Search This Blog

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Joy Of Parts – Why I love My Razor Junkyard

In addition to my line of shave ready razors, I buy a significant number of broken razors that have no apparent value or historic importance (keep in mind that some razors, even when broken, DO have value).  

Why would I pay for broken razors?

These razors that would normally be discarded are a valuable source of material for someone who studies razors and repairs them.  I have written several articles on razor restoration and how I am generally opposed to it, beyond a basic cleaning and honing.  However, a blade with broken scales or a pair of scales holding a broken or badly corroded blade will never be a shaver, nor, unless it is something truly special, will it ever be a collector’s piece. 
When I DO make repairs, I only use parts that are original to that type of razor.  And given the thousands of different makes of razors out there, one needs MANY parts to have a chance at having the right one needed for an authentic repair.  If I cannot repair a razor authentically, I don’t do it.  That’s why broken razors are so valuable to me.  They provide the source of genuine parts that I need to make broken razors whole again.  In a way, I am running a personal, automobile-style junkyard for razors.  Until I find original parts, beautiful blades sit in individual baskets waiting for scales; scales await blades and proper collars.  The only items that absolutely cannot be salvaged from an old razor are the pins.  That is why I am against the removal of pins for the purpose of cleaning a razor.  Once they are out, a new one must be fashioned to replace it.

Just like in a good junkyard, organization of your parts is important.  I organize them by the GOOD part in the broken “whole” razor.  This leaves me with two primary bins:
  • ·         Good blades with broken scales
  • ·         Good scales with broken/badly damaged blades
 I try to keep the broken razor whole until I need the part, as it provides me with valuable information about what goes with what.  I also keep a few other bins of particularly tiny items:
  • ·         Pivot pin washers
  • ·         Cut pivot pins (as examples)
  • ·         Pin collars
  • ·         Wedges
Even these items I try to keep together as long as possible.  One thing I do NOT keep are celluloid scales which have begun to decay.  If I want to document the blade that went with such scales, I will photograph it.  Decaying celluloid is too much of a hazard to metal to warrant keeping anywhere near your collection.  But be careful how you dispose of celluloid scales…they go up like the Hindenburg when exposed to extreme heat or flame.  If you feel the need to have this demonstrated, take a SMALL piece of celluloid and clip it to the end of a hemostat or tongs, then light a match to it and stand back – the ensuing conflagration is impressive (A completely unrelated, but equally cool fire can be made by touching the contacts of a 9 volt battery to 0000 steel wool, but this will be the subject of another article).  Make sure you are outside or standing near a sink when you try either demonstration.

It gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction to restore a razor to its original condition.  If you feel the same, you might want to start a razor “junkyard” of your own.

Tips For Successful Shaving - Another "Do" And "Don't"

DO rinse your razor frequently.   

A razors edge with lather and cut hairs on it does not cut as well as a nice clean one.  Razors with a smaller height (such as a 4/8 or 5/8) require more frequent rinsing than a 7/8 or 8/8 cleaver.  But at the beginning, just trust me and do it often.

DON’T catch a dropped razor – EVER!   

The razors that I hone will easily cut your flesh to the bone under the influence of gravity.  It might even cut into the bone itself.  I don’t care how much you spent on your razor.  The $75-$400 you will spend on a new one is nothing compared to the surgeons bill, recovery time and nerve damage you will get from a deep cut.  

You aren’t Harry Potter; this isn’t Hogwarts and Madame Pomfrey isn’t there to give you a bad tasting, but effective dose of Flesh-O-Mend potion.  So trust me and DON'T DO IT!

Monday, October 25, 2010

FREE Reference Materials For Razor, Cutlery & Shaving Item Collectors

What others are selling, I am offering online for FREE as a public service to my fellow collectors.

AS I have written before, many collectors of straight razors in particular, suffer from a lack of sources for identifying the makers of their collectible razors. There are a couple of published references out there, but there is so much left undocumented. The Vintage Shaving Shoppe has initiated this project to make reference materials available to collectors worldwide. We hope that you will benefit from these links and that you will contribute to them, so we can work towards creating a truly comprehensive reference.

Your comments are welcome!

Hyperlink to The Goldsmiths Jewelers and Silversmiths of London 1863 directory

Hyperlink to Miscellaneous Bayonet Markings

Hyperlink to The Journeyman Barber

Hyperlink to The Gillette Blade

Hyperlink to Perfumery & Kindred Arts

Hyperlink to Trademarks On Base Metal Tableware

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Today's Question: Can You Bring An Old Scratched, Corroded Razor Back To life?

