OK, OK...so I've gotten a small bite from the RAD (Razor Acquisition Disorder) mosquito....well, it's probably not a new infection but just a flair up of the initial infection of several years ago. Kinda like malaria. You have these occasional relapses...lol ;) But I couldn't pass this one up. Found a very nice looking, what appeared to be in great condition gold Aristocrat at a great price...no I won't tell you how much...well maybe...maybe never...well it doesn't matter since I will probably never want to sell this baby. You'll understand why in just a bit.
For many an Aristocrat is the Holy Grail of Gillette razors next to the Toggle or the Bottom Dial FatBoy. Granted there are far more Aristocrats out there, but those in good condition demand a premium price. Of course you can have them restored but having a vintage razor in it's original condition has a special ambiance to it...it somehow takes you back in time more vividly than a razor that has been restored. I don't know if I will have this one replated or not. At this point probably not since it is in pretty good condition with only minor plating loss.
There have been several razors in the Gillette production history called an Aristocrat but the closed comb 1940's-50's version is the one that most people have in mind when they think "Aristocrat" from Gillette. It was the first butterfly twist-to-open razor ever produced in the DE platform. The first ones were of an open comb design and date back to 1934+. I have a 1935 version that was given to me by a good friend. It had significant loss of plating so I had it replated in Rhodium. This razor is quite aggressive but very beautiful and came in Silver, Rhodium and Gold plated versions and were produced in both the United States and Great Britain.
The earlier Aristocrats had the swirled knurling pattern better known as the "Bulldog" style handle. The end caps on the sides of the TTO mechanism are exposed. Later versions the rivets were covered up as you can see in a picture further below. Of course the first versions were open comb razors as were the 1904 Old Type razors and the 1920's "Improved" style razors.
You need to remember the evolution of the safety razor and the audience they were shooting for at the time. The straight razor was still the shaving instrument of choice of most men. Those that shaved themselves could sharpen it, maintain it and didn't have to buy blades. Those men that didn't shave themselves but instead went to the barber once or a few times each week were used to the clean keen feel of the exposed straight razor blade against their skin. Getting a shave meant feeling the aggressiveness of the blade. Gillette wanted to change all that...sell razor blades...expand market share...change the shaving world, and they did. The open comb design allowed for a more aggressive shave, a more prominent "feel" of the blade while providing some safety and protection with the open comb allowing for some lather to remain on the face before encountering the sharp blade. It was only after World War II and so many more men had gotten into the habit of shaving often, if not daily after their military service, that a "milder" and "gentler" manner of shaving was a welcomed "trend" that eventually led to the Gillette SuperSpeeds and their much milder shaving characteristics.
Another innovation introduce after WWII was the blade dispenser that allowed a shaver to push a new blade out of the pack and right into their TTO style razor. The added notch at the end of the center bar was meant to facilitate easier loading from a "no touch" blade dispenser. The handle style changed with the vertical knurling and instead of a smooth band between the TTO knob and the upper part of the handle there was additional notches added. There were other variations. Occasionally certain "left over" components were put with newer version components to make less "standard" versions of the Aristocrat. There aren't any date codes on this razor. You have to "deduct out" when it was made by looking at the design features alone. It's stuff like that that makes the "collecting" aspect of vintage razors so much"fun."
So now onto the shaving evaluation of this particular razor. I received this razor while I was finishing up my evaluation of the Gillette 109 Super Adjustable (Black Beauty Long Handle) Razor. I was struggling with that one trying to find a good blade for it and trying to figure out why it was feeling so much more aggressive than my other Gillette Adjustable Razors. I had found my forgotten stash of Kai DE Blades and found that they worked the best in that razor (as they work best for me in most razors) so I decided to not "dork around" with other blades in this one and go straight to the mother load "go to" brand. I had done a couple of shaves on a Kai blade in the Black Beauty and figured "why not" and see how it goes with this one. The Kai DE Blade is the best blade for my 1935 Aristocrat OC but in that razor it is so aggressive you have to tread lightly and with care and concentration around the curves or injury will definitely occur. Granted the shave of the OC version is very good but also very efficient. With that in mind a "third use" Kai Blade should still be very functional, sharp and smooth but decrease the "risk factor" of exploring unknown waters with a new razor's shaving profile.
Wow...just WOW!!! I was blown away!!! It was the smoothest, closest, best shave I have ever experienced...bar none!!! Even my problem areas reaching BBS on my upper lip and bottom of my chin surrendered a BBS shave effortlessly with three passes and very minor touch ups. There were times I wondered if there was actually a razor blade in the darn razor it felt so smooth. That got me excited so I continued with the Kai Blade and the Aristocrat...4...5...6...7 shaves on the Kai Blade before it lost its keen edge and started to feel rough around the edges. Then I pulled out a new Kai Blade. It was heavenly. Same smooth feeling with even greater efficiency...BAM...a home run BBS shave every time and no irritation. Now on my upper lip I still had to be gentle allowing only the weight of the razor to do the work but I had never gotten anywhere near BBS where my life long mustache used to dwell. Granted I had to do some work at times to get there with proper care and attention but I had finally found a razor that could comfortably shave the tough hair follicles of my sensitive upper lip cleanly and smoothly.
In it's day the Gillette Aristocrat was named thus to present luxury, quality and the ability to get a premium shave. It wasn't inexpensive but it wasn't too expensive either. As the 1947 advertisement below shows, it sold for $3.79 and in some sets $5.00. Advertisements from just the early 1950's list it selling for $4.00. So in 1948-50 it would have cost the equivalent today of about $38-40 or so. According to Dollar Times in 1950 one dollar was worth $9.87 in 2014 dollars. A very good value to say the least.
