The safety razors of James J Fetzer

King Gillette did not invent his safety razor in a vacuum. Around the turn of the last century, there were a race to invent and patent the ideal safety razor. This should be inexpensive to produce, give a good shave, and preferably would be able to be sold in high numbers with good profit. Gillette wasn’t necessarily the best of the bunch, just the most successful in the long run.

One of the less successful inventors were James J Fetzer, of Columbiana Ohio. Mr Fetzer tok out two patents on behalf of the Herbrand Company.1 Both used a replaceable blade with ears, but differed in how the blade and top cap was secured.

Both patents describe simple hoe style, single edge razors, reminiscent of the Diamond Edge razor I mentioned a while back. Both describe making the comb guard – or base plate, in the terminology of today – out of sheet metal with the edge curled. And both seems to have thin handles – but that seem to have been popular on many Christy style hoe razors as well.

His earliest patent – US 819,640 – describes a razor where the nut holding the handle is attached to the top cap, and the handle presses the guard and blade against the cap. One problem I see right away is that over-tightening the handle will bend the top cap upwards. I would have put some reinforcements around the back of the assembly to strengthen it.

His slightly later patent – US 840,449 – describes a razor with a separate top cap, base plate, and jam nut – all of which is both screwed onto the handle. While this avoids the possibility of stressing the top cap, it mean that the user will have to tighten the small jam nut. This will be harder than if you can twist the entire handle, especially if you have wet hands.

In the end I suspect Herbrand – and by extension, J J Fetzer – wasn’t forgotten because their razors were inherently less good than Gillette. Rather they were put aside and forgotten because production of replacement blades2 stopped. Which is a shame when you think about it, because there is a lot of fun history lurking in old razors.

The OCR on both patents – as I found them with the Google Patent Search – is pretty bad. Luckily for me – and you – has both of them on his website, nicely readable and with clickable drawings. Direct links; US819640 and US840449.


(1) According to Waits’ Compendium, the HERBRAND trademark was renewed in 1929 for razors… and then disappeared.

(2) Blades for Christy and Ender style hoe razors were also manufactured by third part blade makers. For instance Clark’s Blade & Razor Co (Newark, NJ) offered off-brand blades for a wide range of razors. They sold via the Sears Catalogue until at least the end of the 1920’s.

A wonderful care package

As the sharp eyed reader might have spotted, the last couple of my SOTDs have featured the Williams Mug Soap, which I got as part of a care package from a friend and gentleman from my favourite shave forum.

In addition to the soap – which he offered to ship since I haven’t had the opportunity to try it previously – he put a lot of other welcome items in the box as well.

A lovely bevy of samples – allegedly taking up space in his drawers, but a windfall for me.

  • Four samples of Saponificio Varesino after shaves; Cubebe, Dolomiti, Tundra Artica, and Manna Di Sicilia
  • A sample of Esbjerg shaving cream
  • A sample of Stirling Soap Co’s Barbershopw shampoo bar
  • four B&M aftershave samples; two Reserve Cool, one each of Reserve Classic and Reserve Spice

Add to the soap and the samples a nice selection of blades; Med Preps, Lab Blues, Israeli Personnas and Crystals. From what he tells me the Med Preps and Lab Blues might be similar, so I’ll be sure to do some compare and contrast between the two – perhaps load up my Gillette Old from the my Khaki Kit with one and my Gillette Single Ring with the other and use them on opposite sides of my face?

And in addition to all that – which was already beyond what I was expecting – my friend found it in his heart to add a GEM G-bar, also known as the Heavy Flat Top. I do enjoy GEM and other vintage Single Edge Razors, and I am beyond excited to add the G-Bar to my rotation.

So a big thank you and shout out to Charlie – both for his friendship and for the box filled with joy!

A 1963 Dopp kit for Dad (and other shavers)

While I was once told where the term “Dopp kit” came from – and promptly forgot – the important thing to keep in mind is that we all need a nice, sturdy, roomy toiletry bag from time to time when we travel… got to fit our shave gear and a few other bits and pieces too in it, after all.

