There are several online shops that sells protectors for your DE razor these days, mostly made from plastic. You can even download a file to 3d-print your own, if you’re so inclined and have a 3D-printer handy. But did you know that the concept is about as old as the Gillette safety razor itself?
The patent was filed by Frederick Bunnell King in 1907, assigned to Gillette Co LLC. The patent describes a protector that not only protects the edge or edges of the blade, but is held in place by the tendency of the razor head to open slightly when tension is taken off the handle. Or to quote part of the patent text:
The protector for the cutting edge or edges of the blade comprises shield sides bent over to form pockets for enclosing the cutting edges of the blade when the shield is inserted over the back plate, the blade and the guard. This shield is transversely curved as shown and is of such shape that when the arts are drawn into position for use of the shield may be readily slid into and out of its protective position.
In short, the protector would also serve to keep the head and blade assembly together when the handle was unscrewed completely, thus allowing the blade to be kept in the razor even when the razor was packed away in a travel kit or drawer.
Another one of Mr Thompson’s patents assigned to Gillette Co, this one dates from 1929 and highlights Gillette’s attempts to make a better blade than the original three hole design – a search that didn’t end until Gillette acquired the Probak Corp (and their parent company; AutoStrop Co) and started using the slotted Probak blade we know and love today.
This 1929 patent is trying to address one of the key issues with a safety razor with replaceable blades; the accurate and repeatable positioning of a mass produced, loose tolerance blade in the razor. To quote Mr Thompson in his patent text:
In the use of razors of this type satisfactory operation depends in a large measure upon the accurate positioning of the blade with respect to the cap and guard and the positioning of the cap and guard with respect to each other. A slight inaccuracy in relation of these parts will result in an uneven edge exposure of the blade at different points in its length, or may produce an excessive edge exposure which renders the razor dangerous.
King Gillette originally solved the problem with having three holes that had to line up with three studs. Today we have a stilted blade that can line up with a raised bar, or studs, or a combination. Both designs makes the manufacture of the razor head somewhat complex, since multiple studs or a raised portion has to be machined into the top cap or base plate. A blade with just one hole on the other hand… then you could get ways with just the threaded stud that holds the handle, as shown in the drawing.
A quick sidebar; the razor shown in the drawing looks very much like the Gillette Single Ring as manufactured in the twenties.
So how did Mr Thompson intend for this blade design to easily and accurately align with the cap and guard? By bending the ends of the blade into flanges that would naturally align with the short sides of the base and cap… one turned up, the other turned down. This would – in fact – serve to align the blade, but at the cost of not being able to easily wrap them in paper and pack them flat. Looking at the drawings, the blade was modified from the three hole blade with the rounded sides, which would simplify the production.
It’s hard for me to judge how serious this design was meant to be all the time Gillette was experimenting with a slotted blade at the same time. Possible this was a case of patenting something just to stop the competition from making blades this way, literary throwing stuff at the patent office to see what stuck.
In hindsight there is a better, simpler, and cheaper way to make a razor with just one threaded stud… but I think that in order to see it you needed to be familiar with the modern DE blade; the one developed from the Probak blade with notched corners. It’s clearly shown in the cheap and cheerful razor I bought from Flying Tiger Copenhagen close to two years ago; raised corners on the cap that engage the notched corners, as the photos below shows.
This patent shows an interesting attempt at moving away from the three hole blade before the patents expired, even if the shape would have made packaging more complicated. In the end though I do believe the modern slotted blade is a better solution though, especially as it’s backwards compatible with the older razors originally manufactured for the three hole blade.
I’ve mentioned Ralph E Thompson and his stack of razor patents (the majority of which is assigned to Gillette Co) before, and one of his earliest ones are for a peculiar blade design – suitable, he claims, for both safety razors and razors of the open-blade type.
The basic idea what that the blade should, in effect, be it’s own guard. In his own words:
…a razor blade having a safety edge, by which I mean an edge which is self-protected in such manner as to prevent it from cutting the skin without materially impairing its effectiveness for shaving.
And how was this to be achieved? Well, the drawing make it reasonable clear that the secret was how the blade was ground.
By having alternating sharp and blunt portion of the blade, the edge would act as a safety comb. Or, as Mr Thompson puts it:
A blade embodying my invention is characterized by having its shaving edge provided with a series of alternating sharp an dull portions of limited extent, of which the dull portions are located near enough together to prevent the sharp portions from entering the skin of the user when the blade edge is which ting them to reach the beard in the act of shaving. I have found that in spite of the presence of the dull portions a clean and comfortable shave can be readily obtained…
In addition to being safer for shaving, such a blade should be – according to Mr Thompson – be safer to handle outside of the razor as well.
While I can see several reasons why this blade never took of, there are two that stands out to me. Firstly, the machinery that ground and honed razor blades would have to be significantly redesigned, which would mean a significant investment. Secondly, say goodbye to a decent one-pass shave – this blade would by design miss roughly half the stubble.
Razors shave better over stretched skin, which is why most of us do a bit of facial contortions as we have our moment of daily Zen.
Meyer Eugen, of Wurttemherg in Germany, had other ideas on how to achive the desired tightening of the skin… as he states in the patent he filed in 1961:
When shaving with a safety razor, the skin is usually tightened so as to raise up the hairs relative to the blade to permit them to be cut as closely as possible toward their roots, whereupon the remaining stubs will recede into the released skin. In order to attain this result, numerous designs of safety razors have already been proposed. Thus, for example, the comblike guard in front of the razor edge of earlier safety razors was replaced by a beaded friction bar which, however, was too smooth and exerted too little friction upon the skin.
I never figured the point of the safety bars or comb was to provide friction… I’ve always believed the point was to stop the blade digging into your cheek and taking off the outer layer of skin – along with the deeper layers, flesh and a surpricing amount of blood. I’m not saying Herr Eugen was wrong in his assertion, just that his view isn’t shared with most shavers. He does then go on to describe other failed – in his opinion – ways to provide friction, before revealing his brilliant idea:
It is an object of the present invention to provide a safety razor in which the friction bar produces a considerably improved skin-tightening and hair-raising effect so that the hairs will be cut more closely to the skin. This is attained according to the invention by providing the bottom plate of the razor with a friction bar of a curved shape as seen in cross section, which is divided into a plurality of serrations or teeth of an angle, the bisector of which is inclined away from the razor edge and toward the base of the friction bar so that the serrations have a shape similar to the teeth of a file or saw. The serrations may form a plurality of straight rows of teeth or series of individual teeth, scales, or the like which may be offset relative to each other. The longitudinal rows of teeth always extend transverse to the axis of the razor handle and therefore also transverse to the shaving direction of the razor. Thus, if the head of the razor extends at right angles to the axis of the handle, the serrations extend parallel to the edge of the razor blade and if it extends obliquely to the axis of the handle the serrations extend obliquely to the razor edge. In the latter case, the friction bars may be provided with additional serrations or grooves which extend in the shaving direction and exert a guiding effect.
In other words he wanted to turn the safety bar into a rasp or a file, which would hold onto and tug on the skin and stubble, holding onto hair and raising them up; there is a quite wordy technical description of how the undercut teeth on the safety would not only force the hairs upright, but also allow for easy detection of missed hairs.
The rest of his razor seems to be a fairly standard three piece razor, although the drawings also show a variation where the head is mounted at a 45° to the handle.
Given that modern razors don’t seem to be manufactured with the idea that the safety bar or comb should provide as much friction as possible in order to pull the skin tight when we’re shaving, I’ll leave it up the reader to assess how successful Herr Eugen’s patent were in the grand scheme of things.
My beloved wife seems to think that miniature versions of things are cute and adorable. With that in mind, the Laurel Ladies Boudoir Razor must be the most adorable DE ever.
Waits – in his excellent Razor Compendium – have the following to say about this razor:
Laurel Ladies Boudoir Razor
George H Lawrence, Limited, Sheffield, England. Small “Ladies Boudoir” double-edged safety razor and special blades in metal lithographed tins and plastics cases.
The razor itself is indeed small – as can be seen from the photos – and the blades are downright tine. The design seems to be a scaled down version of the Laurel “Dumb Bell” Razor from 1934, which sort of gives a lower end to when the Ladies Boudoir was manufactured. There is some indications online that the Ladies Boudoir was meant as an cosmetic razor, ie.: for trimming eyebrows and removing unsightly hairs, rather than for shaving armpits and the like.
My Ladies Boudoir came to me via a friend of the family, after he died several years ago – the same source as my EverReady 1914.
According to what I know, he picked it up in England during the War (World War Two, that is) and carried it in his pocket when he parachuted into Nazi occupied Norway as a commando/resistance fighter/saboteur – what we today would likely identify as a Special Forces Operator. The idea behind bringing it was that if he got separated from his equipment – which was dropped in a separate container – he would be able to make his way to a civilised area, and give himself a shave before contacting anyone so he wouldn’t immediately give himself away as one of the “boys in the forest” (a commonly used term for the Norwegian Resistance).
As luck would have it, he didn’t get away from his gear and the other resistance fighters was on the agreed upon meeting spot, so the razor sat unused in his pocket until the end of the war, and then among his mementos until it made it’s way to me.
As can be seen from the photos, the blade – and thus the razor’s head – is about ¼ of the size of a “real” DE razor. The handle is equally diminutive, and feels too thin to control in my hands at least. A nimble lady – or a WW2 Norwegian Commando whom on occasion disguised himself as a young teen – might find it easier to use than I would. My calipers gives the total length of the assembled razor as 38.3mm (1.5″), while the head measures 21.6mm by 12.8mm (0.85″ by 0.52″) – so either you go by looks of by the numbers, this is a tiny razor.
The Ladies Boudoir is of all metal construction; some online sources suggest that the base cap should be made of plastic or Bakelite, but from the wear and tear it’s plain that the one I inherited at least have a metal base with a black coating.
While it’s not my oldest razor, nor a razor I’ll ever actually use, the Laurel Ladies Boudoir is one of the last razors I own that I’ll ever give up. The history and provenance of it makes it beyond priceless to me.
Razor: Gillette 1958 TV Special
Blade: Persona Platinum
Brush: Vie-Long #13051M
Lather: Pereira Shavery Orange Blossom w/ activated charcoal
Aftershave: Myrsol Aqua De Limón
Additional Care: Lavish Gentleman Natural Strength Oil Cleanser, Alum Block, Gentlemen of Sweden Original Beard Oil, Pereira Shavery Boomerang Beard Comb
PS: My Seven Razor PIF
is still up, with several razors unspoken for. Why not check it out 🙂 ?