Paper mail may be going the way of the dodo, but thanks to some major design upgrades, letter openers are here to stay. The once-utilitarian tool has recently become a showcase for top design. That means whimsy galore — saws, propellers, a singular scissor — as well as austere designs that wouldn't feel out of place next to your parents' paperweights. "Almost everything I do has an edge of nostalgia to it," says Acme Studios founder Adrian Olabuenaga, who used a retro pocketknife as inspiration for the Jack letter opener. "I wanted it to be familiar." Indonesia-based designer Singgih Kartono drew upon his own familiarity for Areaware's envelope opener: He modeled the mahogany and sonokeling knife after the bamboo blades local farmers use to clean their tools. "The shape is almost the same with my opener," he says. "It's simple and useful." And if these letter openers never open a letter, that's beside the point — they look good, even in the glow of a computer screen.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.