While it may seem a waste of time for us today, living – as we do – in the era of inexpensive, stainless razor blades, less than a century ago people actually stropped their razor blades in order to keep them sharper for longer. A number or razors even came with blade holders in order to make this process easier, but what if your razor didn’t come with one, or you had several different razors you wanted to strop the blades for?
Fear not, because in 1930 Mr David J Prince patented an improvement to the safety-razor-blade holder that would accept any major blade on the marked!
…a convenient, inexpensive holder for razor blades when it is desired to sharpen the same by stropping and it particularly seeks to provide a holder which will take either Valet, Christy, Gillette or Durham type blades, or those having backs such as the Gem, EverReady, Star and other well known kinds.
David J Price
For those who are not familiar with the different blades, that don’t sound too difficult.. but one have to keep in mind that this would include single and double edged blades, with and without holes and slits, with and without ears, and with and without a thick spine along the back. All told an impressive range of shapes and thicknesses that the design have to account for.
As can be seen from the patent drawing, the blade holder consisted of two hinged plates that clamped the blade between them. Since each plate had ‘half’ a screw on the end, tightening the handle on the blade holder locked the two plates together and clamped the blade securely. Or as the patent describes it, each plate:
…has a threaded shank 2 at one end and a hinge ear 4 at the other end, the threaded shank having a portion cut away.
David J Price
The plates had groves or cutout int he middle of them as well as a couple of holes drilled through, and for different blade styles there would be different ways for securing the blade;
for Durham, Gillette and Varlet blades, there was a pair of loose studs (called lugs in the patent text) that lined up with the holes cut in the blade
for Christy style blades, the studs were removed
and a GEM style blade would rest in the groves themselves
All told a simple and ingenious solution to the problem of providing clamping pressure on a variety of blades -as long as you didn’t loose the two studs that is. One improvement I can see immediately would be to give the studs threads on the part that fitted into the holes in the holder – said holes would have to be threaded too – and when stropping a blade without holes simply fasten them on the outside of the plate.
I can also see this being useful as a simple, cheerful and somewhat scary kamisori-style shavette – one that allowed a shaver to experiment with several different styles of blades, although the selection in this day and age is smaller than it was in the late 20’s and early 30’s.1
As far as I can tell, this is the only razor or shaving related patent Mr Price filed for, which is a shame, cause I would have loved to see if he could come up with a razor that fitted multiple styles of blades as well.
For starters, there is to the best of my knowledge no one that manufactures Varlet, Durham or Christy style blades any longer.
As I was poking around for information on a different razor, I stumbled over the abbreviated history of the Diamond Edge Razor, as made by the Norvell-Shapleigh Hardware Co – later the Shapleight Hardware – in St Louis, Missouri, between 1910 and 1919. Described in Waits’ Compendium as a single edge hoe style razor with a closed comb guard, it apperantly was offered in a number of different styles; the DE100 was silver plated in green lined box, the DE200 had red lining and gold plated tips, the DE300 had gold plated frame with gold and silver plated handle in an imitation pigskin case, while the top model – the DE400 – was all gold plated, came in a gold plated box with it’s own stropper.
As can be guessed by the fact that you got a stropper with the high end kit, the Diamond Edge wasn’t meant to use disposable blades – rather reusable ones. All models seems to have been delivered with a holder for the blade to make them easier to strop, so even if replacement blades were available,1 it seems the idea was to buy a razor with enough blades to last practically forever.
The patent for the Diamond Edge was filed by Carl Gustav Schimkat in the beginning of 1906 – so before Gillette had emerged as the top dog in the safety razor market. The Diamond Edge was one of several fairly successful competitors to the Gillette, in what was a fairly fluid marketplace. The patent itself isn’t too earth-shattering in hindsight, like many others it aimed to
…produce a simple and inexpensive safety razor…
From patent US866969A
Simple and inexpensive meant that one could tap into a large marked; people who would like to be clean shaven, but who couldn’t afford an expensive razor or frequent visits to the barber.
An interesting element of the razor was that the blade wasn’t held by the razor directly, but by a retainer (12) that helped give the blade the required rigidity – which make sense considering the design of the razor was very close to the Kampfe wedge razor design in concept if not in execution.
It seems like the success of the Gillette during and after the Great War killed off the Diamond edge… it is hard to compete with a razor all the doughboys got for free while in the service after all. Those who owned them probably used them while blades could be gotten, but today the Diamond Edge and other single edge hoe style razors seems to have been all but forgotten.. what little we can easily find and use today is vintage EverReady and GEM style razors.
1) Clark’s Blade & Razor Co, operating out of Newark, NJ, offered off-brand blades via the Sears Catalogue for a wide range of razors until at least the end of the 1920’s. Their No3 blade is advertised as fitting the Diamond Edge as well as Auto Strop, Young and other razors.