In the past few weeks I've become somewhat immersed again in vintage razors after a long time focusing on the modern. Over the past couple of years I've undergone a lot of personal life changes. I've lost a spouse and a lot of weight. I've lost the promise of realistically advancing my career beyond where I am currently. I guess I've had a mid-life crisis of sorts. My face has changed and consequently what works well for me in shaving has changed and evolved. I've removed my life long mustache and had to learn how to shave my upper lip...still learning really. It's a tough and sensitive region of my face that has staunchly resisted being shaved comfortably and cleanly. But we all have life changes. Life is nothing if there isn't change, progress, movement -stimulating and challenging life events and milestones. One thing that makes prison a punishment is that there is so little variation and change to the routine...day after day the same walls, food, scenery... If our lives were to become prison-like it would definitely be depressing and boring.
I debated whether to make this a general blog article or a review of the Super Speed razors of the 1940's - 1960's. I've made some discoveries, at least for myself in regard to these razors. For a long time I discounted many of them. My initial impression was that they were too mild. With time and as my face and shaving needs have evolved the shaving properties of a straight bar closed comb razor has moved from the middle of my preference list to probably now the top, particularly when it comes to vintage Gillette razors.
One of the major differences between traditional wet shavers of today and those of days gone by is that today we seem obsessed with variety and changing things up each day whereas our fathers and grandfathers (the vintage shavers) more commonly used the same razor, soap, aftershave or cologne, blade brand and brush day after day. No changing and when a change did occur it was more out of necessity than choice. The vintage era shavers shaved from necessity. They didn't have the choice of growing a beard or sometimes even a mustache. Their work environments often required a standard of being clean shaven. It was expected and demanded with very few exceptions. Social norms required looking well groomed...clean shaven.
After my father died, his brother, my bachelor uncle was the primary elder male influence in my life. He lived next door in my grandparent's house. He was a WWII veteran and the Postmaster in town. Like so many men from his generation he was very opinionated, prejudiced, set in his ways, and uncompromising. When the hippy movement came on the scene in the 60's with the long hair, mustaches, beards, bell bottom jeans and love beads he was constantly vocal of his disapproval. In 1971 I began shaving and soon thereafter I could grow a mustache. He didn't like it and bought me an electric razor to encourage it's removal. My older brother (10 years my senior) had grown a mustache. Whenever he would see my brother he would comment "Why don't you shave that thing off...you look like a bum!" Being clean shaven was important to him. It represented social status and acceptability. Facial hair was nothing more or less than laziness and a social faux pas.
My uncle's generation, having grown up during the Depression and proudly serving in the military in WWII and Korea, had endured sacrifice and "just getting by" as frugally as possible was a way of life...an ever present habit. One razor was enough. Two razors was an extravagance. Hard to wrap your mind around in days like today within the wet shaving community where a dozen different razors is more the norm than the exception.
Vintage razors allows the user to experience what it was like in an era long past. That's one reason why we like vintage razors. They become a time machine transporting us to stand in the shoes of our ancestors if even just for a few minutes. We remember and fantasize about their lives and their experiences. We become better connected to them...we feel their presence as we stand before our "looking glass" each day shaving. In many ways what we see in that bathroom mirror brings pleasure and sometimes remorse for having lost the simplicity of a less rushed, hectic, media flooded, cluttered modern life.
Vintage razors brings something else to the table. It brings to the fore a sense of positive progress, at least until other factors took control in the 1970's where quality was sacrificed for profit. The craftsmanship of quality manufacturing in the first 60 years of the 20th Century brought pride in labor of a man's hands. Such manufacturing skill, innovation and craftsmanship enabled the defeat of the Axis powers in WWII and was center stage in the Cold War. A factory job was something a man could be proud of because quality craftsmanship was a key element of that work. Today working in a factory doesn't mean the same as it did then. Make it cheaper, faster, and more profitable is the mantra today. Quality is rarely mentioned except in marketing and commercial claims against the competition. But it's only in comparison and not a measure of true "quality."
