Just a reminder that the Kindle edition of my book will be on sale from Friday the 27th of November at 0000 PST (0800 GMT) and for a full week after that. The price of the paperback have been cut as well.
A lot of ingenuity have gone into inventing razors that makes shaving easier, simpler, better… but not many inventers seems to have gone out of the way to create razors that are terrific.
Let me expand on that by quoting the late Sir Terry Pratchett:
Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.
In the same way, Arthur McKee Rankin’s electrical razor is quite terrific, because what I would have felt if I was forced to use it would be sheer, unadulterated terror.
From front to back it consists of:
What looks like an antique lawn mover, with six razor blades spinning around. A belt – with the associated risk of dragging hair through the pulley – driving the whirling contraption. An open set of friction wheels turning the belt, and the wheels in turn being driven by what looks like a heavy and massive electrical motor. The whole shebang is tentatively manoeuvred by a handle that looks downright wobbly and unstable in the drawing.
So there it is, a patent for a terrific electrical razor filed in 1908. Suitable both for inspiring terror in the bathroom and planing wood. As usual, the full patent can be read at Google Patents.
A little while ago we looked at the Young Any-Angle Razor, a razor that trued to help shavers achieve more with less skill. And today we have a patent for a razor with a very similar goal of making the head tilt-able, but doing it in a radically different way.
Where the Young razor relied on a setscrew and a bit of operator dexterity, Mr Seitz’s idea used a spring and a push button to achieve what the patent describe as:
The object of this invention is the provision of a safety razor, which is provided with an adjustable blade carrying head so that the blade may be adjusted to position its cutting edge at various angles with relation to its handle, to which it is pivotally connected.US patent 1,247,581
Pushing down on the button frees the ratcheted wheel from the spring, and the spring pushes the button back up when released.
The head of Mr Seitz’s razor is – when looking at the drawing – reminds me of the various CURBO razors, but honestly any style head1 would work with the basic idea of the ratcheted tilting head.
The full patent can as usual be read at Google Patents.
1) Either single or double head.
Simple is often the best, and the patent filed by Frederick E Blodgett in 1911 is the spiritual ancestor to the Blackland Sabre you can buy today.
Described – as most patents – as a new and useful improvement on the state of the art, it was described as a:
…combination of a flat, single-edged, apertured blade, a fiat holder plate, a flat guard plate, means for positioning said blade with respect to said plates, a threaded locking handle for locking the three, and a guard or comb on said guard plate; said positioning means comprising a pair of lugs engaging the blade back edge and a threaded lug engaging the blade aperture, said threaded lug adapted to be engaged by said locking handle.US patent 1,017,199
As shown by the Blackland Sabre, this method of construction works – with a couple of minor and obvious modifications – just as well today as it did almost one hundred and ten years ago.
Full patent available on Google Patents, as usual.
For the non-americans out there – out here, really, since I’m not an American – the end of November is less about Thanksgiving and more about Black Friday. Or Black Week, even…
Nothing to do with Black Lives Matter – although honestly I feel that ought to be more important – and all to do about getting stuff for less. Stuff like razors, brushes, shaving soaps and books.
Learning to shave with a safety razor is – arguably – about learning to control the angle and the pressure. And the Young Any-Angle Razor – sold by Young Safety Razor Co of Pennsylvania – aimed to take the angle out of the equation. Not – mind you – in the way we think about the angle today,1 but in the obliquity between the edge and direction of travel. In a way, Mr Elmer I Young was trying to automate the Gillette Slide before the Gillette Slide was a thing.2
Mr Young’s razor was – apart from the ability to adjust angle of the head – a fairly straight forward single edge, closed guard, hoe style razor. Patent filed in 1909 and granted in 1910, the invention aimed to:
…provide a safety razor in which the blade holding means can be quickly and positively adjusted so that the cutting edge of the blade may lie obliquely to the direction of movement of the blade to give a shearing cut.US Patent 973,734
This was done by a setscrew, which – by means of a knurled knob – tightened the blade, guard and blade holder3 against an eye formed at the top of the handle. Around said eye, and also on the blade holder, was a number of projections and dimples, which were meant to keep the head from slipping once the set screw was tightened.
The drawing makes the whole thing a little easier to understand:
The Young “any-angle” razor was moderately successful as far as I can tell, not only being patented but also manufactured and offered for sale. At least for a couple of years; Waits’ Compendium shows a late 1911 advertisement, and I found the following one from 1912 while browsing the web:
While this was not the last attempt to make a razor with a sideways tilting head – Otto Spahr’s razor come to mind – I think we can all agree that the potential benefit of the Any-Angle can be negated by improving the shavers technique. When that comes in addition to a somewhat fiddly head that requires the shaver to keep track of several parts while changing blades, I can see why the Young Any-Angle Razor seems very rare today. Which is a shame, since it seems like a well made razor that ought to work with a GEM blade.
The full patent can be read at Google Patents, for those interested.
There is more to the shave than just a razor. You will need a brush, a shaving soap or cream, a mirror, and somewhere to store it all. And it was the last bit that Marcus B Behrman filed a patent for in 1922, on behalf of the American Safety Razor Corp.
The ORC of the patent is – quite honest – far from good, but the scanned images are good.
In short, it’s a small cabinet with two shelves. One with slots to hold the brush, razor and cream, one plain for holding blades and other bits and bobs. A pocket in the door holds the mirror, and a few holes in the bottom helps circulate the air. And that is – as they say – that.
The full patent can be read at Google Patents – I suggest downloading the PDF and read that instead of the OCRed text.
From Los Angeles Times May 29, 1940, I bring you a nice advertisement for the then new Glog-Pruf. Designed, they claim, for use with brushless cream – although in my experience it works with lather applied by brush too – and with the face-fitting bevel that prevents the dreaded five o’clock shadow.
It is amusing/amazing, in hindsight, to see how low they put the value of the razor, blades and cream. A dollar in 1940 adjusted for inflation equals less than a twenty today.
During the Second World War, aka “The War” for us Norwegian, the US Army and US Navy created the E-award. E stands for – according to my sources – Excellence in Production of war equipment. In other words, a company had to not only produce for the war effort, but do so while: Overcoming obstacles, maintaining quality and quantity, avoiding stoppages, training additional laborers without lowering labor standards. On top of that they had to demonstrate good record keeping on the subject of health and safety. About one in twenty companies – government and private – which delivered war materials got the E-award.
And yes… Gillette got one of the E-awards, in 1943.
The high accomplishment of you men and women of the Gillette Safety Razor Company is inspiring. Your record will be difficult to surpass, yet the Army and Navy have every confidence that it was made only to be broken.From the official citation