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.
The Rockwell razor made a bit of a stir when it was released a few years ago. Ever since adjustable razors were introduced, they have been mechanically more complex than a three piece razor. The Rockwell Razor bucked that trend, and bucked it hard. The Rockwell razor is as simple as a three piece razor because it is a three piece razor. It is as simple as that.
I was a little surprised that such a simple concept was patentable. After all, it is over a century since the original three piece King Gillette razor was patented. I guess it just shows that simple ideas can be hard to come up with.
The patent is quite interesting reading too, less obtuse than many older patents. The text also goes into the background for the invention, which I think is a major improvement over some patents I’ve read. To give an example:
The most popular modern shaving implement uses cartridge based razors that include a number of single-edged razors in a disposable cartridges. The consumer cost of these disposable cartridges is quite high and has been an impetus for the return to traditional wet shaving using double-edged safety razors. Refilling a traditional safety razor can cost under 10 cents whereas modern cartridges can cost well over $2 to replace. Today’s modern razor cartridges can also irritate the skin more than needed due to the multiple blades..US patent
Remarkable clear and concise, just like the patent drawings.
The first part of the last century must been rough – so rough that the Shrp-Shavr Razor Company had to save on vowels in their name… And the razor they manufactured looks quite inexpensive too. It could probably be manufactured and sold today, as an inexpensive razor for travel, advertisers and an introduction to wetshaving.
My invention has for its object to provide a safety razor which shall be simple in construction, inexpensive in manufacture, and at the same time be strong and durable.US patent 950,113
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.