In days gone by traveling professionals called scissors grinders would visit a community or farm and offer to sharpen instruments that were often not of the best quality.
In the November 16, 1886 edition of the Idaho Statesman, a short article described the profession thus:
“Most of the grinders leave town in the summer time. They commence about the first of May, and you don’t often see one carrying his machine around the city after the 1st of June. They go into the country and work in the little towns and among the farmers sharpening scissors and razors. Once in a while a $2 or $3 job is picked up in one house putting shaving tools in order and fixing the scissors.”
The chance to earn money wasn’t the only reason the grinders headed to the country in the summer.
“It don’t take much bread and meat to get along on when watermelons, cantaloupe and fruit are plenty. Potato patches and roasting ears help out a good deal, and occasionally a hen’s nest is found in some fence corner, so you see if a fellow wants to, he can live very cheap and save the money he earns.”
Grinders apparently saved up in the summer, because one needed cash to live through a winter in the city.
There was another mention of a scissors grinder in the April 18, 1891 Statesman. “A scissors grinder attracted considerable attention on the street. He was the first who has been in town for a long time.”
Scissors grinders were included in a full-page story in 1909 when the banner headline in the Statesman read, “Humble Yet Remunerative Occupations in Boise.” Other humble jobs included stove doctor, lawn surgeon, and postcard vendor. The scissor grinder interviewed for the story said he bought his grinder for $250 and could make $3-$7 a day.
Not a fortune, maybe, but one could still put some money away. In the February 21, 1905 edition of the Mountain Home Republican, this little quip appeared: “John J. Dowd, a scissors grinder, died, leaving a fortune of $30,000. John was a sharp businessman.”