Another use for a razor blade

Glancing into my sharps container, I was pondering what I could reuse the blades for. After all the mantra reduce-reuse-recycle makes a lot of sense. I have already reduced the amount of waste from my shaving by shifting to traditional wetshaving. I will recycle a lot of steel when my sharps container is full and I dump the metal. And while I could – in theory – reuse the blades by sharpening them, that is not terrible tempting.

But there is one other use for razor blades, common among soldiers in the past. I am, of course, talking about the so called fox-hole radio.

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The start of a perfect day

Advertisements definitely seems to have worked differently back in the day. Take, for example, this Ever-Ready advertisement from 1920:

From The Saturday Evening Post, unknown date, 1920

For starters, it’s a fairly long read. I’m used to advertisements being a couple of paragraphs long at most, but this? This is a couple of minutes to read, minimum. Secondly, it talks to the reader in a different way than todays fare. We’re not bombarded with claims of “best blade ever”, but instead treated to a polite little diversion into the idea that a good shave can improve your life and the world before a nudge towards the Radio blade as the blade you ought to try.

Part of the difference comes down to, I believe, the fact that today’s world is full of happenings. We haste from one thing to the next without taking time to sit down and enjoy… but in 1920 there was no internet, no cable network, nor no cell phone competing for our attention every second. So on a Saturday evening, a man could turn on the wireless and sit down to enjoy the evening newspaper – and have the time to read it.

Take the time to sit down and read the advertisement. Ponder what it has to say about shaving giving you an advantage. And ponder – as I have – what exactly the the war-discovered Radio process of blade treatment is.

X3X Temper – a wartime discovery

The Great War – known later as the first world war – was a time of rapid innovation and discovery. Sadly, most of what we discovered and invented was faster, better, cheaper, and more horrifying ways of killing each other… but some of the discoveries also had uses after the war. Such as new ways to temper steel, which were later used in the EverReady Radio blades.

Vintage advertisement for EverReady Radio razor blades with X3X temper.

A quick online search don’t give any details on the tempering process used, but the kit pictured is identical to one I’ve inherited from a family friend.

Janos Oscar Plesch’s double double edged blade

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:

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Warner Self-Soaping Brush

This epochal invention – the Warner Fountain Shaving Brush – carries it’s cream in the handle, as a a fountain pen holds ink. When you turn the control the cream is released in the bristles. Then dip the brush in water and it lathers copiously.
To shave this way, a man doesn’t have to soap his brush or his face – or to whip up lather in a shaving mug. This new way appeals espesially to men who find a stick or tube bothersome – ofttimes the tiny tube cap gets lost on the floor.
The Warner Fountain Shaving Brush ends all annoyance and tinkering. It’s the team-mate of any razor – and ranks with the safety razor in convenience.

Some poor copywriter, 1918

The self-lathering – or self feeding – shaving brush is an idea that keeps popping up again and again.. I’ve earlier touched upon a self feeding shaving brush from 1849, another self-feeding shaving brush from 1907, a shaving brush suitable for travel from 1922, a soap-dispensing shaving brush from 1929, a fountain shaving brush from 1931, as well as a trio of shaving brushes for use with canned foam. While the brush sponsored by Mr A. P. Walter – known to million s of men, already, through the Warner Speedometer and the Warner Lenz – is a fairly standard as far as fountain brushes goes, it does use cartridges of cream, freeing the shaver of the chore of manually filling the handle with cream.

Speaking of the cream; Warner apparently teamed up with the manufacturer of the far-famed Mennen’s Shaving Cream – fresh cartridges with enough cream for two to three months of shaving available at any dealer for a mere 35 cents.

According to the advertisements, the knot itself was a celebrated Rubberset brush – soft and thick bristles set in a bed of vulcanised rubber, guarantied by both the Rubberset makers and by Warner. The knot was detachable and easily sterilised (just “…drop in boiling water”), and the nozzle that delivered the cream into the knot was self sealing to prevent the cream from drying out.

