Scissors in the attic

What could an old pair of scissors, handed down through generations in the family, reveal about its origins?

An old pair of scissors the was passed down the generations, now estimated to be around 150 years old.
Image by: Sam J Basch

Quite a lot, if one cares to do some research.

In a cryptic label my Grandmother wrote to my mother in April 1961 she claimed the scissors were 115 years old (at that time). They had belonged to the grandmother of my Mom’s father.

Not to complicate matters too much, I established through some genealogical research that the original owner was Martha Catharina du Toit, born Hugo in 1833. She was indeed my Grandfather’s grandmother – on Mom’s side.

Using a magnifying glass, I could identify the manufacturer’s stamp as Hepworth Pilley & Co.

This firm was a cutlery manufacturer in Sheffield, Engeland, whose products likely included other metal objects – such as scissors. Sheffield derives its name from the River Sheaf in Yorkshire, a city widely known for metal and steel production.

According to an internet source Hepworth Pilley & Co. stated its business in 1879 as “cutlery merchants, general commission agents, and importers of foreign merchandise” under the trademark “The Star Cutlery Company”. Its two owners were Joseph Hepworth (1833-?) en Albert Pilley (1840-1902).

British census data of 1861 show Joseph Hepworth (28) as a “warehouseman”; already married to Harriet Hepworth. His partnership with Albert Pilley had presumably not yet been formed.

However, in the 1871 census Hepworth is listed as “cutlery merchant”. The next census of 1881 describes Hepworth as having a labour force of twelve persons, as opposed to Pilley’s three.

Hepworth Pilley & Co. was closed down in 1882. It would seem the business only operated from the late 1860s to 1882.

This means the scissors would have been manufactured before 1882, the date on which the company closed down. Therefore, my heirloom’s age is estimated to between 140 and 150 years – perhaps a year or three more.

On close inspection, the blades seemed to have been longer. Some repairs had also been done to the handles. Did great-great-granny use these scissors for making clothes? This will remain a mystery.

A last thought:

Some older readers might recall that we used to shop for clothing at Hepworth’s that had stores in all major cities and large towns in South Africa. This enterprise also traces its origins to Yorkshire, founded by another Joseph Hepworth from Leeds in Engeland – probably a relative. The business was called J. Hepworth & Son that existed for 100 years as “tailors and clothiers” – until the name was changed in the 1980s to the UK’s popular NEXT.

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