What is a Paper Knife?

In a world ruled by technology, the paper knife may appear archaic. Paper knives are used in companies, libraries, and homes worldwide. Paper knives—what are they? This guide covers paper knife definition, history, applications, and benefits.

This post will answer all your questions, whether you’re a reader, stationery collector, or interested about these unique instruments.

What is a Paper Knife?

Paper knives, also called letter openers, are small, portable tools for opening envelopes and cutting paper. Its long, slender blade has a sharp edge and a gripping handle for handling. Paper knives are made of metal, wood, or plastic. They easily cut envelope seals without damaging the contents.

The History of Paper Knives

What is a Paper Knife?
Paper Knife 1

Paper knives, also called letter openers, were invented by ancient cultures to open sealed letters and documents. Paper knives have been used throughout history, although their origins are unknown.

Ancient Egypt: Scribes wrote papyrus scrolls with reed pens approximately 2000 BCE. They used sharp, pointed ivory, bone, or metal instruments to open these scrolls without damage. These devices presumably before paper knives.

Ancient Rome: Roman wax seals secured correspondence. Romans employed “graphiarii”—knives or styluses—to break these seals and read the text. These flat, pointy graphiarii opened letters without breaking the paper.

Mediaeval Europe: Letters were often wax-sealed with ornate decorations in mediaeval Europe. Small knives or daggers would open the letters. These letter openers evolved into exquisite silver or gold letter openers with complex carvings.

Renaissance and Beyond: Paper replaced parchment and vellum as the main writing material. Paper use boosted letter opener demand. The rich and literate used them as desk adornment. Artistic letter openers were popular during this time.

Industrial Revolution: In the 18th and 19th centuries, letter openers were mass-produced. Modern metalworking methods made steel, brass, and nickel letter openers inexpensive. The changing aesthetics resulted in simpler, more functional designs.

20th century: Letter openers become more practical and standardised. They were usually stainless steel or plastic and functional rather than decorative. Envelope slitters with serrated or retractable blades joined straight-edged letter openers.

The Uses of Paper Knives


Opening Envelopes: Paper knives are used to open envelopes cleanly and effectively. Slide the blade under the sealed edge to easily cut through the glue without destroying or hurting the contents.

Unfolding Paper: Paper knives can unstick pages glued together by dampness or adhesive. You can gently put the blade between stuck pages and separate them without harm.

Scrapbooking and Crafts: Paper knives are essential for scrapbookers and crafters. They make cutting elaborate drawings, photos, and paper forms easy.

Collectibles and Decorative Items: Paper knives are often collected as antiques or decorative items. These exquisitely crafted tools may add beauty to any display cabinet or workstation.

Choosing the Right Paper Knife


To find the right paper knife, consider the following:

Blade Material: Different paper knife blade materials have different benefits. Wooden blades are classic and beautiful, while metal blades are durable and sharp.

Handle: Choose a paper knife with a comfortable, stable grip. Wood or rubber handles improve tool usage and ergonomics.

Blade Length: Paper knife reach and adaptability depend on blade length. Longer blades open larger envelopes and cut through thick stacks of paper, while shorter blades are better for precision cutting.

Questions (FAQs)

Safely using a paper knife?

Hold a paper knife by the handle and keep the blade away from your body. To avoid injury when opening an envelope, glide the blade beneath the sealed edge and softly across.

Paper knives only open envelopes?

Paper knives open envelopes, but they have additional uses. Paper knives may trim paper edges and cut delicate materials like handmade paper. They are useful for precise artists, calligraphers, and bookbinders.

Paper knives on boxes and packages?

Paper knives are not suited for cutting packages and cardboard boxes. They’re best for envelope opening and paper work. Utility knives and box cutters feature blades intended for cutting harder materials.

Are there distinct paper knives?

Yes, many decorative paper knives are available. Many artisans and craftsman decorate paper knife blades, making them both utilitarian instruments and beautiful works of art.

Find paper knives that suit your aesthetic at specialty stationery stores, online markets or antique shops.

Alternatives to paper knives for envelope opening?

Other instruments can open envelopes if you don’t have a paper knife. Letter openers, tiny scissors, and gently used butter knives are common replacements. To avoid hurting the envelope or yourself, use these alternatives carefully.


Paper knives have gone from ceremonial to functional, yet they still have charm. Paper knives are useful for opening envelopes, crafting, and delicate jobs. Understanding their origins, applications, and how to choose one helps you appreciate these helpful instruments’ simplicity and efficiency.

A paper knife is a timeless and useful instrument for stationery enthusiasts, collectors, and anybody who handles paper.

I love knives and love reviewing them. Knives have been a part of our lives for as long as we can remember. We grew up using knives in the kitchen and in outdoors.