I received an email yesterday and I thought the question might be of enough general interest to post the question and answer in my blog.  Here it is:

"I know nothing about re-conditioning razors. I thought there might be a way to buff the blades and make then shiny and new again. It sounds like that is not the case. I am guessing that if a razor has a faint etching nothing can be done. I pulled out a razor tonight that has an etched lion on the blade but the etching is faint. My thought was maybe you could bring it back to life. Should I assume it is not possible?   Thanks for your thoughts and time."

Dear Writer,

Etches are particularly tough - especially if they are photochemical and not mechanical.  Mechanical etches (those made by an etching tool) tend to be deeper than their photochemical cousins, which are much shallower and more delicate and can be worn off simply by normal use.  Obviously, any sort of harsh abrasive would destroy them, and if that abrasive is applied under power, the delicate design can be destroyed in seconds.

Keep in mind that even the lightest scratch is actually a depression that has been made in the metal.  In the case of a light scratch, that depression is very small, but in the case of corrosion, that depression is much, much larger.  As I have mentioned in articles I have written on the topic, the only way to "remove" a scratch or corrosion spot is to remove enough metal around that spot to reach the bottom of the depression made by the defect.  As you can imagine, that isn't so hard when the scratch is light, but when it's deep, it can be a huge project.  And that assumes that there is enough metal there to do it. This usually isn't a problem with a wedge, since they are so "meaty," but it is often a major issue in dealing with more modern, hollow-ground razors - German ones in particular. These problems increase when your defect is near the edge, where the metal can be paper thin.

Personally, it is my practice never to remove metal below the original base layer of the razor's surface.  So in that respect, I don't really "restore" razors.  But I do find ways to make them look better within my rather strict parameters.  One of the most significant things you can do is to remove surface rust.  You can remove very light rust with 0000 steel wool and a light oil like WD-40.  This will not do anything for real corrosion or severe rust, but you will find it helps a lot on very light coatings of bright orange rust. To keep the razor rust free, it is important to keep a light coating of oil or a protectant such as Tuf-Glide on the blade at all times when not shaving with it.

I hope this is somewhat useful to you.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Do You Have A "Want List" Yet?

Common in coin collecting, the "want list" (WL) simply represents the items you are looking to add to your collection. For coin collectors, it's about filling in the holes in your dates and mint marks. With razors, you have considerably more flexibility. One of my clients had the great idea to collect razors made in his state. Other people collect certain brands, others a specific style of scales, other collect Sheffield, others Solingen.

There are many ways to collect as I have mentioned in another posting. So you might want to sit down and make a list of the razors you need to create your dream collection. I am trying to figure out how to create an application that will let you maintain a want list that I can track, so I can contact you when I have something that you need. Until then, feel free to email us at with your hearts desires. I will do my best to fulfill them.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chilean Miners Emerge Clean-Shaven

My wife drew my attention to something today.  It's a seemingly insignificant tidbit of news that would escape all but the most dedicated shaver.  Buried in the stories of the Chilean miners who emerged yesterday from an extended stay in the bowels of the earth.  Of all the things to do before they escaped their rocky tomb, before they greeted their children, wives and in one case, mistresses, they took the time to shave.

Of all the things to do...why shave?

I have not yet read any reports of why the great majority of these brave men took the time to remove their whiskers, but I suspect it further evidence of just how deeply ingrained shaving is in so many of the world's cultures.  There are writings that go back centuries that comment specifically upon this singular act of male grooming.  To be clean shaven was a status symbol - a statement.  It placed you among the very best of men.

My guess (and it is only a guess), is that they wanted to show that men can endure weeks of captivity, hunger, thirst and boredom without losing their civility.  For them, I believe it was a matter of personal dignity.

So perhaps, it wasn't such a small thing after all.  It is nice to have such men back.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How Repairs Add Value To Collectibles

This is a topic that seems somewhat counter-intuitive.  Repairs to an antique item are almost universally considered to be a detractor from value.  I believe that this may be due to its association with modern "restorations."  In the most egregious cases, especially as pertains to razors, an old object, such as a blade, is transformed into a new item by the replacement of its scales - sometimes done with the intent of deceiving the collector into believing that the scales were original.  This is an unethical practice which damages the integrity of the hobby by destroying the trust between buyer and seller.  Work like this, when it is done, should be labeled as a new creation, not as a genuine antique collectible.

