Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Beginning of the Letter Openers

Although letter openers have been in use for as long as people have been sealing their letters in envelopes, there’s very little specifically written about them. The biggest reason behind this is that they’re seen as simply a tool. They were often nothing more than a stylized knife made simply to open letters. This means letter openers are generally seen as unimportant as both a knife, and a decoration. The lack of focus on this small trinket makes doing any real research on letter openers through history very difficult. The letter opener's resemblance to a knife often meant that early descriptions of it went no further, making it hard to tell if the object was specifically a letter opener, or a small knife.

Despite the fact that letter openers did resemble small knives, and were occasionally used as weapons, they were mostly designed for decoration. They had relatively small blades and a very decorative handle. Despite history's disinterest in these small trinkets, letter openers would be of interest to anyone studying trends either in history, or small knives.

The original letter openers were also called paper knives or erasing knife. These small devices are first mentioned around 1850, much later than most similar items that are still commonly used. These small knife-like objects were designed to cut off the letter's wax seal, and was a standard item in any desk set. Despite the relationship with knives, most letter openers are blunt, with as much as a 22mm tip to them. They have little practical use aside from opening envelopes. These decorative knife-like objects would have had engraved handles.

As time went on, more people were being taught to read than ever before and this meant more and more desk sets were being sold. These were objects that needed to be mass produced, as they were essential parts of any desk sets, but they also needed to have a certain amount of aesthetic value. Although early colonial letter openers were a bit less stylized than Medieval letter openers, they still came from a time when communication was much more formal. These letter openers were often designed as simple elegant knives or daggers. Like in medieval times, these letter openers were still as much a status symbols as they were a practical tool.

These ornate letter openers were often beautifully designed. Most people in Medieval times were illiterate, and would have no use for a letter opener. The few people who could read and write where the wealthy elite. The letter openers of Medieval times were often designed as ornate knives. Some were even designed to resemble small swords. One in particular from Germany is designed as a miniature dagger, complete with a decorative sheath for the letter opener to be stored in. When not in use, these small knives would have an ornate handle, and occasionally a family crest as well. They were very well made, and often as much a status symbol as the ability to read.

As time went on, the letter opener was subject to the same stylistic trends as every other artistically important item. There was a new style and engraving to match a variety of specialized trends, everything from neo-Gothic to neo-Baroque. In some cases, the blade on the letter openers was as heavily decorated as the handle. One example of a neo-Baroque German letter opener from around 1890 has a beautifully engraved blade.

As technology advanced and more people became literate, problem producing enough letter openers at a price most people could afford started becoming more influential in how letter openers were made.

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