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Cutting tools

brief history

Scarperia, its full title could be defined as the town of knives, indeed a town which right from its foundation in 1306 has constantly manifested its vocation for this sector of artisan activity. The ancient evidence is constituted in the 1539 and 1567 by-laws, where all the rules which the Scarperia artisans had to keep to in all the manifold aspects of their work is extensively laid out : materials to use, the rapport between the experts (Maestri) and the workers, particular restraints in teaching the craft. Information relative to the Scarperia artisan events is very scarce, even to the point of being totally absent, from the 16th Century until practically the second half of the 1800s when traces were found of the activities of a few workshops which participated in the national and international exhibitions with their products: Pietro Cartacci at the 1850 Firenze Exhibition and that of Paris in 1855 while Gustavo Buffi was also a constant presence, prize winner at the 1854 Firenze Exhibition, gold medal at the 1855 Paris Exhibition, he participated at the 1861 Firenze Exhibition and that of London in 1862. Giuseppe Saladini and Giovanni Tonerini sent their products to the 1861 Firenze Exhibition and the Tortelli company to that of Paris in 1855.
During this period the knife artisans of Scarperia seemed to be living a particularly fortunate and expansive time which stimulated an attempt to modernise the productive system, to rationalise the procedure for buying basic materials, and the system of distribution and sales of the finished product. In fact, the first form of confederation appeared in 1874, "The Co-operative Society of Cutting Irons" was founded, among these founders other than the artisans already mentioned (Buffi, Cartacci) we find the major part of others occupied in the making of knives. The co-operative which introduced the use of steam energy into the work was not very successful, most probably because of the friction which inevitably arose from the strong independent spirit and autonomy of the diverse cutlers.
In 1889 a further attempt at co-operation was tried with the foundation of the "The Co-operative Society for the fabrication of Scarperia Cutting Irons", which had better luck, because, at the end of the 1800s, the name of Scarperia was well established and the products of the local artisans had notably won over the central and southern market of Italy.

Pagé in his monumental "Histoire de la Coutellerie" referring to around 1895 reached the number of 35 active artisan workshops and 115 workers, while a census taken eleven years later, for the sixth centenary of the town's foundation, revealed that the number of workshops was 46, while the number of workers reached 221.

But just at the moment of the greatest productive and commercial development of the Scarperia craftsmen they were beaten down by the effect of the 1908 law which drastically limited the size of the Flick knife blades which could be freely carried and which represented the principle product of the Mugello craftsmen. The consequence of this law was particularly grave in Sarperia, whose production was progressively concentrated of the representation and reinterpretation of the more traditional local and regional models diffused in central and south Italy and in the Islands, which for their excessive length and the shape of the blade were the greatest sufferers of the new law.
With the outbreak of the second world war, the complex productivity of Scarperia entered into a decisive crisis, many workshops closed and those remaining, having lost all channels of independent commercialisation, found themselves completely at the mercy of the wholesalers and therefore without the possibility of renewing the productive range or updating the technology to the level of the other more developed centres. In these years of productive re-fragmentation the most important company was that of Torquato Tonerini who was present at the 1923 and 1926 Firenze Exhibitions ; there was also the reconstruction of a co-operative which lasted briefly.
The Scarperia production even though concentrated on the regional models, did not limit itself only to this model but offered a vast range of typical and exclusive knives : other than the beautiful "suava" and the "palmerino", which had become almost the symbol of the Scarperia production, we must remember the "Tre Pianelle" knife, the various "mozzetti", and to end with the hunting knife equipped with dual extractors. In 1987 the "Centre for research and documentation on the cutting iron artisans" was constituted at Scarperia and has promoted and published, and will continue to do so, research on the life and work of the cutlery craftsmen. In the last few years we have seen a re-qualification of Scarperia production and even though there are few cutler's shops left there is a continued development in that sector, with a return to high quality production.

Translated by Jeremy Carden
Picture by Kee-Ho Casati

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