The kind of repairs I'm talking about are those which were made, sometimes by a professional such as a cutler, razorsmith or handyman; and sometimes by the owner of the razor himself, in order to restore the razor to use.  Usually, these period repairs lacked a great deal of artistry - after all, these were looked at as expensive functional tools, not as works of art.  Men just wanted to be able to shave with them again and not have to come up with another $2-$8 (or 1 to 6 Pounds) for a new razor.  This is not to say that there were never expert repairs.  Well-to-do men with fine sets did sometimes want their razors to be made to look like new again - and they did not demur when informed of the charge for the work.  In my experience, most repairs of any sort were made on better-than-average razors - the kind a man might save a week's salary or more to buy.  These are some of the repairs I have seen:

The Hobnail Repair
This is the most common repair I have noticed to razors.  It is as unglamorous as it sounds.  To replace a damaged pin - usually the pivot, the person simply tapped the old pin out and drove in a hobnail with a hammer and bent the pointy tip.  Yes, it was an ugly repair, but it worked - unless they cracked the scales in the process.  But this was a genuine effort to restore the function of the razor and was a perfectly acceptable practice.  In fact, I think it would make for an interesting collection to assemble a group of razors all with hobnail repairs.

Scale Replacement
Razors spend a lot of time around water.  And if you used your razor frequently and did not take care to dry it, you likely ended up with a rusty blade and waterlogged scales.  The rusty blade could be brushed or honed clean, but sometimes the scales could not be saved.  In these cases, new scales (or good scales from a old razor) were procured and the blade was installed in them.  Sometimes the repair was of the hobnail variety - sometimes it was done very professionally with properly peened pins and collars.  This is the class of repair that is hardest to detect.  Sometimes I will notice that the blade and the scales don't "match" in terms of the time periods of their manufacture.  This is often the case with old blades marked "Cast Steel" that are in later curved scales with collars too late to have been original. Again, these were not modern attempts to deceive, but repairs done simply to make the razor useful again.  It is part of the history of the razor and shaving.  Unfortunately, there are some "Razor Revisers" out there who will attempt to deceive you into believing that the razor they sold you had an old repair.  Some of them are really good.  A close examination of the pins under magnification will sometimes reveal the truth - the pins will seem a bit "fresher" than a 125 year old repair might suggest.

Hollow Grinding
In the beginning, there was the wedge-ground razor.  It was fairly easy to make a wedge by hand.  The problem with a wedge is that they were quite difficult to sharpen and frequently required the services of a professional.  Towards the middle of the 19th century, it was discovered that hollow grinding, or removing more metal on both sides of the blade to form a "hollow" shape.  This led to much thinner blades that were much easier to sharpen.  So it was not unusual for folks to take their razor to their local razorsmith and have their trusty wedge-ground razors, ground hollow.  Again, this was a functional change for a real reason and not a deception. You can often detect a reground razor from the curiously old style of the tang and tail, as compared with the grind.  This comes with experience.

I just received a BEAUTIFUL razor today.  It is a true 9/8 cleaver with gorgeous Masonic symbols etched on the blade.  The curious thing about it is that the front scale is horn and the back scale is wood.  The wood matches the horn is shape and thickness almost completely and the repair is a VERY old one.  I can tell from examining the pins and collars.  To some, this is a detractor.  For me, such a careful repair is a huge plus.  For someone to do that careful a repair on their razor, they must have prized it highly.

I hope this short piece might cause you to look at imperfect razors from a different point of view.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Storing Vintage Straight Razors: Protecting Your Valuable Collection

As a dealer and collector, I take great pains to safeguard my razors. However, most old razors were made from high-carbon steel.  This presents a unique challenge to the collector, as the additional carbon leaves the metal exceptionally vulnerable to rust and corrosion. So why on earth would the great majority of razor manufacturers make blades out of high-carbon steel that would be dipped in water everyday?  While my suspicious nature leads me to believe that "planned obsolescence" might have been a factor, the more probable reason is that the additional carbon in steel enabled the bladesmith to create a sharper edge that stayed sharp longer - crucial to a good shave and fewer returned razors.  Lower carbon steels honed up faster, but had a less durable sharp edge.

So how quickly can a carbon steel razor rust?  Well, there have been times, if I wasn't careful, that a few stray droplets of water left on a razor between honing on one stone and another, left bright orange rust spots on the blade.  Yes, it can happen in minutes.  I have always counseled my customers to keep their razors OUT of the washroom, except while shaving.  The humidity will rust them for sure.  But I want to focus this piece on how to store your collection safely for a long time. This can be more of a challenge than you think.  I keep all my razors out in the open air on shelves.  Keeping them out of enclosures makes them less likely to accumulate water from any moisture that happens to be in the air (even though I keep a dehumidifier running in the room 24/7). 

If you have razors with celluloid handles, keeping them out of enclosures also helps to limit the damage to neighboring razors should the celluloid from one razor's handle begin to decay.  That one blade will be a goner, but its neighbors will have a good chance of surviving.  If they were enclosed in a display case, the whole contents could end up rusted.  It is also helpful to keep the blades coated with a protectant.  I use Tuf-Glide and sometimes Renaissance Wax, but good things have been said about pure mineral oil, gun oil, WD-40 and even Mobil-1 (although I find that these latter choices can gum up a blade).  Initially, I stored the razors on unfinished wood planks.  But then, fearing that any substance used in the production of the wood might damage the metal, I carefully covered them with green felt.  I gently rested the razors on them and relaxed.  Finally I was safe! Right?


