Victor Mather was one of the very last remaining hand cutters in the world. He retired from his Portland Works workshop some years ago and left all of his tools and bench there, as if he had just popped out. I was shown Victor’s workshop by Jimmy, another tenant who assured me it was a really special place that I’d love. He was right and amongst the chaos of the space being used for other tasks over the years, Victors tools, punches and papers were still all there.
As part of Acts of Care: The Sheffield Edition I decided to catalogue Victors tools and to create a new order for all of the letters and number punches, to see what was missing and what remained. I wanted to understand what a hand cutter was by working through the tools and trying to understand the processes that way. Sorting through over 500 of these incredible letter and number punches I soon realised there were two types – counter punches and punches. Counter punches are the letters or number patterns that Victor struck into the end of a metal bar, which was then further engraved, filed, polished and hardened to become the punches, which then were sold to manufacturers and craftspeople to mark their work.
Image credit: Mark Campbell