Buying A Vintage DE Razor May 22 2015
BUYING A VINTAGE DE RAZOR
There are many reasons to go vintage when buying a safety razor. They're eco-friendly, look good, can last a long, long time (Many vintage razors out there have outlived their original owner!) and can be had very cheap. Combine that with the fact that there are plenty of companys still making the DE blades to use with them and there really is no excuse not to add one to the shaving stash.
But what to look for? Given that many DE razor manufacturers were pumping out factory loads of them since the very early 20th century then there's a lot to choose from.
The most famous and probably most collected are the Gillette razors. There are a lot of them to choose from but the main one's that you see for sale are the Gillette Techs, Slims, Fatboys and SuperSpeeds. These are all very good razors and provided they are in good condition will offer many years of excellent shaving.
Alongside the Gillettes are a plentitude of other manufacturers with a long list of vintage razor designs to their name. Some, like Wilkinson Sword, are still making shaving related products to this day while others such as Laurel, Kirby Beard & Co and Leresche have long ceased manufacturing. Part of the fun of vintage razor collecting is learning about the different manufacturers, their stories, heritage and the people behind them.
But what is good condition for an old razor?
First off is appearance. A vintage razor with a bit of scuffing and the odd blemish on the finish is nothing to worry about. A scrub with a gentle cleaner and an old toothbrush can have surprisingly good results and you may even fancy popping it in an ultrasonic cleaner for a deep clean. A lot of time the accrued grime and marking is simply old soap and will easily come away.
Sometimes the original metallic coating will have come away and exposed the brass underneath. If this is the case then it's really a matter of personal preference. Some people like this as it adds character and makes no difference to the performance of the razor. Do watch out for any cracks, chips or rust though - you can't scrub that away and unless you have a real penchant for restoring old metal or paying out for somebody else to do it then it's really not worth the investment of time and money.
Secondly is the working order of the razor. Many are simple 2 or 3 piece razors where you pop the blade in and tighten it up. Nothing much to go wrong but make sure to look at the thread of the screw, any joints where the screw meets the head and any important joints. If there's rusting or chipping on these particular parts then it's probably better to look elsewhere.
Some other razors such as the Gillette Fatboy, Slim or Superspeed are 1 piece razors. These will have an adjustment mechanism on the neck of the handle, which varies blade exposure and the "aggressiveness" of the razor, and a twist-to-open (TTO) mechanism which is usually operated at the base of the handle by twisting opens up the top of the razor so you can pop a blade in without taking the razor apart as you would a 2 or 3 piece. With these razors it's worth taking the time to click through all the adjustment settings and making sure the TTO mechanism works smoothly and closes properly and evenly. If you can't get hold of the razor before buying then ask the seller questions about the working order of it and certainly don't buy if the answers aren't forthcoming.
Another type of vintage razor worth checking out is the Single Edge Razor. The two most seen are the EverReady and the GEM. These will often have a "shovelhead" design with a flip top lid to hold the blade firmly in place. Combined with a guard rail this delivers a smooth and close shave and it is a mystery to many why anyone would use anything else! Models such as the 1912 are bona fide design classics. They can be bought cheaper than a vintage DE and providing the guard rail is in good condition with no missing or bent teeth and the hinges on the head are working fine then they really are worth trying out and make a nice change from anything else in your shaving collection.
These take single edge (SE) blades which look similar to window-scrapers. Make sure to buy one specifically marketed for shaving though and not something from the hardware/DIY store made to actually scrape windows - could be painful.
A bit of caution is advised though - not all vintage razors are equal!
One very often seen vintage razor is the Rolls Razor which you should probably avoid. These were made as self sharpening razors and had all kinds of engineering trickery to keep the blade edge sharp. Although now cheap and plentiful on sites such as Ebay the odds of finding one that is actually useable are very remote and you can't easily buy and fit spare parts for it. There are a few experts to be found who restore these but it's a real labour of love - verging on madness!
There are also other razors which were made to use proprietary blades. Razors like Wardonia, Segal, Ronson and Durham Duplex will only work with a specific type of blade made by the manufacturer. And since these companys are long gone and nobody is making blades for these razors anymore they're essentially collectibles and curios and pretty much useless for actually shaving with.
There are ways with some of them to modify a modern DE blade to mimic the proprietary blade but it can be a lot of work for sometimes little reward. If in doubt just ask Google or your preferred search engine whether or not the razor takes a DE blade - I can pretty much guarantee someone, somewhere has tried it out and posted about it somewhere out there on the World Wide Web.
Overall though it is very easy to find a nice vintage razor. So long as it looks in good nick, everything works like it should and you can get blades for it then that's all there is to it. Pricing can be a little difficult as, like most things, fashions change. Look around, see what you like the look or sound of and then look on sites such as Ebay for an average price.
Some shaving supply sites sell vintage razors though the price may be a little higher but there's generally an assurance that you're buying from someone who knows their stuff and won't sell you a duff or useless razor. Many wet shaving forums have boards where members often sell razors at "mates rates" to other members.
And if in any doubt then ask the seller. There is no such thing as a stupid question and any seller worth his or her salt will gladly answer any question or extra pictures online.