Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Gillette Vintage (1920's) Travel Razor

Last month my wife bought me a vintage Gillette travel razor as an anniversary gift; I've been using it on and off for a month, and think it's high time I showed it off.

I consider vintage razors like this to be proof, were it needed, that traditional safety razors can stand the test of time*. This model is already older than my Grandparents, and will probably still be delivering good shaves when the latest Fusion cartridge is obsolete.

This 1920's** razors has clear similarities to currently available models, but also a notable difference.

Gillette 1920's vintage travel safety razor, double edge, open comb, assembled front view
Note the open comb

Gillette 1920's vintage travel safety razor, double edge, open comb, assembled rear view
Brass ages well

Gillette 1920's vintage travel safety razor, double edge, open comb, in case
I haven't dared use the old blade, it's currently fitted with a Wilkinson
The similarities between this vintage model and ones available today is clear, and for the probably obvious reason that they all use the standardized double edge blade, and there are only so many shapes that make sense for this- something to hold the blade, and something to hold the razor by. 

This model is a three piece design, much like Jagger/Muhle razors. This works well for travel as it allows it to be disassembled into a fairly low-profile case, though this is still much larger than Merkur's travel razor. It is also a bit simpler to make. Some people find two piece razors easier for blade changes, but the difference is pretty minor. 

The biggest difference between this razor and most to be found on the market today is the shave head. First of all, it is brass, and like the rest of the razor, it is not chrome-plated. Most modern safety razors use a shave head cast from zinc alloy and plated in chrome or nickel (iKon are an exception). 

A cast zinc head used to be the mark of a cheap "pot metal" razor, as the older zinc alloys were very prone to corrosion if the plating was chipped in any way. Today, these alloys are much more resistant, although good plating is still important for shave quality. It is much easier to cast a precise shape from zinc than it is to create a similarly precise shave head by machining brass or stainless steel. This use of cast shave heads helps to keep modern safety razors affordable without any detriment to the shaving performance, but is probably why modern shave heads are noticeably "chunkier" in profile than the vintage Gillette. With no need to plate the head, the whole razor is left as plain brass.

This razor gives an enjoyable shave, somewhere between my Edwin Jagger and Merkur 34 for comfort and closeness. Currently it is my only open comb razor. 

If you are interested in picking up a good quality new safety razor razor to be someone's future heirloom, check out the selection in the Kaliandee store

*Of course, travel was less affordable and accessible to most people in the 1920's, so a razor aimed at someone who traveled enough to need a travel razor was probably not a cheap, "low-end" model, which possibly also contributed to it's survival. 

**my expertise is not in vintage razors, so this dating could be wrong, but I'm fairly confident in it.