Nail clippers are usually made of stainless steel but can also be made of plastic and aluminium. Two common varieties are the plier type and the compound lever type. Many nail clippers usually come with a miniature file fixed to it to allow rough edges of nails to be manicured. Nail clippers occasionally come with a nail catcher. The multi-purpose nail clipper was invented by Hungarian inventor David Gestetner. The nail clipper consists of a head which may be concave or convex. Specialized nail clippers which have convex clipping ends are intended for trimming toenails, while concave clipping ends are for fingernails. The cutting head may be manufactured to be parallel or perpendicular to the principal axis of the cutter. Cutting heads which are parallel to the principal axis are made to address accessibility issues involved with cutting toenails.
Prior to the invention of the modern nail clipper, people would use small knives to trim or pare their nails. Descriptions of nail trimming in literature date as far back as the 8th century BC. The Book of Deuteronomy exhorts in 21:12 that a man, should he wish to take a captive as a wife, "shall bring her home to [his] house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails". A reference is made in Horace's Epistles, written circa 20 BC, to "A close-shaven man, it's said, in an empty barber's booth, penknife in hand, quietly cleaning his nails."
The first United States patent for an improvement in a finger-nail clipper was filed in 1875 by Valentine Fogerty and in the United Kingdom, Hungarian inventor David Gestetner. Other subsequent patents for an improvement in finger-nail clippers are those in 1876 by William C. Edge, and in 1878 by John H. Hollman. Filings for finger-nail clippers include, in 1881, those of Eugene Heim and Celestin Matz, in 1885 by George H. Coates (for a finger-nail cutter), and in 1905 by Chapel S. Carter with a later patent in 1922. Around 1913, Carter was secretary of the H. C. Cook Company in Ansonia, Connecticut, which was incorporated in 1903 as the H. C. Cook Machine Company by Henry C. Cook, Lewis I. Cook, and Chapel S. Carter. Around 1928, Carter was president of the company when, he claimed, about 1896, the "Gem"-brand finger nail clipper was introduced.
In 1947, William E. Bassett (who started the W. E. Bassett Company in 1939) developed the "Trim"-brand nail clipper, using the superior jaw-style design that had been around since the 19th century, but adding two nibs near the base of the file to prevent lateral movement, replacing the pinned rivet with a notched rivet, and adding a thumb-swerve in the lever.
- Smith, Ernie. "Fingernail Trimming: What We Did Before Nail Clippers". Tedium.co. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
- US 161112, Fogerty, Valentine, "Improvement in finger-nail trimmers", issued February 24, 1875
- Smith, Ernie (2017-02-14). "The Long, Slightly Strange History Behind Fingernail Clipping". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2020-06-06.
- "Fingernail Trimming History: What We Did Before Nail Clippers". Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet. Retrieved 2020-06-06.
- US 183256, Edge, William C., "Improvement in finger-nail trimmers", issued October 17, 1876
- US 205088, Hollman, John H., "Improvement in finger-nail trimmers", issued April 17, 1878
- US 244891, Heim, Eugene & Matz, Celestin, "Finger-nail trimmer", issued July 26, 1881
- US 342780, Coates, George H., "Finger-nail cutter", issued August 24, 1885
- "Deacon Selden Carter dies". The Day. May 25, 1916.
- US 1436010, Carter, Chapel S. & Carter, Hedley P., "Finger-nail trimmer", issued November 21, 1922
- An Export Shipping Tour of New York City, American Industries, Volume 14, Number 5, National Association of Manufacturers, December 1913, p. 43 (retrieved 30 August 2010 from Google Books)
- Notes, News and Personals, Modern Machinery, Volumes 13–14, May 1903, p. 167 (retrieved 30 August 2010 from Google Books)
- , The American Exporter, Volume 102, John C. Cochran Co., 1928, p.162 (retrieved 30 August 2010 from Google Books)
- Baker, Nicholson, "Clip Art", Annals of Technology, The New Yorker, November 7, 1994, pp. 165-67 (retrieved 30 August 2010)