Enough of Warner’s Fountain Brushes must have been sold for the brush to show up on online auctions sites from time to time… but given how pristine the boxes sometimes looks I’m not convinced they saw a lot of use – possible it was better as a Father Day gift when you were out of ideas than an actual daily driver in the bathroom?

The only ‘real’ shaving soap… real old, at least

Williams’ is an old brand… sometimes vilified in this golden age of wetshaving, but if reports from trustworthy shavers is to be believed the vintage formulations was/is pretty good.

1898 advertisement for the Williams’ Shaving Soaps from J. B. Williams Company (Glastonbury, Connecticut)

One hundred and twenty two years ago, Williams had already been making shaving soaps for half a century… well, technically for more than half a century, since James B. Williams manufactured the first shaving soap for use in shaving mugs in 1840 – a whooping one hundred and eighty years ago today. It might be fashionable to talk down the modern formulation – I have not tried it yet, although I probably ought to at some point just to see how horrible it really is – but they have to do something right to stay around for that long.

Safetee Shaving Soap

Back in February I posted about a 1919 patent by Mr Joseph Kaufman of the American Safety Razor Corp, covering the invention of a shaving stick with a cocoa butter core. Today I learned two things; in 1919, the American Safety Razor Corp spun off a subsidiary by the name of Safetee Soap Corporation, and one of the first products offered by this subsidiary was – unsurprisingly – a shaving stick… with a cocoa butter core.

from eBay via Google Image Search

Reading the marketing wank lines up close to the patent description – although more verbose and less technical – as far as the cocoa butter goes:

You can see the beard-softening, skin-soothing core of pure cocoa-butter which runs from end to end…
…getting a beneficial cocoa-butter massage which soothes the skin like an added lotion.

Other features of the soap lines up less well with the patent; it’s round instead of square, it appears to be sold in a tin and not in a flexible sleeve -although there seems to be an inner cover on the soap in addition to the tin, the upper drawing seems to point to this being a metal foil.

So while I don’t think you can get a shaving stick like this today (unless an artisan feels inclined to make some that is) as I lamented in my previous post, you could in the early twenties for a mere thirty cents… and you could get a sample for the cost of a letter and ten cents in stamps.

Gronbech’s shaving brush suitable for travel and home

Today’s patent isn’t all that unique, apart from being invented by the same gentleman whom patented the travel razor I looked at last Thursday. It is one of the recurring self-feeding or fountain shaving brushes – of which I’ve snarked on several before1 – and the claimed improvement was in the way it was made.

The principal object of the invention is to provide a simply constructed and efficiently operating device, which is sanitary in use, sightly in appearance and may be economical manufactured.

Christian E A Gronbech, US 1,1409,168
US patent 1,409,168

As can be seen from the drawing, the handle of the brush is hollow, with a threaded rod down the centre. The cap on the base of the handle is secured to the rod by means of a screw – allowing the rod to be turned – and a plunger or piston rides on the rod. A pair of longitudinal indentation – or ridges, if you prefer – is pressed into the sides of the handle (refer to figure 2 on the drawing) for the plunger to ride on as it’s screwed up and down.

The plunger itself is a sandwiched construction, consisting of two disks with a washer between them. While the patent text don’t specify, I suspect that the two disks (24) was meant to be metal while the washer was made of rubber – thus creating a seal against the sidewalls of the handle.

The knot sits in a base (15) which is secured to the handle by means of screw threads (12y), and can be removed by the user – has to be removed in fact, in order to refill soap paste. The base has a hole in the middle to allow soap paste to enter the brush.

As the cap is turned and the plunger pushes towards the knot, the soap paste in the handle is forced past openings (ducts and an axial bore) in the rod and into the knot, allowing the user to lather up and get shaving.

When the handle is empty of the soap paste, the user is meant to unscrew the knot, move the plunger all the way to the back of the handle by means of the cap, and refill the handle from a small tube screwed into a threaded hole under the knot – an air hole allowed for the air in the handle to be expelled during this operation.

