Abraham Zilbersher and the safety razor for worn down blades

King Gillette originally considered his blades to be reusable. You could ship them back to his company and get a new blade for every two you sent in. Devices for reconditioning the edge at home also cropped up early, and kept popping up again and again.1 But with all that honing and sharpening, the blades would wear. The edge would creep slowly but surely closer to the middle of the blade. This would, naturally, change the geometry of the head – likely resulting in suboptimal shaves. Enter left; Abraham Zilbersher and his safety razor for worn down blades.

I can see nothing stopping a shaver from using Mr Zilbersher’s razor with new blades. It does look like a nice razor, and one that would give you the option to use either a comb guard or what is – in essence – a safety bar.

The patent drawing

The patent drawing from US 1,008,769, showing the safety razor for worn down blades invented by Zilbersher
The drawing from US patent 1,008,769

The patent

As far as I can make out, the big idea of Mr Zilbersher is that the three lugs on the top cap2 is not centred on the top cap. This meant that the shaver could flip it to present more or less of the blade as needed. This would, according to the inventor, allow the use blades that were a little worn, or a lot worn.

Or in the delightfully obtuse language of the patent text:

The improved feature of my invention and the one involving the novelty thereof lies in the relation between the threaded lug 8 and the other lugs 11, 12, with respect to the cap plate 7; these lugs lie in the same straight line whether they adjoin the cap plate or retainer and this line, while it is parallel with the opposite edges of the cap plate, it is nearer one edge than the other or it is, so to speak, eccentric, whereby the distance between the plane passing through the lugs and the edges of the cap plate is unequal. The purpose of such construction is to permit the cap plate or retainer to be used with blades of varying widths; originally these blades are substantially of the same width but through being used and with consequent honing and stropping they become of lesser width due to the wearing away because of the grinding thereof. Since the distance from the lugs to one edge of the cap plate is less than the distance from the lugs to the other edge the cap plate may be used on the holder in order to hold the blade in correct position for shaving after it has become worn by merely bringing the edge of the cap plate which is nearer the lugs adjacent the edge of the blade which it is desired to use in shaving.

From the patent text of US patent 1,008,769

So if having the cap one way presented too little blade, the shaver could simply flip the top cap around. With more edge available to him, he could keep on happily shaving.

The razor depicted

Zilbersher does point out that the razor depicted is merely an illustration, and that his invention could be adapted to any razor,3 it is a rather neat looking razor.

Made from a folded piece of sheet metal, the razor seems well suited for easy manufacture with simple tools. Part of the cut out metal is folded into a handle, which is then knurled. The rest is bent into a partial cylinder, one side of which is the comb guard. On a modern press it could all probable be done in one operation.

The top cap is another piece of sheet metal. Simply bent slightly and with two plain and one threaded lug attached. The only piece needed to complete the razor is then a small nut, used to secure the top cap to the holder.

Or in words of Zilbersher himself:

The safety razor in which I have illustrated my improvement preferably consists of a piece of sheet metal bent in the form of a tube and having extending therefrom a flaring portion 2 bent in the form of a loop to constitute a supporting member which forms a holder with the handle 1. The outer edge of the holder is provided with alternate recesses and projections so as to form a serrated portion 3, between the teeth of which the hairs may project in the operation of shaving, so that they can come in engagement with the edge of the blade. This blade is indicated at 4, and preferably consists of a permanently concaved member having edges 5 and 6 on opposite sides thereof. The blade is secured to the holder by means of the cap plate or retainer 7, the particular construction of which embodies my invention, the retainer being in the form of a concave member which engages the blade 4 adjacent its cutting edges whereby the blade is held in position on the holder; the retainer may be of springy material if so desired so as to permit of easy attachment and firm securing of the parts. For the purpose of securing the retainer on the holder and thus securing the blade 4 in place a screw-threaded lug 8 extends laterally from the concave face of the retainer which is adapted to project through openings 9, 10, located in the blade 4 and holder 2 respectively. In order to position the cap-plate and the blade on the holder positioning lugs 11, 12, are extended laterally from the concave face of the retainer or cap plate and preferably at equal distances from the screw-threaded lug 8 so that in whatever position the cap plate is used these lugs 11, 12, may engage in suitable openings in both the blade and the holder which are adapted to receive them.

From the patent text of US patent 1,008,769

A sensible modification today would be to make the top cap symmetrical. While this would make the razor less useful with worn out blades, almost no one today hone their blades to the point of wearing them down. Or one could keep the asymmetry and call it an adjustable razor. In the later case, marking each side of the top cap to tell them apart would be a good idea.

Thoughts on the razor

Worn out blades might have been a worry for Zilbersher and his contemporaries. After all, blades did cost – in relative terms – as much then as cartridges do today. There would have been a real desire to get as many shaves as possible out of each blade. And a razor that could use a blade even when worn down, would be a logical thing to desire.

But seen from a hundred and eleven years later? The interesting thing isn’t the asymmetrical top cap for eking more shaves out of a blade. The interesting thing – to me at least – is the neat and simple design of the razor. With a symmetrical head, I can see this being offered today as an inexpensive double edge razor. One that would offer both a safety bar and a comb, much like some manufacturers have experimented with. Or it could be offered with the asymmetrical head, not because of blade wear but to offer a measure of adjustability. Seeing it offered for sale would be neat either way.

It is a shame that the razor of Abraham Zilbersher seems to have sunk without much trace. But that is a fate Zilbersher shares with most inventors.

The full patent can be read at razors.click4 and at Google Patents. If you like reading about old patents, why not check out my books on the subject?


  1. Modern blades should not be honed, since you run the risk of taking of the coating that makes it smooth.
  2. Referred to as the cap plate or retainer in the patent text.
  3. The claims on the patent is for a cap plate, not for the razor as a whole. Such a cap plate could easily be made for the then standard three piece Gillette.
  4. I recommend razors.click over Goggle Patents – not only is the text easier to read, but the drawing is interactive.

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