So while I was browsing online today I came over this advertisement from June ’63 (just a little under sixty years ago) that features a dopp bag that seems to fit the bill perfectly:

Somehow I suspect I would have to fork over a wee bit more than $7.50 today ($63.40 today, adjusted for inflation) for a similar kit today… but if I could find one like the one in the advertisement it could be worth it.

Selecting the Shaving Outfit – 1905 vs 2019

The public domain book “Shaving made Easy” have a short chapter on selecting your shaving outfit. This is the original text and my annotations and comments:

First-class tools are necessary at the very outset. No matter how skillfully one may handle inferior tools, they will invariably produce poor results.
Probably as many failures have resulted from the use of poor razors, strops, or soap as from the lack of knowledge how to use them. In order that the best possible results may be attained, good tools and skill in using them should go hand in hand.

When I was young I was told repeatedly that good tools are half the work, and that holds true when it comes to tools for shaving as well. A poor razor or a bad lather will not give a good shave, no matter how well the tools are wielded. On the other hand, not even the best razor, the fanciest brush or the most exquisite shave soap will yield the desired result if not used with the necessary skill. Good tools and the skills to use them should still go hand in hand.

The shaving outfit should consist of one or two good razors, a first-class strop, a mirror, a cup, a brush, a cake of shaving soap, and a bottle of either bay rum, witch hazel, or some other good face lotion. These constitute what may be considered the necessary articles, and to these may be added a number of others, such as a good hone, magnesia or talcum powder, astringent or styptic pencils, antiseptic lotions, etc. which, while not absolutely requisite, will nevertheless add much to the convenience, comfort and luxury of the shave.

The shaving outfit recommended in 1905 would serve just as well today, although since the modern shaver is more likely to use a safety razor or even cartridge razor instead of a straight razor, I would recommend investing in a single good razor instead of two – at least until the desire to buy more raises its head. Using a safety razor also means that the modern razor will not have to worry about buying a strop and hone. The money saved can be invested in a second brush, or a small selection of soaps and post-shave products.

What goes in the GoBag?

When I talk about my GoBag, I talk about the bag I grab whenever I have to go somewhere for my job – for training, classes or other happenings that usually means long days and little sleep. But no sleep for several days in a row don’t mean that you have to end up as a shambling, unkempt zombie… on the contrary; with the right gear in the GoBag and a fifteen minute break you can be a neat and dapper walking dead (lets face it; shaving does not replace sleep).

So what goes in my GoBag to allow me to manage this transformation? Not a whole lot to be honest… have a look:
From the back and left:
  • Alum stick in a travel container
  • A travel sized thing of Krampert’s Finest Bay Rum aftershave
  • A bottle of WSP Matterhorn beard oil
  • A small styptic pencil, just in case
  • A BEA shavestick
  • An Omega #50014 travel brush
  • A “Khaki Kit” with a vintage Gillette Old and a pack of blades

I haven’t had to use the styptic pencil yet, and I’ve just switched from my vintage one hundred and one year old original khaki kit to a modern recreation I received recently.

While I could streamline it further by changing to smaller bottles for the aftershave and beard oil, I wouldn’t really save much space… and since coworkers with less forethought or packing skills sometimes ask if they could borrow a little, it’s nice to have extra.
As you can see, it don’t take a lot if items to have a good shave while on the Go… and not a lot of space either.

New arrival – a khaki kit for the modern warfighter

As some of you might recall, I own a vintage khaki kit from the Great War – specifically from 1918 if the serial number on the razor is an indication.
I not just own it, but it is in active use. It lives in my GoBag, so whenever I am on the Go i shave with it… a hundred years and more is no age for a razor, and the single button webbing kit have held up remarkable well too.
Some time ago I was contacted by Ironbeard on twitter (@ SaveYourShave), and told that he was sending me a modern reproduction of the khaki set – he had seen my Shaves Of The Day with it and got interested enough to not only get his own but to make reproductions in modern materials as well. And yesterday there was a padded envelope in my mailbox…
So here it is, both by itself and next to it’s older brother:

I had to try it both with the Gillette Old Type from my original khaki set, and a modern three piece razor from Yaqi (I don’t own many modern three piece razors… so I had to pick the one short handled one I own). The workmanship looks at least as sturdy as the original, the choice of elastic loops instead of fabric means handles and heads of varying sizes can be accommodated with easy.
As luck will have it I’ll be travelling a fair bit the next couple of weeks, so I’ll be able to give it a good test. Expect a review in the near future.

