Has there ever been something so misnamed as safety razors? More secure than what? For decades, men have gone to work with small pieces of tissue attached to their faces to stop the bleeding. Nonetheless, as city work increased in the early 1900s and beards fell out of favor, safety razors could be found in almost every bathroom across America until the advent of cartridges and electric razors in the 1970s.
Until then, it was a battle every morning between man and blade. Let’s take a clear look.
Before razors, men used coarse tools to get rid of mustaches, a risky proposition at the best of times. The first real razors date back centuries to Egyptian times. Nevertheless, it was not until the 18th century that a French inventor added protection to straight razors with the safety razor some 100 years later. The Kampfe brothers of Brooklyn, New York, were the first to patent safety razors with the concept that only the very edge of the blade should touch the skin, thus decreasing the risk of accidental deep cuts. The idea caught on and the Star Safety Razor was born.
Shortly after the turn of the century, King Camp Gillette (great name!) Arrived and filed his own patent for a modified version of the safety razor. Hers offered certain advantages, and Gillette became the main supplier of razors to American troops during World War I. Gillette ended up delivering some 3.5 million razors and nearly ten times as many blades to the military, almost changing the shaving habits of millions of American men. overnight. Returning soldiers were allowed to keep their shaving kits, providing Gillette with an integrated market for the blades that would catapult him to the ranks of America’s richest men.
Not surprisingly, many other American companies were aware of Gillette’s success and became keen to enter the market after the war. Shick’s invention of the injector razor in the 1920s was a significant improvement, reducing the need to handle blades. Gillette followed with a similar design after WWII. Other competitors included Gem Cutlery with its eponymous models and the American Safety Razor Company with its Gem series. Both were single-edged carbon steel razors, prone to dullness and rust after just a few uses.
It was not until the 1960s that the British firm Wilkinson (famous for its swords) introduced stainless steel blades which quickly conquered the market. A dozen years later, Bic once again turned the market upside down with the release of the disposable razor, prompting rapid reactions from all the other players in the field. In recent times, multi-blade razors have dominated the domestic market, but traditional single-edged razors with replaceable blades are still produced by a number of manufacturers. Most offer a range of blade displays for people with longer or coarser facial hair.
Today there is a group of collectors enthusiastic about straight and safety razors. Straight razors need to be sharp to maintain their sharpness, but they can be used over and over again and thus remain popular in traditional barber shops and with those who like to live dangerously. As for safety razors, they have been sold in a wide variety of configurations and are among the cheapest collectibles.
Many early models were well made and came in boxes with a small number of additional blades. Both types are staples of antique stores like ours and can still offer the utility and satisfaction of a very close shave. This baby face is always close at hand, but be careful and keep a supply of tissues on hand.
Mike Rivkin and his wife, Linda, are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. For many years he was an award winning catalog publisher and author of seven books as well as countless articles. Now he is the owner of the Antique Galleries in Palm Springs. His antiques column appears on Saturdays in The Desert Sun. Want to send Mike a question about antiques? Send him a message at [email protected]