An Introduction to Antique Scissors: Types & Values

Published March 11, 2021
Antique scissors

Antique scissors are highly collectible because of the way that they marry design with function, and even the plainest pair of antique scissor types can be worth a surprising amount to an interested collector. Most people know very little about the story behind the household items that linger in their drawers and cabinets, but you don't have to be one of those people. So, you can take a look and see just how antique scissors transformed into the trusty tool sitting in your desk-drawer right now.

Scissors, Shears, and So Much More

Modern steel scissors were first invented in the Sheffield area of England in the 18th century, and while there is significant debate over who deserves the title of 'inventor of the scissors' most people credit Sheffield's own, Robert Hinchcliffe, for the invention. Either way, these two-handed, steel scissors would transform domestic and industrial production and help push the western world into the industrial age. Specifically, the garment industry - tailors, embroiderers, millineries, and so forth - and its production substantially advanced thanks to the specialization of different scissor types to suit individual tasks that needed to be completed while making clothes. Therefore, there are many types of antique scissors that you might encounter and here are just a few of the most popular types:

  • Conventional Scissors - large, two-handed scissors
  • Tailor/Sewing Scissors - large, two-handed scissors with a flat edge
  • Pinking Shears - large, two handed scissors with scalloped blades
  • Embroidery Scissors - small, two handed scissors with handles that resemble the pince-nez spectacle shape
  • Buttonhole Scissors - small, two-handed scissors with a short, chunky blade.
  • Hair Cutting Shears - medium, thin, two-handed scissors

Antique Scissor Manufacturers

Given that the garment industry was so large during the 19th century - as it was expanding to accommodate increased demand and the transition from cottage-industry production to industrial-based textiles manufacturing - there was an endless number of global scissor manufacturers. From England, to Germany, to the United States, hundreds of thousands of scissors were produced during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Sometimes, these antique scissors can bear a marker's mark indicating the specific company that produced them, but oftentimes this isn't the case. While there isn't an easy option for dating these unmarked scissors, you can sometimes use their styles to determine their general location of origin such as is explored in this American antique scissors and shears guide.

Scissors Pre 1850's iron from Norway

How to Identify Antique Scissors

Considering that many antique scissors don't actually bear any maker's marks or logos, it can be somewhat difficult to identify their origins. Thus, it's much easier for individuals to identify their antique scissors based on heft and the materials used to make them rather than relying on manufacturer's marks. Average antique scissors and shears are generally heavier than modern scissors, based on the fact that they were mostly crafted entirely out of steel whereas contemporary scissors are made out of much lighter materials, like plastics and aluminums. On top of being generally heavier than modern scissors, these scissors were crafted out of many different metals, some of which include:

  • Steel
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Brass

Antique Scissor Values

If the look of antique scissors happens to have caught your eye, you're in luck. Given how abundantly these tools were produced throughout history, there are many options for you to choose from when looking to add one to your own collection. Things like rust stains and broken springs do depreciate their values, but on the whole antique scissors are fairly affordable collector's items. On average, they can cost between $10-$200, with values mostly depending upon the worth of the materials used to make them. For example, an antique leather case of sewing scissors and a thimble is listed by one seller for about $50, and a rarer pair of Rodger 1897 Jubilee scissors is listed for around $275 in a separate auction. In addition, embroidery scissor handles were often shaped into unique animal and nature motifs, and these can be worth more money than average antique scissors are. For instance, this pair of antique steel rooster scissors is listed for almost $475.

Old scissors in studio

The Past and the Present Collide

Perhaps the most amazing thing about collecting different types of antique scissors is that once they've been oiled and sharpened, they're basically good as new. Professional garment workers have long been collecting these scissors and shears to use on their own historical reproductions or historically inspired pieces, but there's no limit to what you're allowed to use them for. So, if you find a pair of antique scissors in your grandmother's kitchen drawers and feel like clipping out a few grocery store coupons with them, then go right ahead because there's truly nothing quite like the experience of livening up the mundane aspects of life by bringing the past into the present.

An Introduction to Antique Scissors: Types & Values