I went to pick up a razor the other day to shave with it and, to my horror, it was stuck to the felt by the spine.  I checked the other razors on the shelf and a number of them were ALSO stuck.  And when I pulled them off, I saw orange rust!  I was just horrified.  I could find nothing on the web about felt causing rust.  I can only assume that there may have been something in the manufacture of the fabric that reacted with the carbon in the steel.  That is one reason that the collector should closely examine their prized pieces on a regular basis, regardless of how much effort they put into protecting them.

Fortunately, I caught the problem in time and was able to remove the surface rust with 0000 steel wool.  It was also fortunate that the rust was limited to the edge of the spine and not the shaving edge.  Rust or corrosion on the shaving edge of a razor can render the razor unfit for shaving.  So what did I do (aside from removing ALL my razors from the felt shelves immediately)?  I needed to find a material that would have absolutely NO chance of reacting with carbon steel.  After quite a bit of research, I arrived at two materials: acrylic (the kind that museums use in their showcases) and plate glass.  These materials, my research told me, would not react to the carbon steel in my razors (knife collectors: I believe this would apply to knives as well).
Believe it or not, acrylic sheets are significantly more expensive than their breakable equivalent.  So I made a trip to my local Home Depot and purchased large sheets of glass, which I carefully cut to the size of my shelves.  And, being that they are clear, they show off that caustic green felt rather nicely.  With relief, I replaced the razors on the shelves, now glass covered, with new confidence in the safety of my collection.  But that doesn't mean I still don't check them frequently.  It's the price I pay for keeping the things I love.

I hope this helps you to safeguard and enjoy your collection!

Leave It To "Cleaver"

Ok, if you are under 45 or so you may not have gotten the title but if you are an avid razor collector, you will appreciate the topic. The "cleaver" - the large, wedge-ground razors that graced barbershops in the early to mid 18th century, hold a special place in the hearts of many razor collectors.

While the “cleaver” has no universally agreed upon definition, the collector might paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous quote about pornography, saying: "I can't define what it is, but I know it when I see it." However most people would likely agree that a cleaver is:
  • Large: The blade should be at least 6/8” high, but the taller the better
  • Wedge Ground:  Most would agree that cleavers should be wedge-ground, although this may not be universally true
  • Heavy:  The razor should be heavy in the hand.  The heavier it is, the more the hard-core collector is likely to want it. The heaviest cleaver I have ever owned weighed in at 3.8 ounces.  If this doesn't sound like much weight, consider that the average "modern" straight razor tilts the scales at considerably less than two ounces.
Cleavers with a Barbers Notch are particularly prized – although the reason for the notch (the semicircle at the end of the blade) has never been universally agreed upon by razor historians.  My personal opinion is that it was for one-handed opening by barbers.  These razors were not manufactured for the general public, but for barbers.  Getting a barber shave was a status symbol in the period in which this razor was made (approximately 1840-1850), and there was competition among barbers for the business of Gentlemen.  An impressive razor was a nice bit of marketing that helped to draw customers. I'd wager it also made the proud barber stand a bit taller in his shop to know that "his" was the biggest hunk of metal in town.

Cleavers were mostly abandoned in the 1850’s for the easier to maintain, “hollow ground” razors.  Since the hollow-ground blade was much thinner, they were easier to sharpen and required fewer trips to the cutler’s shop for re-sharpening.  I can personally attest to the difference.  A razor like this one can take me up to two hours to properly hone to shave-readiness.  A typical hollow ground blade ordinarily takes less than twenty minutes.  The arrival of the hollow ground razor was not the greatest of news for barbers.  Due to the fact that they were easier to maintain and required less metal to manufacture, and thus were less expensive, shaving at home became more practical for the average Joe.  Still, the proper Gentleman continued to patronize his barber for several more decades.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What Is A "Shave-Ready," "Shave-Tested" Straight Razor? A Buyer's Guide

The Vintage Shaving Shoppe was one of the earlier eBay sellers to offer "shave-ready," "shave-tested" razors.  Now there seem to be lots of folks slapping that label on their razor auctions...and not on eBay alone.  You are starting to see them almost everywhere on the Web  And you can bet your shaving nicks that if you polled each one of these sellers, they would all come back with slightly different (in some cases, radically different) definitions of the terms.  You owe it to your face and your wallet to query the folks you buy from with regards to THEIR definitions.

While I cannot speak for other sellers, in the interest of clarity, I wish to go on-record about what those terms mean to me and, by extension, if you are my customer, what they will mean when you buy a razor from me.

