A SMALL COLLECTION OF ANTIQUE SILVER
AND OBJECTS OF VERTU
THE WHAT IS? SILVER DICTIONARY

PAPER KNIFE
LETTER OPENER


The terms paper knife and letter opener are often used interchangeably to refer to a knife-like desktop tool. In truth, they are actually for different functions and were in use at different times.
In 19th century multiple pages of a book were printed on each side of a large sheet of paper on each pass through the printing press. This system made faster the printing process but when large sheets were folded and assembled into the completed text block could happen that some of those folds escaped the trimmer.
To solve the problem the paper knife (originally used for sharpening quills) evolved into an implement with a long, broad blade with rounded edges and a rounded, blunt tip.
Paper knives were made of ivory, bone, mother-of-pearl, highly polished hard woods, brass and silver.
A paper knife, often with an ornate silver handle, was nearly always included as part of a set of desk accessories.
In the second half of the 19th century paper knives became the prototype of a new desk accessory, the letter opener.
This new tool was needed when self-gummed letter envelopes came into common use.
The rounded page knives were unsuitable to open the envelope and a narrower and pointed blade was necessary for this purpose.
Letter openers are made from silver, wood, metals, plastic or other materials and their handles are often embellished or styled more so than the blade.











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