yours will help you decide the price you can ask for them. You can start with websites such as eBay, Etsy, and Collectors Weekly.
What will affect the value of your scissors?
As you can imagine, from the sheer range of manufacturers and types of scissors, the value of antique scissors varies a lot. How your scissors are valued depends on the maker and when the scissors were made.
Condition: The condition of your scissors is important, too. Of course, antique scissors can be restored as we will see a little later on, but scissors that are in a good condition will fetch more. Rust stains and broken springs will lower the value of the scissors.
Rarity: How many copies of the particular pair of scissors were made also affects the value. Mass-produced scissors that all look the same are valued lower than handmade scissors. The most highly-priced scissors are those that were shaped into unique motifs such as different animal shapes.
Material: The material used to make the scissors can make a big difference in the price. Antique gold or silver scissors, especially ones that have unique motifs can be worth a few thousand dollars. If there are precious stones used to decorate the scissors, the value will climb even higher.
Decoration: Antique scissors from Asia and the Middle East can sell for several thousand dollars. They are often intricately decorated and handmade, which instantly increases their value. In fact, some of the most valuable scissors on eBay are from these regions.
One example is a pair of scissors with Islamic Calligraphy from the 18th-century Ottoman Empire. They are decorated with diamonds, rubies, and gold and are selling for $3,500.00.
Other examples of antique scissors for sale
Here we have listed some scissors that are on sale on eBay and Etsy at the moment. Please note that the price is listed in the seller’s currency.
eBay – George IV Silver Gilt Grape Scissors, by Paul Storr London 1820, £1,750.00
eBay – Antique Qajar Scissor Calligraphic, US $1,200.00
Etsy – Sterling Silver Grape Shears Handcrafted Scissors, €895.52
eBay – Georg Jensen 1919 Blossom Grape Scissors No. 84, US $780.00
Etsy – Antique pair of scissors made in Solingen, €196.07
A reminder, if you are buying online, ensure that you are buying from a reputable seller. You should always check their rating and look for any negative feedback before parting with your money because, unfortunately, there are people who sell fake items.
How to restore antique scissors?
Here are some ways you can restore your scissors using materials you have at home. These tricks work for scissors that have been left to collect rust. For more serious restoration, we recommend this video on YouTube.
- Use WD-40 if your scissors are not opening and closing because of rust. Spray some WD-40 to the fulcrum, let it soak for a few minutes, and then open and close. If needed repeat with more WD-40 until the scissors open and close smoothly.
- Make a salt paste with warm water and ½ a cup of salt. You need to use enough water to form a thick paste. Spread a thick layer of the paste on a paper bag. Note that you need to leave some for the next stage of the restoration process. Then cut strips through the salted section of the bag. This will clean the blades.
- Next, you need a lemon cut in half. Dip the lemon into the remaining salt and rub the scissors with the salty lemon to remove the rust.
- Clean the scissors with plain water and dry thoroughly. Finish with a coat of WD-40 and wipe away with a clean cloth.
Antique scissors are a popular collectible item and as we have seen, the best ones are worth a lot of money. But scissor collections don’t need to start with the priciest items. Instead, you can start your collection with more affordable collector’s items, remembering that their value is likely to increase over time.
Whether you are looking to sell a pair of antique scissors you own, or are looking to build your own collection, you can use the information in this article to identify the manufacturer and the date.
Once you have worked out this information, you are ready to buy and sell. And don’t shy away from rusty items. You can get them cheaper and now you know how to restore them.
If you have any questions about collecting or selling antique scissors, we would like to hear them. You can write the questions you might have in the comments section.