The term "shave-ready" is bandied about in the wet-shaving world as casually as politicians promise lower taxes.  On its face, it is pretty straightforward: it means a razor that is ready to shave with.  But what does this mean?  If you order a nice new Dovo razor off of Amazon (or off of any number of other reputable commercial sites), you probably assume that it is ready to shave with.  The little brochure inside the "coffin" (the box that holds the razor) will even say so.  So you are good to go.  Right?  WRONG!  I speak from painful experience.

When, on a cold December afternoon, I decide to start shaving with a straight razor, I went online and  purchased a nice new Dovo (a fine German brand) straight razor, a badger brush and a puck of shave soap, went through an elaborate pre-shave routine, including hot towels from the microwave (not recommended), just to make sure that my skin was ready for this new experience.

I proceeded to get one of the harshest, bloodiest shaves of my life.

Now I have to put at least some of the blame on my inexperience and the fact that I was shaving skin yet unused to a straight razor, but still, the razor was catching on my skin and simply not cutting hair as a straight razor should.  After querying several knowledgeable straight razor shavers, I was asked where I purchased my razor.  Next, I was asked "who made it shave-ready and was it shave-tested?"  At that time, these terms were unfamiliar to me.  I replied that I bought it through Amazon from the manufacturer and both the ad and the product insert assured me that the razor was ready for use.

I could almost see the virtual sideways head-shaking when I provided this answer.  It was time for me to get an education.  I was told that razors straight from the factory may be very, very sharp...but they will not provide a close, comfortable shave.  In order to do that, the razor's edge must be "finished" on a combination of extremely fine honing stones and strops (normally, long strips of leather which may or may not be treated with a mildly abrasive paste).  You see, the edges of ALL sharp metal objects are serrated to some degree.  While you can see the serration clearly on most knives, they can be quite literally microscopic on a straight razor.  The fact that they are very small, doesn't mean that they aren't there.  The process of hand-honing a razor on those superfine stones (My finest stone is 30,000 grit. To put that in perspective, a knife will be considered sufficiently sharpened at 1,000 grit), and then on leather, is designed to make those serrations as small as humanly possible.  A factory-honed razor leaves serrations that are way too large for a comfortable shave.  The result is that "Nighmare On Elm Street" look that you were not seeking.

So when I say that a razor I sell is shave-ready, I mean that I have honed it BY HAND on a progression of extremely fine, completely flat stones made specifically for honing razors. I then further reduce the size of the serrations by stropping the blade on diamond-pasted strops made of balsa wood (they are not always leather).  Then, I use a hard wool felt hanging strop lightly pasted with Aluminum Oxide and, finally, on a fine leather strop.

I will not use a razor on my face that has not gone through the aforementioned procedure and I would not expect you to either.

There is no machine that, to my knowledge, can shave-test a razor.  But before I get ahead of myself, let me explain what I mean when I say that a razor is "shave-tested."  It means that I have personally shaved with the razor and it has produced a close, comfortable shave.  This really isn't complicated.  You simply shave with the razor in all three directions:
  • With The Grain (WTG): This means in the direction of hair growth
  • Across The Grain (XTG): This means shaving at an approximate 90 degree angle to the direction of hair growth
  • Against The Grain (ATG): This means shaving against the direction of hair growth
If the razor shaves closely and comfortably in all three directions on both sides of my face using both sides of the razor, it passes.  If it fails any of these tests, it goes back to the hones, not into a shipping envelope, until it passes.  All shave-tested razor are, of course, thoroughly sterilized in Barbicide before they are sent out to customers.

So what shave-tested means to me is that a knowledgable human being has actually shaved with the razor.  Trust me, there are no people at even the finest commercial razor factories that are actually shaving with every razor before they ship.

So now that you have some knowledge, you know what questions to ask the folks that want to sell you a razor.  If they react defensively or evasively, move one to another seller.  Anyone worth their salt will be pleased to show off their pre-sales preparations.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tips For Successful Shaving - One "Do" And One "Don't"

The list of Do's and Don't is straight razor shaving can be somewhat lengthy.  At least at the beginning, straight razor shaving is a rather involved process.  So rather than throw everything at you at once, I've decided to break it up into bite-sized morsels, of which this is the first.

DO strop your razor before shaving. 

Keep in mind that you are NOT sharpening the edge, merely smoothing it out for your shave.  Remember that a stroke on the strop is NOT the same as a stroke on a hone.  You hone with the blade going towards you and you strop with the spine leading.  Strop blade first and two things are going to happen: 1) You will go online to buy another strop to replace the one you just destroyed; 2) You may be sending your razor back for a re-hone.  At the very least, you will be making premature use of your barbers hone.  Further, you want to just rest the razor flat against the strop.  Don’t press it down or you will actually bend your edge, resulting in a trip back to the hones.  Although experienced stroppers can do it rather quickly, speed usually means disaster for the beginner. So start slow and gentle.  Sound familiar guys?