Looking at the drawing, it’s obvious that most of the parts can be constructed by stamping sheet metal and off the shelf pieces (like the screw rod and screw), allowing for fast, inexpensive manufacture with minimal machining. The handle can even be a length of extruded aluminium if someone wants to make this today, and it don’t even have to be round as long as the plunger is a tight fit (if it’s not round you wouldn’t necessarily need the pair of ridges either).

Patented at about the same time as his handleless travel razors, Gronbech’s self feeding brush would have made a nice addition to the dopp bag since it would have done away with the need to carry a tube of soap separably. However it does suffer from the same fault as all self feeding shaving brushes I’ve seen so far; the soap is introduced to the base of the knot, not towards the tips where the lather is actually built.

  1. See for example “A 1849 self feeding shaving brush!“, “Soap-dispensing shaving brush“, and “Fountain shaving brush“.

Gronbech’s Travel Razor – patents and a tiny bit of history

Way back in the Olden Days – May of 2015 to be exact – I posted about a tiny little travel razor I had found some photos of and were fascinated by. The logo on the back points to Bigelow and Perkin Co, a company that operated out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A very similar, close to identical, razor was manufactured by Gronbech – likely in Woodhaven, New York – was marketed under the names of Groenbech and Handy. Additionally – according to Waits’ Compendium – there was at least one unmarked copy of this style of travel razor marketed in the 20’s.

More recently I managed to track down the actual patents for it, all filed by Mr Christian E A Gronbech; US 1,370,9351 – granted on March 8th 1920, US 1,370,960 granted same date, and US 1,376,759 granted on May 3rd 1921. While the three are broadly similar, there is an interesting difference: The two later is set up to be adjustable, after a fashion. As the patent texts says:

…the invention comprises a blade holder, in which the blade may be adjusted, such blade holder provided with means cooperating with complemental means in a part of the razor for securely retaining the blade in adjusted position in the razor

Christian E A Gronbech, US 1,370,960

Another object is to provide in a razor of this kind, simple means for adjusting the depth or protrusion of the cutting edge of the blade so as to secure a more or less close shaving action, as may be desired.

Christian E A Gronbech, US 1,376,769

The big difference between the patents is for what kind of blade they are set up for; 1,370,935 is set up for three hole Gillette blades (which means modern DE blades will fit), 1,370,760 is set up for Christy style (spineless, with or without ears) single edge blades, while 1,376,759 can accept both of the former as well as EverReady/GEM style blades (single edge with spine).

While the razor set up for Gillette blades simply have a pair of studs in the top cap lining up with matching holes in the bottom, the ones for Christy and GEM style blades utilises different forms of holders. The holder for Christy style blades held the blade by a pair of simple tabs that reached over the blade, while the latest patent included the option of using three different kind of holders; one for single edged blades with a spine, one for single edged spineless blades and one for Gillette style double edged blades – even if just one edge was exposed in the razor. The patent text describes it as follows:

…designed to interchangeably receive different kinds of blades, without requiring any adjustment or rearrangement of the parts of the razor.

Christian E A Gronbech, US 1,376,769

It is the use of holders that provide the ability to adjust how aggressive the razor is, by adjusting how much of the edge is exposed. for the first form of holder – as described in US 1,370,960 – the user would adjust how much the edge stuck out by sliding the blade back and forth in the holder. The holders described in US 1,376,759 used a different trick, and was adjusted by an inclined tab sticking down from the holder into an inclined slot – so that sliding the holder from side to side would also push the edge in and out of the razor.

US 1,370,935 – set up for double edged blades, non-adjustable
US 1,370,960 – set up for Christy style blades, adjustable
US 1,376,759 – set up for various blades, adjustable

Seeing the three patents in succession, it’s easy to see how the idea of a simple vest-pocket razor evolved from a razor consisting of four stamped parts (and two pins) that would accept a single style of blade into a more refined, adjustable vest-pocket razor consisting of five stamped parts (and two pins) that accepted the three major styles of blades available at the time. With that in mind it’s kind of sad that the only version that seems to have made it to production in any numbers was the simple one for double edged blades.

  1. The first patent also had Mr Winfred H Van Gorder as a co-inventor.