Grapes on the dinner table have always been considered a sign of abundance. Dating back to Roman times all the way to present day, this precious fruit has always been considered a sign of opulence and splendor for those who delight in the sweet-acidic flavors of Bacchus, the god of winemaking. In Roman times, grapes were eaten as they are today – pulled one by one from the stem, with bare hands. However, in the 19th century, noblemen did not want to touch food with their bare hands as it was considered a practice looked down upon according to strict Victorian England etiquette.
Just across the Channel, mid 19th century, the first pair of grape scissors were born, made of Sheffield silver or silver plated steel. There were often finely decorated with bucolic or hunting scenes, but their sole purpose was to simply not dirty hands of the eater.
Victorian England was full of what we would now consider bizarre and strange codes of etiquette. Women were prohibited to be seen in public with their husbands if they were not wearing silk gloves or a glove made of a prestigious fine fabric. This is perfect example of how strict rules can sometimes create prestige and artisanal art. A pompous public which forbids the touching of grapes with bare hands, led to the invention of the shears, but this invention then led to an unmatched art form. Artisans and goldsmiths soon began specializing in the production of these scissors and in most cases the handles were decorated with scenes of country life, entwined grapes, vines, harvest scenes and farmers transforming grapes into wine. This was considered a lucrative art form in the Victorian era, which is little known today to anyone but experts, artisans and collectors.
Grapes scissors were of course meant for aristocrats and those belonging to the English upper class. During meals anyone who ate grapes, followed these very strict rules of using grape scissors. The process was simple – they held the scissors and would cut the grapes off the stems one by one, only then to catch them with their hands, of course avoiding the risk of staining their clothes, and then were they able to eat the grape. It was also in tasteful practice to keep one’s left hand up to their mouths in order to quickly spit out the seeds which were absolutely not to be swallowed, in case of something such as a cough at the dinner table which would be considered very un-noble.
The custom of using grape scissors at the dinner table continued throughout the early 20th century during the splendor of the French and English period of the Belle Époque, just before the outbreak of World War I, which put a bit of a damper on such habits in general.
Nowadays grape scissors remain a prestigious collectors item which are usually displayed at exhibits in Italy and throughout Europe.