It is not a bad idea to practice with a butter knife or tongue depressor to get the right stroke.  Even better would be to use a dulled razor from Pakistan – they aren’t good for much else as far as shaving goes, but they are the correct shape and weight for practice.  How long do you strop for?  Good question.  The answer is that I can’t tell you, but with practice you will be able to feel when a razor needs stropping.  You might want to start with 30 strokes (back and forth = one stroke) before shaving.  If you have received the razor from a competent honemeister, don’t strop it at all to start with – you will want to feel at least one shave with a properly prepared blade before you go and screw it up.

DON’T move your razor laterally (sideways) on your face.

Unless you really want that impressive scar and copious amounts of blood on the floor.  I’m serious about this.  Don’t do it –EVER.  Your face is not a meatloaf, but it will look like one if you move your razor left or right.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Question: What Is The Most Valuable Pennsylvania-Made Razor?

I received this question today from a friend of mine.  It's a very tough question to answer.  You see, there were SO many "mom and pop" razor companies (most of them importing, but some of them manufacturing), some of which went in and out of business the same year, it is impossible to tell who might have made the "rarest" razor.  I'm sure there are hundreds of companies overall (and dozens in PA in particular) for which there are only a couple of surviving razors left.  For example, I have a razor made by "Pennsylvania Farmer Philadelphia."  I don't know how many razors they made. I cannot find any reference to them anywhere.  It could very well be the rarest razor on earth....or someone could have a box on them in their basement that will come out someday.  Keep in mind that "rare" (meaning something of which there are very few) does not always equal valuable.  Often, it is the items that are NOT rare that are valuable because people are more familiar with them. With regards to PA companies, you had Case, Queen, Schatt & Morgan, even Wade & Butcher had a factory at the "Philadelphia Works."   There are others as well.  Since these names are well known, and there aren't a TON of their razors on the market, they tend to fetch high prices. And even with familiarity and scarcity, I am often surprised (either positively or negatively) at the price that a particular razor sells for.

All of that said, I would congratulate the writer and all those other folks out there who choose to have a theme for their collections.  Since I am a dealer, I buy almost everything to sell to collectors.  That is not a good idea for the collector, unless they want to end up on that "hoarder" show on Cable.  Sit down with yourself and select a goal for your collection.  It can be by state, maker, blade type (my choice would be "cleavers"), scale design, era, country, tang stamp, pin material or scale material.  By making this sort of choice, you will end up with a more enjoyable, coherent and valuable collection.  However, don't neglect the task of creating a handsome washroom.  In mine I have a collection of shaving mugs, around 15 old shaving brushes, barbers bottles, a few strops, a Barbicide bottle with blue Barbicide solution in it....hell I would have bought an old Koken "President" barber's chair and put it in there, but the wife won't let me rip out the tub.

Alas, such are the compromises the razor enthusiast must make.

A Word To The Salon/Barbershop Owner...

 Running a profitable barber shop or salon is a tough way to make a living. There is a lot of competition and you need to differentiate yourself from the competition. A great way to do this is by giving traditional straight razor shaves. Do the whole thing - hot towels, real shave soap, a nice shave brush and a few fine VINTAGE razors. There is a reason for this I will mention in a minute. The customer will leave more relaxed and you may have just become their barber for life. And with places like The Art of Shaving charging over $50 a shave, anything you charge will be a bargain.

Back to the vintage razors. Another source of income for you can be the sale of fine, professionally honed, vintage straight and double-edge razors. The Vintage Shaving Shoppe, LLC. typically sells directly to collectors, but we would be happy to work with you to make these fine razors available to your clients. And because we have no minimum number of razors you have to buy, you can start out with just a few while you begin to gain confidence in this new source of revenue. As we are one of the world's largest buyers of straight razors, so you can be assured that if you need more, we will have them in stock. Since we also provide honing services, you can collect your customer's razors and send them to use for honing - we will send them back shave-ready.

We are also steadily increasing our stock of Barberania (yes, it is a word) - vintage shaving items that like old shaving mugs, strops, brushes, vintage photos and more. You can sell these items or use them to create the atmosphere of an old-time barber shop.

Want to know more, email me at, I would be happy to discuss how to bring traditional wet-shaving to your establishment.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Razor Preserving or Razor Revising?

