Scissors and shears encompass all hand-held, double-bladed tools used for cutting. The larger varieties are typically referred to as shears. Among the earliest scissors were heavy, spring-blade devices made from a single piece of metal, resembling modern sheep shears. The more familiar cross-blade design with a central pivot point developed during the Roman Empire, around AD 100.
Before the 19th century, most scissors were hand-forged from iron. However, by 1830, toolmakers in the steel-producing region around Sheffield, England, were creating high-quality scissors for specific uses such as embroidery and buttonhole cutting. These tools were individually tailored depending on their use. For example, pinking shears made with notched blades to finish fabric with a wavy cut so it wouldn't fray.
General sewing scissors were produced with short thin blades, one sharp and one dull. Distinctive gold-plated handles shaped like owls, chickens, or storks were first applied to sewing scissors by John Rogers & Sons and Thomas Wilkinson & Sons, both of Sheffield. As more specialized snips were marketed for home use, French companies experimented with a variety of ornate handle designs and materials like mother-of-pearl and bone. Stylish scissors became a popular and affordable present, with pairs sent as courtship gifts or designed as keepsakes commemorating important events.
During the Victorian era, scissors were decorated with intricately carved designs on their gilded or sterling-silver handles, and were typically sold in protective fabric, leather, or metal sheaths. In contrast, Chinese scissors became known for their simpler form, with short pointed blades and wide handles forming the two halves of a circle to accommodate multiple fingers. Traditionally used to cut fruit from the vine, grape scissors also became fashionable, and were frequently sold in dessert sets with nutcrackers and picks.
Scissors modified specifically for hairdressing were first made during the late 19th century, incorporating single-finger handles, finely-tapered blades, and a handle spur to aid with precision cutting. Barber’s “fringe” scissors were later introduced with one straight and one serrated blade to catch a customer’s hair and prevent slipping.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Germany became the global leader in cutlery production using a drop-forge process, whereby steel was heated and shaped using a contoured die. German companies like DOVO, founded in 1906, owe their success to the affordable, long-lasting blades created with this method.
During the last hundred years, tool companies like Keen Kutter and Winchester (of firearms fame) included a variety of scissors in their product lines. Other inventive businesses like Wiss and Hartenau made multi-use scissors, like those whose design incorporates a jagged oval opening between the handles to act as a nutcracker or bottle opener.