Fishermen’s Woolen Nippers

Fishermen working trawl lines in the 19th century often suffered cuts and rope burns on their hands. They typically wore mittens or gloves to protect themselves when hauling the long lines aboard and removing the fish. These sturdy but soft rings, called nippers, are knitted of woolen yarn and stuffed with more wool. They would have fit around a fisherman’s palms, protecting his hands while his fingers remained free for tasks requiring dexterity.
These nippers were probably made in Gloucester, Mass., for use by local fishermen working on offshore schooners. The shallow, fertile banks stretching from Georges Bank east of Nantucket to the Grand Bank off Newfoundland, Canada, were prime fishing areas for Gloucestermen. Cod, haddock, and halibut were the principal species caught by fishermen working aboard schooners in these waters in the late 19th century.
These nippers were among the fishermen’s clothing, tools, and apparatus featured by the United States in the 1883 International Fisheries Exhibition in London.
Object Name
Date made
late 19th century
on exhibit
Physical Description
wool (overall material)
overall: 5 in x 3 3/8 in x 1 3/4 in; 12.7 cm x 8.50011 cm x 4.50012 cm
Place Made
United States: Massachusetts, Gloucester
on exhibit
United Kingdom: England, London
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Clothing & Accessories
Industry & Manufacturing
International Fisheries Exhibition
The Development of the Industrial United States
See more items in
Work and Industry: Fisheries
On the Water
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
U.S. Fish Commission
Publication title
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL

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