Of course Gillette wasn't interested in making a lot of money off of a razor. They were interested in making money from selling their razor blades...just as they are today. Someday I'll pull out a vintage Gillette Blue Blade and give it a try in this wonderful vintage razor....but I think I've only got one...maybe two. I'll have to think about it.
The Twist-To-Open "One Piece" razor again revolutionized the shaving world. The trend was continuing and gaining speed...convenience, ease and speed of the shave, disposable blades, shaving daily, and more repeat customers...for Gillette razor blades. One thing about the TTO mechanism of this razor is that it doesn't require the additional quarter turn to set the blade like the later Adjustable style Gillettes.
But that's not the end of the story. I had written this review and was planning to do a shaving video review of the 1948-50 Aristocrat the end of the next week when to my surprise I found another Aristocrat at a very good price. This one was the 1946-47 version. It was the one without the notch in the center blade bar...so I bought it. I wondered if the performance I had experienced would hold true with a different, older closed comb Aristocrat. Would it be more aggressive as the open comb version was significantly more aggressive? I wondered if all the Aristocrat closed comb razors were just as fantastic shavers as everyone I talked to and my own personal experience had demonstrated? Yes, this was an eBay find. It looked good. It looked in much better shape than the '48-50 version I had been using, but you know how things are on eBay. You never know until you get the item in your hands.
Then it arrived, far sooner than I had anticipated. I had thought that I might be able to get one shave in before having to do a video demonstration review for the weekend. It arrived just two days after I bought it which gave me plenty of time to test drive this older sister of my first Aristocrat. Granted the '48-50 Aristocrat was in decent shape as the pictures above shows, but the plating was wearing down and beginning to be a candidate for a replating. This razor had seen many shaves over the years and I didn't have a case or the blade holder.
My second Aristocrat purchase, the '46-47 version had both an original case and blade holder and man oh man she was beautiful. She looked like she was in near mint condition. The gold plating was bright, even and with hardly a flaw for an over 60 year old production razor. I got very lucky in finding her. She had probably been used but very very lightly. Who knows maybe never used, but the case showed some mileage, which makes me think it was just a well preserved razor.
So that first shave with the pristine '46-47 razor was a little nerve racking. I desperatelywanted it to be a repeat performance, but I wondered if it would be more aggressive. This razor was so beautiful. You know I must confess something. I had always stayed away from the more expensive vintage razors. I just didn't believe that a more costly razor modern or vintage could really shave that much better than a less expensive model with the same general design. I thought the Aristocrat was just a gold plated souped up version of a Super Speed. The Mongoose Razor put a crack in that wall of denial I had constructed that limited my beliefs and opinions in this regard. The Mongoose is an expensive modern stainless steel razor and it did shave markedly better than any other Single Edge razor I had ever used and any DE razor also, until now at least. Sometimes you have to pay a premium to get a premium result.
So I put a Treet Platinum blade in the '46-47 Aristocrat, held my breath, applied the shaving lather and proceeded to shave. It was fantastic!!! It wasn't more aggressive and shaved pretty much exactly like the "newer" version I'd been using. The Treet blade didn't perform quite as efficiently as the Kai blades I had used previously but it was pretty darn close. BBS effortlessly in three passes, my upper lip clean of whiskers, just a frogs hair away from a perfect BBS glide. Under the chin it was completely there...BBS without irritation.
I tried a fresh Kai DE blade and the results were near perfection. I had broken my previous "rule" to not succumb to the peer pressure and fanfare of the flashy, more deluxe, luxury leaning vintage razors. I still think that general principle holds true, but I found out it doesn't when talking about the closed comb Aristocrats.
I had read the many opinions of other owners of these vintage Aristocrat razors. They made statements about them being great shaving instruments; a cut above the others but I really didn't believe them. The various opinions I had read about other topics and razors and products in the forums many times didn't prove to be true in my experiences. I discounted them. I thought their elevated opinions fell into the category of "something that looks that beautiful and costs a bit more has to perform better." You know how it is...you spend a good chunk of money on something and even if it performs just as well as a "Plain Jane" version but it's more expensive you just have to believe that it actually is "better" and worth the added outlay of cash. You have to justify your decision to buy it. This holds true for other shaving products. A more expensive shaving soap or aftershave doesn't necessarily result in better performance. Well, this time the "pretty" razor that fetches a more premium price (although I found two for reasonable prices) did perform better. In fact it performed better, more consistently and efficiently than any other DE razor I have ever used.
So that's about it. Not much else to say about these beautiful 65+ year old razors. The Gillette Aristocrat razors jumped into the top spots on my favorite razor list. Yes, my beloved Ginge 1950's era Dutch razor has probably been unseated as the King of the Big John DE Shave Den Wing. I don't know if these video and blog reviews are going to heat up the eBay bidding on Gillette Aristocrat razors or not. It's already pretty heated and some sellers are fishing for what is probably far more than they are worth, but I guess that depends on the marketplace. I've seen some complete original sets going for hundreds of dollars.
I don't know exactly what it is about the design characteristics of these razors that works so well for me and apparently a lot of other people, but it does. That's the mystery of traditional wet DE shaving...you have to experiment and find what works best for your face...and the thing is....what that is seems to change as time flies by. Gillette got it right with the Aristocrat model.
As usual, I will post the accompanying video that goes along with this article once it has been recorded, processed and uploaded to YouTube.
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe