Sunday 22 January 2012

Tools of the trade: Secateurs

As a working gardener I love the tools of my trade especially my secateurs. Several years ago I organised a couple of collectors fairs at historic Experiment Farm Cottage in Sydney for the National Trust and the Australian Garden History Society. The fairs in 2003 and 2005 were known as the Heritage Garden Tool Show and both events received much positive media attention. For the first fair I researched the history of secateurs for a give-away factsheet.

Some of the pruners on display at the Heritage Garden Tool Show

History of Secateurs

Secateurs were invented by the Marquis Bertrand de Moleville. He was a French aristocrat and politician who had to flee his homeland for exile in Britain during the revolution of 1789. Unlike many of his class he escaped the guillotine blade and this may have inspired him to invent the ‘cutters’ known in French as secateurs in 1815.

Prior to Bonville’s invention European gardeners had used scissors, pruning knives, bill hooks and shears to cut and trim foliage and small branches. De Moleville's new secateurs were a versatile and efficient hand tool and quickly became popular throughout continental Europe. English speaking male gardeners were less taken by this new French invention which was marketed in Britain as suitable only for ladies. This changed later in the 19th century when influential garden writers such as William Robinson promoted their use.

Three 19th century secateurs from my collection


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Typo - Bertran de Moleville become Boneville in para 2..... My research shows that the secateur did not become popular, at least amonst French wine growers (vignerons), until after the 1870's. As late as 1887 as one prominent French authority stated they damaged the shoots (Encore en 1887, Louis HENRY, dans ses « Eléments d'Arboriculture Fruitière » émet certaines réserves sur le sécateur qui a « l'inconvénient, si bien fait soit-il, de comprimer, d'écraser toujours un peu l'un des côtés de la coupe. - learn more at .They may have been more widely used by gardeners, but it is possible Robinson had the effect of popularising them not only in England, but in also France....

    see also:

    Deleted, edited and re-posted due to my own typos....

  3. Today I bought my first secateurs and believe they are the most wonderful tool I've ever had for flower arranging. They make easy work of cutting stems easy. I appreciate your little historical summary! Thank you.


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