Before the safety razor as we recognise it today was invented, there was a rich history of “almost-safety-razors” that were invented, patented and sold. One of the more interesting ideas was patented in 1874 by John Monks from Gloucester in England.1 What we have here today is the US patant on his invention that he was granted in 1878 – three years after the Kampfer Bros had likely started manufacturing the first Star razors.
Sometimes referred to as the “pig scraper”, for reasons that should be clear reading the patent:
This apparatus is intended for shaving the heard, but it may be employed for trimming the hair, or removing the same from the skin of any animal.US patent 206,473
So the buyer of Monks’ razor could shave in the morning, then bring his razor with him to scrape the hair of hides… a great saving on equipment, although perhaps somewhat off putting for the average shaver today.
The razor itself is even simpler than the short patent text. In it’s simplest form it was a bent piece of sheet metal, with the guard formed by a series of cut outs. The patent covers both the use of a wedge blade, and – more intriguing – what seems to be a forerunner to the rib backed GEM blade we’re familiar with today. Referred to as a ‘frame-blade’ in my sources, the cross section in figure 1 on the drawing compares nicely2 with vintage and modern GEM blades.
I can easily imagine Monks’ basic design – or even Fontaine’s improved one – being reimagined by today’s manufacturers. Modern GEM blades is more easily available than wedge blades, and probably keep their edge better than Monks’ frame-blade. The only question is; would anyone today buy a razor that is little more than a bent piece of sheet metal?
The patent can be read at Google Patents.
PS: If you like reading about old shaving related patents and other oddities, I have a whole page listing most of the ones I’ve written about.
1) An improved design was patented by Pierre Lucien Fontaine of Chartres, France in 1879.
2) See the photos in this old blogpost.