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Paperclips are small devices for holding pieces of paper together. A paperclip can refer to any piece of shaped wire for this function but it is normally a piece of steel wire twisted into a loop formation. The paper clip form with which we are most familiar with today is the 'Gem' paperclip, advertised, according to the OED, since 1894. The design takes advantage of the elasticity of the material of which the clip is made (whereby the clip clamps the papers) and the friction between the paperclip and the paper.

Paperclip sizes, shapes and other variations

Paperclips are available in a range of sizes and colours. The following lengths of Gem paperclips are available:

  • Small – 22mm
  • Medium – 28mm
  • Large – 33mm
  • Giant – 51mm
  • Giant – 76mm

There are also slight variations on the theme: paperclips can be plain, lipped, serrated, wavy or no-tear. As well as plain metal, paperclips are available in assorted colours and various stripey designs, such as 5 Star Zebra striped paperclips.

In addition to wire clips, we also supply plastic paperclips. Laurel plastic paperclips are a slightly different shape to Gem clips but still comprise a loop design based on similar mechanical principles. These non-magnetised clips are safe around computer magnetic media and come in clear perspex desktop containers.

Paperclip origins

OED citations for 'paper clip' date from 1851 but patents for bent wire clips appeared a bit later. According to the Early Office Museum, “the first bent-wire paper clip was patented by Samuel B. Fay in 1867. This clip was originally intended primarily for attaching tickets to fabric, although the patent recognized that it could be used to attach papers together.” A second clip was patented in 1877. The Gem paperclip which was to become the most popular clip wasn't patented but adverts for this type date from 1894.

Myth popularly has it that a Norwegian called Johan Vaaler invented the paperclip. He was indeed granted patents for a wire clip of a similar design to the Gem in Germany and the US in 1901, but by this time but by this time the Gem was already available. But because of the identification (albeit erroneous) of a Norwegian with the invention of the paperclip, this stationery object was worn on lapels during the Second War War as a symbol of resistance to German occupation in Norway. It was to become a national symbol of Norway (as opposed to a specific symbol of resistance) in the years following the war.

Paperclip trivia

  • In computing a paperclip symbol signifies an attached file or document.
  • You can make a chain of paperclips about three metres long from a box of 100 (based on paper clips of 33mm in length.