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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The first patent also had Mr Winfred H Van Gorder as a co-inventor.
While it may seem a waste of time for us today, living – as we do – in the era of inexpensive, stainless razor blades, less than a century ago people actually stropped their razor blades in order to keep them sharper for longer. A number or razors even came with blade holders in order to make this process easier, but what if your razor didn’t come with one, or you had several different razors you wanted to strop the blades for?
Fear not, because in 1930 Mr David J Prince patented an improvement to the safety-razor-blade holder that would accept any major blade on the marked!
…a convenient, inexpensive holder for razor blades when it is desired to sharpen the same by stropping and it particularly seeks to provide a holder which will take either Valet, Christy, Gillette or Durham type blades, or those having backs such as the Gem, EverReady, Star and other well known kinds.
David J Price
For those who are not familiar with the different blades, that don’t sound too difficult.. but one have to keep in mind that this would include single and double edged blades, with and without holes and slits, with and without ears, and with and without a thick spine along the back. All told an impressive range of shapes and thicknesses that the design have to account for.
As can be seen from the patent drawing, the blade holder consisted of two hinged plates that clamped the blade between them. Since each plate had ‘half’ a screw on the end, tightening the handle on the blade holder locked the two plates together and clamped the blade securely. Or as the patent describes it, each plate:
…has a threaded shank 2 at one end and a hinge ear 4 at the other end, the threaded shank having a portion cut away.
David J Price
The plates had groves or cutout int he middle of them as well as a couple of holes drilled through, and for different blade styles there would be different ways for securing the blade;
for Durham, Gillette and Varlet blades, there was a pair of loose studs (called lugs in the patent text) that lined up with the holes cut in the blade
for Christy style blades, the studs were removed
and a GEM style blade would rest in the groves themselves
All told a simple and ingenious solution to the problem of providing clamping pressure on a variety of blades -as long as you didn’t loose the two studs that is. One improvement I can see immediately would be to give the studs threads on the part that fitted into the holes in the holder – said holes would have to be threaded too – and when stropping a blade without holes simply fasten them on the outside of the plate.
I can also see this being useful as a simple, cheerful and somewhat scary kamisori-style shavette – one that allowed a shaver to experiment with several different styles of blades, although the selection in this day and age is smaller than it was in the late 20’s and early 30’s.1
As far as I can tell, this is the only razor or shaving related patent Mr Price filed for, which is a shame, cause I would have loved to see if he could come up with a razor that fitted multiple styles of blades as well.
For starters, there is to the best of my knowledge no one that manufactures Valet, Durham or Christy style blades any longer. Update: I’m informed that Feather still makes blades that fit Valet and Durham razors.
As I was poking around for information on a different razor, I stumbled over the abbreviated history of the Diamond Edge Razor, as made by the Norvell-Shapleigh Hardware Co – later the Shapleight Hardware – in St Louis, Missouri, between 1910 and 1919. Described in Waits’ Compendium as a single edge hoe style razor with a closed comb guard, it apperantly was offered in a number of different styles; the DE100 was silver plated in green lined box, the DE200 had red lining and gold plated tips, the DE300 had gold plated frame with gold and silver plated handle in an imitation pigskin case, while the top model – the DE400 – was all gold plated, came in a gold plated box with it’s own stropper.
As can be guessed by the fact that you got a stropper with the high end kit, the Diamond Edge wasn’t meant to use disposable blades – rather reusable ones. All models seems to have been delivered with a holder for the blade to make them easier to strop, so even if replacement blades were available,1 it seems the idea was to buy a razor with enough blades to last practically forever.
The patent for the Diamond Edge was filed by Carl Gustav Schimkat in the beginning of 1906 – so before Gillette had emerged as the top dog in the safety razor market. The Diamond Edge was one of several fairly successful competitors to the Gillette, in what was a fairly fluid marketplace. The patent itself isn’t too earth-shattering in hindsight, like many others it aimed to
…produce a simple and inexpensive safety razor…
From patent US866969A
Simple and inexpensive meant that one could tap into a large marked; people who would like to be clean shaven, but who couldn’t afford an expensive razor or frequent visits to the barber.
An interesting element of the razor was that the blade wasn’t held by the razor directly, but by a retainer (12) that helped give the blade the required rigidity – which make sense considering the design of the razor was very close to the Kampfe wedge razor design in concept if not in execution.
It seems like the success of the Gillette during and after the Great War killed off the Diamond edge… it is hard to compete with a razor all the doughboys got for free while in the service after all. Those who owned them probably used them while blades could be gotten, but today the Diamond Edge and other single edge hoe style razors seems to have been all but forgotten.. what little we can easily find and use today is vintage EverReady and GEM style razors.
1) Clark’s Blade & Razor Co, operating out of Newark, NJ, offered off-brand blades via the Sears Catalogue for a wide range of razors until at least the end of the 1920’s. Their No3 blade is advertised as fitting the Diamond Edge as well as Auto Strop, Young and other razors.
The desire to improve and enhance upon things must be as old as the drive to invent in the first place, and the brush that Mr Marcus B Berhman filed a patent for in 1919 is in fact a useful improvement on the classic brush – if only for travel purposes.
…a lather brush compromising a handle and bristles, the knot of the bristles being held by suitable inner and outer ferrules and the bristles being adapted to be concealed within the handle of the brush or exposed outwardly therefrom for use, said handle being in hinged together sections adapted to be opened outwardly to receive the bristles or to permit the same to be removed from the handle, and said outer ferrule being adapted to lock the handle in closed position, both when the bristles are within the handle and when said bristles are in exposed condition.
Makes me dizzy just to read all that.. but the long and the short is that the handle is hollow, hinged, and shaped to hold the knot when in the stowed position. Luckily the drawing that accompanies the patent is clearer than the text when it comes to explaining things.
Looks like a handy travel brush, and one I wouldn’t mind having. I do like the fact that when folded it takes half the space, meaning you can more easily fit a full sized brush in your dopp bag. While the original idea likely was to make it out of stamped sheet metal, there is no reason why a modern recreation of this idea can’t use different materials that stands up to the damp a bit better.
Got time to spare while being at home due to the situation in the world today? Or just want a light read in between being busy with work?
70 razor and shaving patents – available both as an paperback and for Kindle1 – is a somewhat serious, somewhat humorous meandering look at the history of shaving, as seen through patents from the last century and a half. Explore a wide range of ideas ranging from electrically heated razors to plug into the light fixtures, magnetic pseudoscience, the ever present vibrating razors, and sensible solutions for razors that were the right idea at the wrong time.
My book explores some of the roads not taken and the blind alleys explored – solutions in search of a problem as well as problems caused by the solutions – by inventors to perfect our daily shave and moment of Zen.