Self-sharpening safety razor

One of the reasons why the classic safety razor have seen a resurgence the later years is that you can get great blades for a fraction of the cost of a cart… but that was not always the case. As I’ve shown in previous posts*, when adjusted for inflation the blades used to be as costly as cartridges are today. With that in mind, the popularity of razor blade sharpeners** made a lot more sense… but it still required you to take the blade out of the razor. Wouldn’t it be easier if the blade could stay in the razor?

While not a new idea^, William R Ewing and Benton M Ewing filed a couple of interesting patents in 1948 and 1950 for a self-sharpening razor and improvements for it.

The two Ewings certainly aimed high with their invention, wanting to

…eliminate the need for constant replacement of blades in a device of the safety razor type by providing means whereby opposite faces of the blade edge may be sharpened at will…

The patent drawings shows a permanently attached single edge blade, and a sharpening element in the form of a roller.

Two interesting things that stands out on the sharpening roller is that the actual grinder is a arranged in a spiral shape around most of the circumference, and that the roller is shaped to act as the safety bar when in the neutral position. A lot of effort went into making sure that the blade was pushed evenly against the grinder, as evidenced by the flat spring pressing on the swingable blade holder. And it seems like it was that spring that was the major improvement in their second patent.

The vaguely kidney shaped cavity in the roller allowed the blade to swing enough to allow the roller to sharpen the upper side of the blade as well as the underside… how this works is best seen with the small illustration in the bottom left corner of the last drawing in conjunction with the illustration in the same location on the first drawing.

So after loosing the roller the shaver would push it along a flat surface, first one way and then the other, until the blade was sharp. Simple, easy, and fast… in one handy, complicated package.

Overall, the two patents shows a lot of ingenuity and effort going into perfecting a solution to a problem the shaver today simply don’t have… blades are so cheap these days we can change them daily if we want to.

*) See, for example, this post
**) Some of which is discussed in this post
^) The Shake Sharp dates from ’43

Everything old is new again, again

…and again, and again.

Heated razors is an age old quest. Gillette just dropped one, which seems to have impressed Mark over on the Sharpologist, and in their typical over the top marketing Gillette seems to be pushing this since the best shave ever… A hint for P&G: if you need to advertise the fact that your razor is waterproof, you’ve likely made an overly complicated razor.

Electrically heated razors isn’t a new idea by far, even if the latest itteration seems both more complicated* and far safer to use than some of the older ideas**.

While I can’t be completly sure, I’m reasonable satisfied that the current offering is based on a patent I found that was filed in in 2008 and assigned to the Gillette company – the patents describe a great many of the same features as the ads do.

…safety razor comprises a handle 14, a cartridge 15 with a safety device 18, a plate 24 and blades 30 between them. Inside the cartridge there is a heat-dispersive strip 40 and a heating element 45 with a resistive element 46 and an insulating element 50. The safety device comprises an electrical circuit providing power supply to the resistive element that provides heat to the heat-dispersive strip so that it imposes warmth to skin of the user during shaving.

The patent also lists twenty seven (27!) citations that predates it… and I found quite a few patents for heated razors that isn’t listed in the application.

Barra Charles  filed a version all the way back in 1923. If you think the plug looks kind of odd it’s because you’re meant to screw it into a light bulb socket… so no chance of grounding it.

…electrically heat safety razors in such a manner that they may be conveniently used while being heated and that the heat may be maintained during the shaving operation at any desired temperature, whereby I am enabled to obtain the advantageous results of smoothness and comfort during shaving and to avoid infections of the skin which frequently occur from the use of unsterilised razors.

Charles Barra also filed a heated straight razor in 1923, or rather an attachment that turned your straight into a heated razor:

A razor blade heated to such a temperature will make shaving of a persons face more comfortable and the resulting shave will be more satisfactory than where the face is shaved with a cold razor. 

