The razors and blades model is a business model1 in which one item is sold at a low price in order to increase sales of a complementary good. Common variations today is printers-and-ink, consoles-and-games, and razors-and-cartridges.
There is a common myth that the business model originated with King Gillette. This myth is false – Gillette priced his early razors at 5 US dollars. This was equivalent to about approximately 145 US dollar in 2020… five times more expensive than the offerings from companies like Gem, EverReady and Christy. All three sold their razors for one dollar, while companies like CURBO even gave their razors away for free.
I am not – by far – the first one to notice this. Randal C. Picker of the University of Chicago Law School wrote a paper on the myth in 2010.2 The paper is an interesting take on disruptive technologies, and how patents influence business practices. Gillette didn’t start moving towards the razor and blade model until after the patent on the Gillette Old expired. One could argue Gillette wasn’t fully committed to the model until they introduced cartridges.
As described in the paper, EverReady and other low priced razors came much closer to the razor and blade model. Gillette seems to have implemented a monopolistic business model3 – costly razors and a single source of blades. This was not completely successful, since they did not have a monopoly on safety razors in general.To quote the paper:
Gillette’s business model—both its actual business model and its supposed razors-and-blades model—faced real competition and strong limits. The Ever-Ready and Gem Junior razor handles were implicitly priced at a very low price. Straight-blade shavers could try the new multi-blade approach with a minimal upfront investment and Gillette shavers could switch easily if Gillette blade prices were too high.
Picker, Randal C., The Razors-and-Blades Myth(s) (September 13, 2010). U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 532, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1676444 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1676444
Keywords is minimal upfront investment. Today someone making the shift from cartridges to traditional wetshaving is more likely to buy a 30 dollar safety razor over a 150 dollar one. It must be assumed that the same held true 100-120 years ago. If the initial investment is lower, the barrier to entry is lower. This probably explains why so many inexpensive razors – Diamond Edge, Christy and even CURBO – stayed in production and use for such a long time
I strongly suggest reading the paper – or if time is of the essence, at least the article the author penned for the Harvard Business Review.
A couple of years ago I posted about the Clemak safety razor. As British as Bulldogs and the British Army, the Clemak is covered by a British patent. I have no indications that a US patent was ever applied for. The Clemak was marketed as an inexpensive razor – why pay a guinea? – and the patent points to an important feature that made it economical in use:
The blade was self adjusting – so no matter how ground down it was, it would be pressed against the blade stop. In this way the shaver would not have to buy new blades all the time, but simply rehone and reuse the ones that came in the box.
C–Unsinger-Razor-Blade-O… you may think that awkward backronyms is a new thing, but the Unzinger Razor Blade Co came up with the brand name CURBO in 1914. Selling razor-blades, safety razors, parts thereof, and twine cutters, the CURBO razors were less a product for sale and more a vehicle for advertising.1
A few1 years ago I wrote a short post on a 1933 oscillating razor. Further searching online revealed that it was sold under the name King Oscillator. And to my joy, patents for it are available online.
I have also found the design patent for it, namely US design patent275,147. Comparing the photo of the razor – especially the handle – as it appeared in Modern Mechanix and the patent drawings, it is most likely the same razor.
Some inventions are solutions in search of problems. The double double edged blade is a prime example, double so in J O Plesch’s itteration of the idea. Not just a double double edged blade, but attempting to be a slant at the same time. And likely prone to blade chatter. However, as the patent explains, his intentions were good:
Recently razors.click tweeted about a razor patent that I’ve never seen before and it has some really intriguing features. It was filed in 1908, and the patent granted in 1912. It’s a patent by Clifford E Dunn, whom we have meet before.
One of described forms is a single edge razor using a double edge blade – not a unique idea by itself, but this is one of the earliest ones I know of. That design is set up to use Gillette’s three hole blade1 – thus avoiding having to reintroduce yet another blade on the market. Other forms can use a single edged blade – the early Gem blade might work, or a Christy style blade.
On to the patent, which described – according to the text – “certain new and useful Improvements in Safety-Razors”. To quote:
I’ve mentioned the Christy razor in the past, as well as other razors that built on the same idea or used Christy blades. As mentioned, the blades at least were for sale until the early thirties. What I found today shows that razors themselves were offered until at least 1927, competing for the low end of the market.
Is your brush too soft? To stiff? Ever wanted a brush that could be either? If that is the case, Anton Hopfen’s improved shaving brush is what you need. Patented in 1878, it was not only capable of adjusting the loft and backbone on the fly, but also held the shaving soap.
Interestingly enough, the adjustable loft wasn’t the main point of the invention. To quote the patent text:
The nature of my invention consists in the construction of a handle for shaving-brushes, which form a receptacle for the shaving-soap or other articles, as will be hereinafter more fully set forth.
US patent 206,791
In other words the adjustable brush was more of an afterthought. A bright idea tacked on to a dim idea, seen in hindsight.
Disposable safety razors were patented from time to time in the past. Usually they were just a regular safety razor made from cheap or disposable materials. Sometimes they were a minor stroke of genius. Sometimes they were plain odd. Mr Foltis’ safety razor made from bent sheet metal is one of the later two.
An important object of the invention is to provide an inexpensive safety razor having an integral razor blade of small size whereby the entire razor must be disposed of after the blade becomes too dull for shaving purposes.