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On the cutting edge of collections

Earliest form of two-blade scissors is still in use in some parts of the world. Tool is formed from a single piece of steel tempered to provide a spring action. The Judith McClure Collection

With the current popularity of television programs like Pawn Shop, American Pickers and Antiques Road Show, interest in collecting stuff is starting to revive. For anyone who has a collecting bug there are limitless opportunities to get involved in any number of cultural or natural  elements.
You are only limited by your energy, your storage space and your pocketbook.

Novelty scissors fold up for travel. Sometimes used in the military. In action they perform well. The Judith McClure Collection

The major benefit of collecting in my opinion is that it gives you a renewed interest in putting together the pieces of a research puzzle and adds some zest to your life.

One item which we began gathering a few years ago was a small collection of scissors. Frankly, the idea came about because we were embarrassed about taking up so much of an antique dealers’s time poking around his premises without making a purchase. We considered scissors were kind of an inexpensive way of leaving the dealer’s shop on a positive note without breaking the bank.

Along the way we became quite fascinated by the complexity and variety of a very simple tool that has been part of mankind’s inventory of working tools since the Bronze Age.

Three pairs of manicure scissors with sterling silver handles and tempered steel blades. Light, elegant and designed to stay quite sharp. The Judith McClure Collection

It is thought that scissors were invented in 1500 BC in ancient Egypt. During the middle ages blacksmiths heated a bar of steel and pounded out a flat shape on both ends. Then the centre of the bar was heated and bent, forming a spring. After cooling it was heated again to make it flexible.   The one in Judy’s collection is the same style as that from 2nd century Asia Minor, but is still in use today in the Far East.

Cross-bladed scissors pinning two cutting blades have been found in Roman excavations from around 100 AD.

Englishman Robert Hinchcliffe is given credit for producing the first pair of modern-day scissors in 1761 made of hardened and polished cast steel. He lived in Cheney Square, London and was reputed to be the first person who put out a signboard proclaiming himself “fine scissor manufacturer”.

Scissors come in many forms and capabilities.  According to Wikipedia “a pair of scissors consists of two pivoted blades. In lower quality scissors the cutting edges are not particularly sharp; it is primarily the action between the two blades that cuts the material. In high quality scissors the blades can be both extremely sharp, and tension sprung – to increase the cutting and shearing tension only at the exact point where the blades meet.

Small scissors for smaller hands all showing the variety of design and execution. Tiniest pair is 3/4 of an inch long but cuts paper effectively. The Judith McClure Collection.

“The hand movement (pushing with the thumb, pulling with the fingers in right handed use) can add to this tension. An ideal example is in high quality tailor’s scissors or shears, which should be able to perfectly cut (and not simply tear apart) delicate cloths such as chiffon and silk.

Judy has found manicure scissors with sterling silver handles, scissors with handles that fold,  tiny scissors for travel kits, scissors for making button holes and just about every other use that needs a cutting tool. There are safety scissors, thread nippers, novelty scissors — even nut cracker scissors, and pinking sheers out there looking for owners.

Scissors don’t take up a lot of space and make an attractive display if well chosen.  Most won’t cost you a fortune.  Just like every other collectible, look carefully for quality, silver marks if they have sterling handles, overall condition, — but don’t try to carry your collection with you on an airplane.

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About the Author: He can tickle your funny bone or tug at your heart strings. County people may know him as a chronicler of everything that happens (or should happen) in the garden, but his interests stretch across the natural world. His unique sense of observation takes in a wide expanse of living and may even point out some truths about our own condition as managers of the world around us. With Loyalist antecedents in his family tree his roots go deep into the Ontario countryside.

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  1. Dawn says:

    Thanks for the excellent advice Donald! Otherwise….I need a bigger house!

  2. Donald says:

    Thank you Dawn: Yes you are right– sometimes the pursuit of a collection can
    take over our lives and become almost an obsession in our consciousness. To benefit from the idea of collecting we also have to learn a certain amount of control by limiting our focus to collect only those items needed to give our undertaking some purpose and structure. By concentrating on small
    but important features we can enjoy the search and still not burden the bank account, our time devoted to other pursuits or the display cupboard. Best wishes!

  3. Dawn says:

    My interest in collecting odd antiques began while teaching a course on the history of perfume at Seneca College around 30 years ago. I started with perfume bottles and over the years have acquired quite a collection! Luckily, like scissors they are generally small and don’t take up to much space!

    Then of course came the vanity collections, powder and makeup containers which then led to the vintage hats, antique clothing……hmmmm? Maybe Donald some of us need advice on how to stop!!!

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