Letter Openers

By | November 12, 2012

Display of letter openers from our collection.

Letter openers are useful objects that can be found in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, materials, and themes. Collectible examples are more readily available now since email and text messaging are taking precedence over letter writing. During the eighteenth century, letter openers made of ivory and silver were favored by the well-to-do. In the late nineteenth century, the letter opener became a popular advertising giveaway and many were made of newer materials such as metal or celluloid, like the Fuller Brush letter openers shown below.

Fuller Brush letter opener showing front and back of the same design.

I found this pair when I was shopping for a gift for my husband at the Antique Mall on Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach, California, a small beach community a few miles northwest of downtown San Diego. I had been scouting for hours and was ready to give up when I thought I spotted a letter opener among a disorganized pile in a curio cabinet. The door was locked. I hunted down the shopkeeper with the key. She unlocked the cabinet and handed me what was indeed a slender plastic letter opener. I immediately recognized the raised image as the Fuller Brush man in his one-button suit wearing a hat and carrying a case. The company’s logo confirmed that it was a promotional item from Fuller Brush Company. Then I turned the letter opener over and found the image of a teased-haired woman wearing a knee-length dress with gloved hands carrying a similar case. Fuller Brush woman? When did women join the Fuller workforce? On the one hand I was delighted at the equal rights aspect and at the same time astonished.

This was a perfect find. My husband actually uses letter openers to neatly slice envelopes along the scored edge of the flap. It drives him crazy when I use my index finger and rip a messy path on my way to the contents. It was also a sentimental object for me as it sparked childhood memories when the Fuller Brush man would visit our home and open his case to reveal an array of brand new brushes. The fact that it was a promotional piece was perfect too since both my husband and I are graphic designers and can appreciate the object’s purposefulness to increase sales and promote public awareness. This turned out to be my lucky day; there was a second letter opener—identical to the first except for the color. I eagerly bought both so Fuller man and Fuller woman could stride side by side in our display.

The object inspired follow-up research with a particular goal to learn more about the letter opener as well as the company’s female sales force. In 1906, Alfred Carl Fuller founded Capitol Brush Company. That year he hired two employees, a brush maker and a salesman, and by the end of the year he had hired two dozen men as door-to-door dealers. In 1908, the first female was employed—Fuller’s wife Evelyn—and in 1968, the company established a sales team of women to sell a new line of cosmetics and hairstyling products. They were designated the Fullerettes. During the 1960s more women joined the general workforce to supplement family incomes and, likewise, the number of female Fuller representatives increased.

The letter opener was developed as a promotional gift to be slipped into a die-cut card that was left behind by the salesperson. In addition to promotional text, the following message expressed gratitude: “We are pleased to offer you this Fuller Brush Nostalgic Letter Opener as a Thank You for welcoming us into your home.”

A description of “The Fuller Brush Nostalgic Letter Opener” followed:
This letter opener with its unique design originates from the late 1950s. We continue molding these letter openers today…using the same die cast mold as used over 40 years ago.

You will note a “Fuller Brush Man” depicted on one side…with a “Fuller Brush Fullerette” depicted on the other. Since 1906, tens of thousands of men and women have carried the Fuller Brush Story to millions of homes in America.

You may even “know of” someone…a friend, Mother, Father, grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt…who either shared the Fuller Brush Story with others or enjoyed using Fuller Brush products.

In a way, this letter opener is a tribute to these many friends of Fuller Brush. We hope you enjoy this Nostalgic Letter Opener…much as a friend enjoyed it as a token of appreciation over forty years ago.

According to a representative at The Fuller Brush Company, sales people still give out letter openers with the Fuller Brush man depicted on one side. Unfortunately, the Fuller Brush woman no longer resides on the other side.


Kovel, Ralph and Terry. Kovels’ Antiques & Collectibles Price List 2008. Black Fog & Leventhal Publishers, New York, 2007. 411.

Letter from The Fuller Brush Company

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