…using an electric heater disposed at a suitable distance from the cutting edge of the blade, and in thermal relation thereto, which heater may be supplied with current from an ordinary electric service outlet, whereby the blade may be heated to and maintained at a sterilisation temperature both while not in use and while in the act of shaving.

(As a side note, sterilisation temperature is about 80°C (175°F) for almost all bacteria, yeast, and fungi… 80°C is enough to cause second and third degree burns in less than one second.)

In 1933 Pirwitz Emil filed for a safer variation, which required plugging and unplugging the razor:

…the invention employs a heating bolt disposed in the handle of the razor and made of material that is a good heat conductor, such as metal, the bolt iilling the entire handle from one end to the other and being adapted after one heating to keep the razor heated during an entire shaving operation without a new supply of heat.

…a bolt of this type permits the use of the razor without the dangers resulting from keeping the razor under current during the shaving operation. 

Mr Pirwitz also showed an interesting variation in the same patent:

 Look at figures 3 and 4; it’s a regular safety razor inserted into the heating device… which I presume you could either use while inserted in the bulky heater or take out and burn your fingers badly while shaving.

Thomas J Henderson and Leon Henderson aimed for cool hands in their 1935 patent:

The primary object of our invention is to provide in a safety razor a handle thereof which in use will apply heat only to the desired portion of the razor, that is, the head and blade, but will maintain a cool handle or grip.
A further object of our invention is to provide an electrically heated safety razor handle which is readily adapted for use on any suitable razor head.

Or how about this one from 1942, patented by Moses M Gravin?

…a safety razor with an electrically heated heating element therein which transmits an even heat to the razor blade and keeps it warm or hot during the shaving operation.
One of the objects of my invention is to heat the razor blade by conduction through a metallic element. I Another object of my invention is to provide ventilation between the heating element and the handle so that the handle will be cooled by the circulation of air.

In 1948 James Russel Hunt filed for a heated razor that allowed the shaver to adjust the current going into the razor by means of a rheostat: electro-thermic shaver of the safety razor type which is adapted to directly heat the razor blade by heat conduction through a metallic element having a high coefficient of thermal conductivity such as copper.
…a heat control unit to permit the heat to be regulated by the user to produce various heat temperatures.

So as can be seen, the desire to make a heated razor is almost as old as Gillettes original safety razor… there is nothing new under the sun, nor in the shave den – except this time the offering isn’t that much bulkier than a regular razor, nor does it offer the exciting chance of electrocuting yourself while shaving.

*) It has overheat protection, two levels of heating, onboard battery with wireless charging, microcontroller, wobbly blades… I suspect the lats bit is unintentional
**) Hook your ungrounded razor up to the light fixture in your bathroom.. what can go wrong?

Gillette Adjustable resource site

A number of my fellow wetshavers are extremely knowledgeable and enjoys sharing their labours of love. One of them is Glenn Conti, who knows more about Gillette adjustable razors than most shavers and collectors.

Glenn have put together a website detailing not only the details of how an adjustable razor work, not just pretty pictures of adjustable razors, not just how the Gillette adjustables evolved, but all that and much more. For example; I was clueless to the fact that including all variations there is about 150 distinct Gillette Adjustables out there, but Glenn have given more than enough detail to identify each one.

Glenn’s website is an invaluable resource for shavers and collectors alike, and I found it hard to close the window and go back to doing other things – the miscellaneous section in particular held my interest. The whole site is not only well written, but also well illustrated. A couple of examples:

Variations on parts used in the Fatboy razor. Some of the changes seems to have to do with function, some of them seems to be made for easier manufacture.

If you ever wondered how the gap changes on an adjustable, wonder no more. Glenn also details what the gap should be on each and every major variation of the Gillette Adjustables (apperantly my Slim is slightly milder than average).

So if you have a Gillette Adjustable, plan to get one, or just enjoys reading about razors in great detail, you owe yourself a visit to Glenns’s site.

Gillette Adjustable Razors

Pictures in this post is from Glenn Conti’s website, copyrighted by Glenn Conti, and are used with permission.