These have been in my mother’s sewing kit since she was a girl, so for at least 85 -90 years, and she says they weren’t new when she got them. After so long, she isn’t absolutely sure any more where they came from, but she thinks it was her Grandma Cheney who gave them to her. All the females on the distaff side were needlewomen, so that wouldn’t be surprising – and it’s a gene that has remained dominant, as witness the blogs of my daughter and granddaughter.
As a little girl, I loved these scissors, so beautifully engraved and elegantly shaped. It was a pleasure using them to snip off the embroidery silk or to use the stork’s long pointed bill to unpick any stitches that hadn’t turned out right.
Like many of the objects in my mother’s house that aren’t permanently on display or in regular use, they had slipped from my consciousness until this last week. Spurred on by the need to clear away the Christmas decorations, she has also been clearing out a cupboard that has swallowed up so much stuff that it was in danger of regurgitation. And there they were.
Of course they are antique if you define antiques as 99 years old or more, but this is a design that it still in production even today: Victorinox of Switzerland, famous for the Swiss Army Knife, makes them, for one, and gold-plated at that. Maybe my mother’s were silver-plated at one time, she can’t remember. It’s quite possible, as her Grandma Cheney’s father was a Sheffield silver-plater by trade.
Interestingly, stork-shaped scissors were originally used by midwives to clamp and cut the umbilical cord of newborns, and they were sometimes given to new parents as a birth gift. In the eighteen-hundreds midwives often carried their sewing around with them, as a means of occupying their waiting time, and so would keep their midwifery tools in their sewing baskets. I don’t know if they used the same scissors to clamp the umbilical cord and to snip their sewing threads, given that hygiene in the nineteenth century was less strict than nowadays. Some of the very early midwife stork scissors had little babies engraved on the inside of the stork’s body or in the handles.
This raises the question as to why storks are associated with babies? Nobody really knows; it’s an old legend, and its origins are lost in the mists of time, but there are a number of theories.
Storks migrate in the late summer, and return in the spring. Their arrival often coincided with a spike in the birth rate nine months after the revelry of the summer solstice (moon – June – spoon in the old songs!), and that coincidence didn’t go unnoticed. Storks also often built their nests on rooftops, hence the story of the stork dropping a baby down the chimney, which avoids the embarrassment of parents having to explain the facts of life to young children. Where did they find the baby? Well, storks fly very high, and so it wasn’t hard to see them as going between heaven and earth, bringing a new little soul down now and then.
Young storks spend a long time in the nest and were also believed to care for their parents, a belief that gave its name to the Pelargonia law in Ancient Greece requiring citizens to look after their elderly relatives (pelargos is Greek for stork). In fact, in Ancient Greece, storks were so revered that the death penalty was enforced on anybody who killed one
They are believed to bring good luck in many places, even today. There is still a decent sized white stork population in Europe, and in many places special nesting platforms are provided for them. The same couple will return year after year to the old nesting place, which is why they are also a symbol of marital fidelity as well as filial piety.
We are used to seeing them in Eastern Switzerland, all along the Rhine, up through Alsace, the German Rhineland, and through the Netherlands, where they are such a typical sight in spring and summer that they feature on many souvenir items.
And you don’t only see them. Their German name is Klapperstorch, because of the clattering noise they make with their beaks when they greet each other, a sound like a miniature machine gun.
On my daughter’s wedding day, the wedding procession passed through an area populated by storks and several of them flew over the wedding party. Naturally, there were plenty of jocular remarks – and nobody was a bit surprised when the predictions came true !