Collector's Corner: Manual Razors and Blades
By Michele Alice
For millennia, men have had three methods for managing their beards: They could pluck them out, one hair at a time. They could just trim them. Or they could scrape them off with a sharp implement.
The first is, well, painful, and the second is uncomfortable in warm weather. So that leaves scraping.
Scraping involved using myriad tools from clamshells to knives. It was not until 1740 that the straight razor as we know it - a hollow-ground blade that folds into its handle - was invented by Benjamin Huntsman in Sheffield, England.
Straight razors have become a specialized category of shaving related collectibles, sometimes referred to as barberiana. Collections can revolve around specific manufacturers, countries of origin, blade types, and handles (often referred to as "scales") which can be made of such diverse materials as Bakelite, ivory, wood, buffalo horn, and even tortoise shell. (See Straight Razor Collecting by Bill Mancino.)
Although variations of the safety razor have existed since the late 18th century, the straight razor remained the primary means of removing facial hair until 1903. It was in that year that King Camp Gillette, an American businessman, began marketing a safety razor with disposable blades.
Prior to Gillette, safety razors - which protected users from serious injury by exposing only the very edge of the blades - suffered from the fact that the blades were relatively expensive and difficult to keep sharp. Gillette's innovative idea was the "disposable" blade, stamped, not forged, from steel. This was the origin of what has become known as "freebie marketing" - sell a refillable item at a low price, or give it away, and make a profit on the refills.
Safety razors comprise their own group of collectibles, but the blades themselves have also become highly sought after. Actually, it's the blades' graphically-illustrated packaging that has caught the attention of collectors everywhere. Collectors have likened the small boxes and the individual blade sleeves or wrappers to postage stamps, often displaying them in pocketed pages in 3-ring binders. (Note: some collectors keep the blades separate from their wrappers, as non-stainless-steel blades can rust over time, discoloring the packaging.)
The next advance in bladed shaving implements was the disposable razor introduced by Bic in 1974. Made mostly of inexpensive plastic, the entire razor, not just the blade, could now be tossed into the trash. The disposable razor is the dominant form today, though straight and safety razors still have their adherents for reasons of performance and economy.
Straight razors are generally the priciest on the secondary markets, fetching up to several hundred dollars each for rarer items or those with valuable handles. Pre-1903 safety razors can also sell for several hundreds, but most vintage specimens can be found for well under $100, while blades with their packaging can easily sell for more than the razors themselves. As for disposables, they are so ubiquitous and relatively new, they are worth very little in the collectibles markets.
Luckily, vintage razors and packages of blades can still easily be found at yard, estate, and church sales, so if you would like to learn more about these interesting collectibles, check out the resources listed below, and,
"Getting to Know Your Straight Razors," by Phillip Krumholz - link to website
Collecting Vintage Safety Razors and Other Shaving Collectibles - link - This section of Country Joe's Collectible Stuff offers "Razor Blades," "Razor Identification," and more. Also check out Country Joes blog for more information on blades and their wrappers.
The Invisible Edge - link - "Jargon Buster" page at UK site explains parts and specifications of straight razors. Includes blade shapes, condition terms, more.
The Straight Razor - link - This page at SRP (Straight Razor Place) describes the straight razor in detail. Also offers advice on purchasing vintage razors.
That Was a Close Shave! - link - Nice discussion, pics about razor blade collectibles by Amichay Bar-Yoseph.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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