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Scarperia, the city of the sharp irons

Since the Middle Ages in Scarperia iron was forged to make sharp blades. There are documents dating back to the 16th Century even speaking of a special “Cutlers’ Charter” containing the rules to which Scarperia’s iron craftsmen must comply. The charter was giving instructions on the materials to be used and on the relationships between the masters and the workers and also contained a rule declaring the trade as only transmissible from father to son. Between the 16th and the 18th Centuries there was a great development of the production of weapons, because of the strategic role obtained by Scarperia as a stronghold protecting the territory of Mugello and of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

At this time, various types of knives were manufactured, used both as utensils and as weapons (daggers, spears). Similar objects, but strongly different in use and social meaning: a necessity the first, a status symbol the second. The knife had wide use: it was the tool of the popular and peasant classes used to work, eat and defend themselves and large quantities were produced at low cost. Alongside this production there were also knives for the kitchens of the noble classes, more accurate and refined in shapes, workmanship, and materials. In the second half of the eighteenth century Mugello was affected by territorial and economic transformations following the creation of a new connecting route with Bologna: the opening of the Futa pass (1752) caused a shift in the preferential road system cutting off Scarperia, which lost its privileged position on the main roads towards Northern Italy.

This novelty brought negative implications on the local economy. The merchants, who for centuries had come through here and had stocked all kinds of blades, started to favor other European productions, more affordable and easier to get. After the founding of the Italian Kingdom, that unified many small states in a single network that made the circulation of goods easier, there was a new increase in production. In the second half of the 19th Century, the bottegas of Scarperia took part in national and international exhibitions, where they obtained significant recognitions and medals. It was a period of development that allowed attempts of modernizations in the productive system and in sales. It is of 1874, in fact, the constitution of the first cooperative for the manufacturing of sharp blades that introduced the exploitation of steam energy, followed by the Cooperative Society for the manufacturing of sharp blades in Scarperia in 1889 that had better luck.

At the beginning of the 20th century the sector counted on 46 bottegas with 221 workers, but just at the time of its greatest expansion a 1908 law drastically limited the size of the blades of the switchblade knives, the ones that could be freely carried in the pocket and that represented the main production of Scarperia. Since then, the production of the “blades” has suffered a progressive decline. In the twenties of the 1900s in Scarperia you could still find important artisan bottegas like Torquato Tonerini’s, but in the following decades and with the Second World War the activity was significantly reduced, both because of a lack of keeping up with the technological advances and for the poor renewal of the products. The laboratories produced almost exclusively regional and typical products like the zuava, the “tre pianelle,” the mozzetti and the palmerino, an ancient desk knife. Around this historic production comes the knife throwing competition that takes place on the occasion of the traditional Diotto festival, and which consist of throwing six knives at a distance of 4 meters against a wooden target drawn in concentric circles.

This traditional trend, which is now flanked by an extremely diversified production, has found a vast revaluation in recent years. The knives of Scarperia today are very appreciated because they are the result of an artisanal and limited production of the highest quality, heir to the ancient industriousness of the master ironworkers.