Bureau of Re-invention: the unimprovable paperclip


Part of our series on re-invention: some things just seem hard to make any better than they already are

10th September 2014

Like the shipping pallet to global trade, so the paperclip to the modern office: one of mankind's great, underappreciated, workhorse designs, a triumph of utility and economy.

When the now-ubiquitous 'Gem' clip design appeared in the 1890s, it was just the latest in a litter of twisted-metal paper-clasping solutions – ranging from the mere fiddly and insufficiently secure, to the paper-shreddingly useless.

The classic Gem paperclip design

The Gem won out with its superior design, and the paperclip hasn't changed since – not for more than 100 years.

As attempts to improve on the clip have failed – typically too bulky, expensive, or prone to tearing pages – the Gem's elegant design is proving perhaps the most economical use possible of four inches of steel that can do the job without compromise.

The clip’s near-infinite variety of secondary uses – lock-picking, SIM-card releasing, idle cuticle-cleaning – may go some way to explaining why the US alone chews through 11 billion a year, more than 35 per person. Technological innovation steams on, but a paper-clip-less office remains hard to imagine.


We want our stories to go far and wide; to be seen be as many people as possible, in as many outlets as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright in the stories on The Long + Short belongs to Nesta and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).

This allows you to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format. This can be done for any purpose, including commercial use. You must, however, attribute the work to the original author and to The Long + Short, and include a link. You can also remix, transform and build upon the material as long as you indicate where changes have been made.

See more about the Creative Commons licence.


Most of the images used on The Long + Short are copyright of the photographer or illustrator who made them so they are not available under Creative Commons, unless it says otherwise. You cannot use these images without the permission of the creator.


For more information about using our content, email us: [email protected]


HTML for the full article is below.