He's looking sharp!

Remember When

July 14, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

They were once as common a sight on city and suburban streets as the oyster salesman, the hokey-pokey man, the tin peddler or the a-rabs, and they willingly answered the call of anxious housewives who shouted, "Hey, mister! Sharpen my scissors! Hey, mister!"

Grinders, one of the names they went by, were part of Baltimore's colorful street and alley life, as described elsewhere on this page by Jacques Kelly.

In 1940, Santo Vasta, who is pictured at right, pushed his portable grindstone mounted on a pushcart through Canton's streets, using a bell attached to the cart's frame to summon customers with dull knives or scissors.

Some grinders even backpacked their wheels, which they set up before beginning work.

Vasta was part of a large and now vanished contingent of itinerant grinders, who were also known as cutlers, tinkers, bladesmiths or knifesmiths.

They wore old, battered fedoras and shirts or aprons that were ingrained with tiny flecks of metal spun off from the grindstone, which they pumped like an old-fashioned treadle sewing machine.

"I can still hear the ringing of the bell that preceded the appearance of the scissors-grinder in our neighborhood," recalled Courtney Frey in The Sun of her childhood growing up on Hawthorne Road in Roland Park.

"His wheel was heavy and was carried on his back; when he worked, it threw off what seemed like sparklers to the eyes of a small girl perched nearby on the front steps."

To get a cleaner edge, some grinders dripped water from a can onto the stone, which produced a far sharper edge.

The price of this door-to-door service?

Most grinders charged no more than 10 cents for a pair of scissors, and sometimes less.

Pete Vidi, who pushed his grindstone through the streets of Baltimore during the 1930s, recalled in The Evening Sun: "I'd walk those streets summers and winters; and on a good, warm day maybe I'd make $3."

Pub date: 7/14/96

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