Few topics seem to be as controversial in the razor collecting community as razor "restoration." Restoration - now that is a loaded word. It can mean anything from replacing a broken pin to completely regrinding the blade. The absolute purist collectors take a dim view of doing practically anything to a vintage or antique razor, with even a light cleaning being out of the question. On the other side are those who focus purely on aesthetics. The folks in this camp (whom I call the “Razor Revisers”) don't care of you have a 200 year old razor; they will happily put it to the grinding wheel and then buff it up to look like it was made yesterday (which, in my opinion, it was) and add a fresh set of scales - yet they still call it a Wade & Butcher, Henckels, Wolstenhom, etc. I do not believe that a razor which has been subject to this kind of work can be placed in any historical context. It is a new, and in many cases, beautiful new crafted razor that was based on an old blade.

While there is merit on both sides of the argument, I have a distinct personal leaning towards the preservation as opposed to renovation.

When I was new to razors, I have to admit that I went out, got a grinder, compounds, wheels - the whole shebang. I loved making those blades gleam. Cost me a lot of money too. But as I began to purchase more and more razors, I had an epiphany - by striving for the perfect mirror finished blade, I might be doing something more than the original maker had done and thus, risked creating new razors out of old ones. In reality, only the most expensive razors had mirror finishes. Why? They cost a lot more to make - mirror finishing required more man hours, more machine and hand-finishing time. So, if I took the time on one of these old razors to make a mirror finished blade, I could no longer claim it was what it started out to be. So now the buffer lays silent nearly all the time.

The way I look at things now (and the way I practice when I buy a razor) is that a razor was subject to daily use and should have had daily maintenance. Cleaning with soap and water, oiling to keep rust off, stropping and honing. These to me are all legitimate ways of treating vintage razors. If you have an old razor and the patina is unattractive and you would like to remove it, I would go no further than Maas or Flitz on a soft cloth. Beyond that and you are treading on dangerous ground, better know what you are doing and inform the buyer (if you sell) if you done ANYTHING that materially changes the razor. Personally, I consider rust, corrosion, dirt removal and polishing to be legitimate practices SO LONG AS YOU DO NOT GO BELOW THE ORIGINAL BLADE SURFACE. This protects the integrity of the blade as it was originally created. So, for me, things like sanding or grinding out a pit or corrosion spot are both off-limits. When attempting to remove rust, for example, be VERY cautious about how you do it. Corrosive substances like Naval Jelly are hard to control and highly destructive to metal - they tend to go too far. There are other products and methods which are better and safer.

Well, I could write a book on this but what I really wanted to do was to give you my point of view and what we do here at The Vintage Shaving Shoppe. This way, you will know what you are buying and perhaps be a bit better informed as a customer. Feel free to chime in on the discussion!

How Much Should I Pay For My Vintage, Shave-Ready Razor?

This is a question I get asked frequently. And if you are looking for answers, forget about eBay - the uninformed buying going on there is legendary.  Let's just deal with the basics for now - a common vintage razor, from Solingen Germany or Sheffield England.  It has plain black celluloid or Bakelite scales.  It has a 4/8 or 5/8 blade which is hollow ground.  It has no rust or corrosion, although there may be some old pitting or other imperfections, but because it is shave-ready, none are allowed to affect the edge.

A basic razor of the variety indicated above should, in my opinion, sell for a minimum of $60-$70.  If that seems high to you, consider that the common everyday modern equivalent, a razor like the "Dovo Carbon Steel Half Hollow Best Quality Razor, 5/8" Black Handle" sells for $74.95 on  And while a new Dovo is a good razor, I would not consider it shave-ready, although it certainly comes sharp.  The term "shave-ready" means that not only can the razor cut hair, but that it will give you a close, comfortable shave.  This can only be attained by experienced hands using a combination of stones and strops and then a shave-test (yes, one actually needs to SHAVE with the razor to ensure it is fit for service) before it is sent to the customer.  So if you wanted that Dovo to be shave ready, you would have to add around $20 to that price, which is roughly what it would cost to send that new Dovo out for a proper honing.  Plus, you would have the inconvenience of having to wait for it to be done.  And if you are like me, the idea of waiting another week to get that razor into service is unthinkable.

You might also want to consider that the 70+ year old straight razor is a collectible as well as a shaving implement.  Personally, I love the idea of shaving with old razors from Germany, England and the United States of America - the older the better.  These razors were not made as novelties - as most modern straight razors are; but as practical instruments used by men all over the world. Your great grandfather used one, as did mine.  For me, new razors simply do not have the sense of history that I crave.  You might feel differently.  And if you do, you will find yourself shopping elsewhere.

