A Gem of a Great Idea
May 31, 2022
Chances are you have at least one of these objects within 20 feet of where you are currently located. I would also venture to guess that there is 99.9 percent chance (nothing’s ever quite 100, right?) that if you are in your abode, you could put your hands on one of these in less than two minutes.
It’s an object we take for granted, as they are as ubiquitous as a rock on the ground or a leaf on a plant.
The object: a paper clip.
Now, we haven’t always had paper clips. Someone did have to conceive of the concept and invent them. Like many innovations, it seems as if the idea was floating around in the cosmos waiting for the right person to wonder:
“Hmmm… I wonder if I twist this little piece of metal wire into a couple of bends, will it hold together pieces of paper?”
The concept is rather ludicrous, but that is precisely what happened.
But unbeknownst to the early paper clip inventor… or I should say inventors… the idea sprang forth in different places with a few years of each other.
Those crazy Norwegians – with little else to do in the winter – had one of their own create a ‘paper clip.’ He has been widely touted as the inventor of the device and even today you can find a paper clip monument to him. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:
“Norwegian Johan Vaaler (1866–1910) has erroneously been identified as the inventor of the paper clip. He was granted patents in Germany and in the United States (1901) for a paper clip of similar design, but less functional and practical, because it lacked the last turn of the wire. Vaaler probably did not know that a better product was already on the market, although not yet in Norway. His version was never manufactured and never marketed, because the superior Gem was already available.
Long after Vaaler’s death his countrymen created a national myth based on the false assumption that the paper clip was invented by an unrecognised Norwegian genius. Norwegian dictionaries since the 1950s have mentioned Vaaler as the inventor of the paper clip, and that myth later found its way into international dictionaries and much of the international literature on paper clips.”
The real inventor of the most used paper clip design in the world was – well, unknown. What we do know via the Infallible Wikipedia is this:
“The most common type of wire paper clip still in use, the Gem paper clip, was never patented, but it was most likely in production in Britain in the early 1870s by ‘The Gem Manufacturing Company’, according to the American expert on technological innovations, Professor Henry J. Petroski. He refers to an 1883 article about ‘Gem Paper-Fasteners’, praising them for being ‘better than ordinary pins’ for ‘binding together papers on the same subject, a bundle of letters, or pages of a manuscript’. Since the 1883 article had no illustration of this early ‘Gem’, it may have been different from modern paper clips of that name.
The earliest illustration of its current form is in an 1893 advertisement for the ‘Gem Paper Clip’. In 1904 Cushman & Denison registered a trademark for the ‘Gem’ name in connection with paper clips. The announcement stated that it had been used since March 1, 1892, which may have been the time of its introduction in the United States. Paper clips are still sometimes called ‘Gem clips’, and in Swedish the word for any paper clip is ‘gem’.
(snip)…the original Gem type has for more than a hundred years proved to be the most practical, and consequently by far the most popular. Its qualities—ease of use, gripping without tearing, and storing without tangling—have been difficult to improve upon. National Paper clip Day is May 29.”
Now, I love paper clips so much, that instead of celebrating them on only one day, for me this is National Paper clip WEEK.
I’m not exactly sure WHEN I became obsessed with paper clips, but I think it started back in 2004 when I took a novel writing course. Every week, we aspiring authors could bring six or so pages of our current work-in-progress (WIP). But the rule was that you must bring enough copies to share with everyone in the class. And, it was strongly suggested, that the pages be paper clipped together.
Who knows what got into my brain, but this gave me an excuse to purchase the colorful paper clips I coveted. You know the ones: red, pink, white, green, yellow, blue, and purple… no boring silver metal for me. Oh, no, I wanted the coated kind.
Soon, when taking something to share, my WIP was clipped together all in the same color paper clips.
Then one day it happened. I was at Michael’s in Kirkland pawing through the sales bins and I found a card with six beautiful hot pink paper clips. At the top of each clip was a rosette of pink netting and a trio of tiny seed beads – in sea green, sky blue, and pearl white, sewn in the center. I was smitten. Further sifting through the bin produced a second set, identical to the first, but with light pink netting instead.
Both sets found their way home and the next week, my pages at the writer’s group were passed out with my beautiful new paper clips brightening up the room.
Needless to say, they were noticed and the pressure was on. What paper clips would she bring next?
Soon, I was perusing office supply stores for new and exciting paper clips. For a while, Staples had this large tubular structure filled with paper clips in all sorts of wonderful shapes and colors: music notes, stars, hearts, triangles, kittens, butterflies, and suns, to name several.
Many of these were added to my growing collection. And then one day I had an idea. Perhaps there was a way I could create my own specialty paper clips? I experimented with making small embroidered hearts. I cut out flowers from material I had and glued them to the clips. I added small craft gemstones.
My legendary paper clip collection grew.
With Pinterest providing inspiration, I taught myself how to tie on ribbons and attach buttons and all sorts of baubles. I started giving away my specialty paper clips as gifts.
The paper clip obsession continues to this day. The hubby just shakes his head and shrugs when the ‘bin’ of supplies comes out.
These past couple of years with my involvement in Eastern Star, I’ve specialized. The theme has been snowflakes. I’ve literally made a couple hundred snow themed paper clips which, as far as I can tell, have been well received. Either that or people are gracious enough to accept them while secretly worrying about the mental health of the ‘crazy paper clip lady.’
But no matter. A portion of my paper clip collection sits in a ‘lazy susan’ style pen holder at the back of my desk (I’m looking at it as I type!) and I find that, at least once a day, I spin the holder around to decide ‘which’ paper clip I want for some set of pages. The ‘ice cream cones’ with the white, purple, and blue striped ribbon? The wooden Valentine ’s Day buttons with the various shades of pink polka dotted ribbons? Or perhaps the flower buttons, adorable with the tiny flowered bedecked ribbons?
The possibilities are, as they say, endless. Well, at least for the crazy paper clip lady.