How to make a shaving brush handle – 1910 style

There is more to revolutionising shaving than coming up with a innovative new razor. You’ll need to make machines for making blades. You need to find a way to pack the blades. You have to find way to present your wares. And you need a way to make an affordable shaving brush handle.

And the last bit is what Ernest Miltner filed a patent for in 1910. Filed on behalf of the Rubber & Celluloid Harness Trimming Co, the patent was granted in 1913. Even if it’s tangential to the act of shaving, I find it interesting enough to cover.

It is worth keeping in mind that artificial materials were a fairly new thing. Processes we are familiar with were new, or not even though of. Today “plastic” usually means a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials that use polymers as a main ingredient. In the early 20th century, plastic usually meant celluloid – although Bakelite was recently invented.

Celluloid – a mixture of nitrocellulose1 and camphor – is commonly considered the first thermoplastic. And that means that it can be moulded by heat… which is just how Ernest turned a tube of it into a shaving brush handle.

The patent and process

Referring to the patent and the drawings, the process is – in hindsight – easy to grasp.

One end of a celluloid tube is upset2 to the diameter of the bottom of the brush handle. A celluloid disk is attached to the wide end. The tube, now closed at one end, is places in a heated mould, and the tube is blown into the shape of a shaving brush handle by pressurised air.

The resulting handle is hollow and light weight, and can – according to the patent – be used while hollow, or filled with plaster of Paris or other materials.

The actual claim in the patent is a bit more verbose though. To qoute:

The method described of producing a hollow shell of definite outline from plastic material which consists in forming a tube of such material open at both ends, expanding one end portion of said tube, uniting to said end of the tube a closing disk of the same material, applying said tube thus formed within a die or mold, softening the tube therein by heat applied to the exterior of the die or mold, expanding the tube against the-walls of the die or mold by air underpressure delivered within the tube through its open end, and applying a cooling medium to the mold to cool the same and the shell therein.

From US patent 1,052,081

Final thoughts

I don’t think too many shaving brush handles are made in this manner today. But cheap, plastic handles are often injection moulded, which can be seen as a spiritual successor to this process. It should also be possible to recreate the process on a small scale, if an artisan wishes to make old style, plaster filled celluloid handles today.

The full patent can be read, as usual, on Google Patents.


  1. Also known as gun-cotton, which says a fair bit of it’s tendency to go Boom.
  2. Upset in this context means widening out into a cone.

Leave a Reply