Object of the Month
by Amanda Mather
This month we talk about one of those things that, although we use constantly, it’s easy to forget what a revolution they must have been. Think of the world without scissors!
Invented in Mesopotamia around 4,000 years ago, the scissors of yesteryear are often not the type we think of or see around today. Ye old scissors did not have the rivet between the two blades that we are so used to today. Instead, they were attached with a piece of metal between them that not only held them together but essentially acted like a spring that allowed the blades to glide past one another and then re-open for more cutting action!
The scissors we think of as scissors, the “rivety” kind, that is, were invented by the Romans (What would we have done without those people? Seriously!) around 100 C.E.
Here in New Mexico, and throughout the Spanish Period, we find both types, but the ones we see here would have been used for more domestic type stuff, whereas those that were spring loaded would have been more useful for things like shearing sheep. In fact here at “the Ranch,” our sheep are still sheared using a variety of “springy” scissors.
In Spain and Mexico, scissors were not made by the local blacksmith but rather by a specialty dude called a “cutler” who made domestic objects like scissors, razors, needles and the like. But here in the backwoods of the empire, the blacksmith did it all, including scissors.
Often the examples found from the Colonial Period in Spain and Mexico are fancy with bird or floral designs, and they are also sometimes signed and/or dated by the artist himself. They are truly a thing to behold!
But this is New Mexico: we haven’t got time for fancy bird scissors and what not! We’re too busy on the frontier, and so the scissors of yore in New Mexico were utilitarian objects, meant for wear and use, re-sharpening and a long life of cutting all manner of stuff.
The scissors you see here are in Collections at El Rancho de las Golondrinas and belong to the Frank Turley Collection. Frank Turley literally wrote the book on Southwestern colonial iron works along with Marc Simmons. They are the real thing: that is to say, they are actual, factual, Spanish Colonial scissors. Wonder if they still work? A little experimental archaeology anyone?