The razors made in the 1940-60's were some of the very best ever made. They include razors like the Aristocrats, the SuperSpeeds, the Techs and the Adjustables (195 FatBoy, Slim and Super). In my mind the 1940's-50's Aristocrats set the bar for all other razors. It got the combination of design elements right. But change was inevitable because marketing demanded it, thus the Aristocrat brought forth the SuperSpeeds. In fact the closed comb SuperSpeed preceeded the closed bar Aristocrat. The Aristocrat was more refined and "gussied up" than the SuperSpeeds, Milord (Aristocrat Jr.), Ranger, etc. razors of the 1940's-50's. In using these razors lately I believe they are essentially cut out using the same mold; they shave very similarly. They are a bit more aggressive than the later SuperSpeeds, but the marketing took that basic, almost perfect design, and then split it up into different "flavors" with the blue, black and red tip handle models (Light, Medium and Heavy). The Flair Tip slid down the aggressiveness scale to the milder end of the spectrum. Then came the Adjustables...providing the best of all worlds in a single razor. These razors are mild enough to allow a shaver, both experienced and novice to shave quickly and safely. The advent of the coated British Process stainless steel blades that emerged in the 1950's brought a sharper, keener, longer lasting edge to the double edge razor blade first introduce in 1956 by Wilkinson Sword who also introduced the teflon coated blade in 1961 and these developments made razors like the Aristocrat and the SuperSpeed and Tech highly effective whisker slayers even though they were not as aggressive in shaving characteristics as previous open comb razors. The racing car (Aristocrat and SuperSpeed) became a championship combination with the perfect fuel (the coated stainless steel razor blade). What do you do once near perfection is achieved in a particular design, regardless of the product? You revolutionize it! In essence change things up and claim they are better (i.e. the Trac II). The Trac II wasn't better, just different and more technologically "modern" and "advanced" in appearance. Pure marketing hype. I do not believe the shave you can obtain with an Aristocrat or SuperSpeed style razor can be topped. You can claim it but it's all hype.
The swords of the past war years weren't beaten into plowshares but razors. Gillette was manufacturing excellent products in the United States, Great Britain and Canada. The Aristocrat and it's various versions, the Super Speed in it's various renditions, the Adjustables in the 195 (FatBoy), Slim and Super (Black Beauty) were creations that have stood the test of time. These razors, even those that have seen substantial use, are still going strong, still shave excellently, and with restorative care and maintenance will last for decades if not centuries into the future. Few things can endure in such a way and it is this endurance that has ushered in the revival of traditional wet shaving today. If the equipment, the razors had not survived in such good shape the ability of ever growing numbers to pick up a double edge safety razor would probably not have existed. Sure there were razors being produced by Muhle, Merkur, Edwin Jagger and others but only in a very limited capacity and only in select pockets around the world. Opening that bathroom cabinet and finding a vintage razor has prompted many to "give it a go" when weary of poor shaves with expensive multi-blades.
There are so many things that we cannot turn back the hands of time and restore...return to an era gone by. Traditional Wet Shaving isn't one of those things. We can turn back the clock. We can remember. We can experience the strength of the past...of our ancestors. In a time when quality products are too expensive for the common man in so many venues the ability to hold quality in our hands is unique and rejuvenating experience. In a small way it instills hope and promise that is often lost in our throw away media saturated world.
Sadly, Traditional Wet Shaving isn't going to return full bore as it was in the golden era of shaving in the 1940's-1960's. Sure more guys and gals will come into the TWS movement and hobby, but the masses will still lumber on following the prompts of the profit hungry corporate dominators in the shaving marketplace. Hipsters will grow their beards when tired of enduring painful, uncomfortable, tedious shaves with the most "modern" shaving equipment. Maybe someday there will be enough market available for some of the more prolific manufacturers of modern wet shaving gear to have the profitability to at least have a presence in the mass media world, but that's a very long way off in all probability. But do we really want that to happen?
If Traditional Wet Shaving caught on fire again would we still get the quality modern razors or would the marketplace require speeding up the manufacturing processes and thus sacrificing the craftsmanship that still remains? Smaller numbers means higher quality usually. That's why we like vintage razors. They aren't being made anymore and their quality remains constant and consistent. Profitability and market pressures doesn't detract from the quality of their construction and the beauty of the end product. No extra blades added. No additional comfort strips needed. No goofy rotating balls inserted. Simplicity, purity of design and function remains the same day after day, week after week, decade after decade.
Vintage razors shave so well because the progression of single blade shaving had come to a point of figuring out what works best for the largest number of people. The mechanics had been refined and the technological advances came together to produce the coated blades and the shaving instruments that worked in harmony with each other. In some ways this achievement of "near perfection" in the 1940's-60's that brought about the multi-blade trend. It couldn't get any better, so if you can't make money making a better product the only option was to make more money convincing the public you had made a better product. They did and by the 1980's the death watch of mass marketed DE shaving had begun. But it didn't die but was on life support for a couple of decades and that life support was the vintage razor. Even though relegated to antique shops and the back of bathroom cabinets and drawers the vintage razors sat waiting until discovered again years later. Their inherent quality hidden by soap scum and the din of mass market commercials taughting the praises of multi-blades, tilting heads and comfort strips.
We like vintage razors because they provide nostalgia, high quality, high performance, consistency, a great value for the dollar/pound/euro, beauty and simplicity, and so much more. Vintage razors provide the pinnacle of DE shaving. Modern razors can only attempt to match their performance. So if you have never tried a vintage razor you are missing out on something special. They aren't just pretty looking relics to be set in a presentation case and admired from afar. They are meant to be used. You don't leave your best players sitting on the bench. You play them...as much as you can. I'd benched my vintage razors far too long. It's time to get my game on and that means a vintage razor for my next shave.
As always the accompanying video will be linked below.
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe