The safety razors of James J Fetzer

King Gillette did not invent his safety razor in a vacuum. Around the turn of the last century, there were a race to invent and patent the ideal safety razor. This should be inexpensive to produce, give a good shave, and preferably would be able to be sold in high numbers with good profit. Gillette wasn’t necessarily the best of the bunch, just the most successful in the long run.

One of the less successful inventors were James J Fetzer, of Columbiana Ohio. Mr Fetzer tok out two patents on behalf of the Herbrand Company.1 Both used a replaceable blade with ears, but differed in how the blade and top cap was secured.

Both patents describe simple hoe style, single edge razors, reminiscent of the Diamond Edge razor I mentioned a while back. Both describe making the comb guard – or base plate, in the terminology of today – out of sheet metal with the edge curled. And both seems to have thin handles – but that seem to have been popular on many Christy style hoe razors as well.

His earliest patent – US 819,640 – describes a razor where the nut holding the handle is attached to the top cap, and the handle presses the guard and blade against the cap. One problem I see right away is that over-tightening the handle will bend the top cap upwards. I would have put some reinforcements around the back of the assembly to strengthen it.

His slightly later patent – US 840,449 – describes a razor with a separate top cap, base plate, and jam nut – all of which is both screwed onto the handle. While this avoids the possibility of stressing the top cap, it mean that the user will have to tighten the small jam nut. This will be harder than if you can twist the entire handle, especially if you have wet hands.

In the end I suspect Herbrand – and by extension, J J Fetzer – wasn’t forgotten because their razors were inherently less good than Gillette. Rather they were put aside and forgotten because production of replacement blades2 stopped. Which is a shame when you think about it, because there is a lot of fun history lurking in old razors.

The OCR on both patents – as I found them with the Google Patent Search – is pretty bad. Luckily for me – and you – has both of them on his website, nicely readable and with clickable drawings. Direct links; US819640 and US840449.


(1) According to Waits’ Compendium, the HERBRAND trademark was renewed in 1929 for razors… and then disappeared.

(2) Blades for Christy and Ender style hoe razors were also manufactured by third part blade makers. For instance Clark’s Blade & Razor Co (Newark, NJ) offered off-brand blades for a wide range of razors. They sold via the Sears Catalogue until at least the end of the 1920’s.

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