A seller of shave-ready vintage and antique straight razors, like me, has to:
  • Buy the razor; 
  • Store the razor;
  • Determine if it CAN be made shave ready (remember, nicks or corrosion at the edge mean that the razor cannot be used);
  • Remove old "gunk", rust and whatever else may be stuck to the razor or scales;
  • Hone the razor to shave-readiness;
  • Sterilize the blade (for me);
  • Shave test the razor.  If it doesn't pass, it goes back to the hones for more work;
  • Sterilize the blade again (for you);
  • Photograph the razor and write a description (around 1/2 hours work);
  • Sell it, paying all the fees associated with doing so;
  • Ship it to you.
So if an honest seller cannot get at least $60-$70 for a common, shave ready razor, doing all of the above becomes unaffordable. The result: you don't get your classic, straight-razor shave.

Now tell me...what Gentleman can live with that?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Some Inspiration

I usually "treat" my attacks of insomnia by working - sometimes all night long, either learning something new in technology or doing one of the many things that there are to be done with razors.  But I decided to take a break tonight and just watch a movie - "The Blind Side."  As you probably know, even if you haven't seen the film, it won several Academy Awards - most notably the one by Sandra Bullock for Best Actress.  It was on that basis that I decided to take 128 minutes of my time and spend it on this movie.  Those minutes were not wasted - it was one of the finest films I have ever seen.

I am not going to ruin the film for you by telling you all about it.  It is something you should definitely see.  But there were some beautiful lessons to be learned from it that have nothing at all to do with razors and everything to do with how to live a fulfilling life.

This is a word that is used so frequently that it has almost lost its simple eloquence.  Every charity wants you to give your money, employers want you to give your time, your children want you to give them a ride.  Your wife wants you to give her a hand with the housework.  These are all very important ways of giving and all have their place in our lives.  In the movie, the sanctity of giving is celebrated by the act of a family giving a place in their lives and home, not to a cute three year old child, but to a hulking, silent, seemingly slow teenager who, being African American, stood out like a bug on a plate in a wealthy lily-white suburb of the deep South.  This extremely wealthy family, fronted by the mother (played by Sandra Bullock in the movie), had every reason in the world to ignore this boy when they first encountered him on the street on a cold night.  Instead, they took him home and gave him a place to sleep - just for one night.  That one night became two, then three, then thirty.  Almost imperceptibly, Michael Oher truly became a thoroughly loved, permanent member of this family.  In the process, Michael achieved the potential that, sadly, many children are denied through lack of support, resources and simply the lack of people who will believe in them and never give up.

"Taking" is not anywhere near as popular a word as "giving."  On its face, it reeks of selfishness, greed and ingratitude. I would argue that taking is just as important as giving - if not more so. Judaism holds that giving is an obligation of every individual.  This is certainly not exclusive to the Jewish faith, but it is the one I know best.  At its highest level, the recipient is doing a great favor for the giver.  Without someone to take, there is nothing to give.  Without the ability to give, one's life is reduced to something very small and insignificant.  We would be all made misers without people who will do us the kindness of taking.  This was no more evident than in The Blind Side.  Michael Oher was not comfortable with taking.  In fact, the simple gift of a couch, pillow and blanket for a single night almost had to be forced on him by a wealthy white woman about half his size.  Reluctantly he accepted and continued to accept their assistance, very reluctantly, for quite a long time.  You see, Michael was not the stereotypical "taker" that we often demonize in our society - the unwashed masses reaching into our pockets with their greedy hands to take what is "owed" them.  While these people certainly exist, they are, I believe, a small number of those who are in need.  Like the child in the story, they look at "charity" as something shameful - wanting not a handout, but simply a hand up.

By taking from this family of exceptionally good people, Michael Oher enriched their lives just as much as his was enriched by the love, patience and resources they gave him.

The importance of this film and why you should see it, is that it so effectively addresses both of these sides of the human equation.  You will find out what happened to Michael by watching the movie, or perhaps you already know.  But I submit that his ultimate level of success, as most of us define it, is of little importance. What is most significant, is that by both giving and taking, many lives were forever illuminated, including those who are touched by this important film.

101 Ways To Collect

I just want to say a few words on the many ways there are to collect Barberania (yes, it's a word). Straight razors are included in the category, so are shaving mugs, old soaps, containers, signs, barber chairs, even some old dental equipment. I think people enjoy collecting so much more when they surround their central items with interesting things that go along with it. It enhances the experience. But this week I am going to focus on straight razors.

Not everyone can afford to buy the best and finest razors out there. Items like the "Holy" razor in my museum category are over 200 years old and very rare. There are other ways to collect that are more affordable and, in my opinion, very much overlooked. One of the great things about straight razors is that there were SO many manufacturers of them - considerably more than there were manufacturers of scales and, in most cases, the people making the blade did not make the scales or even necessarily assemble the razor for that matter. When you buy as many razors as I do, you find yourself seeing thousands of different blade makers, but the same scales again and again. So this starts the first of my 101 ways to collect (I do have more than 101, but I'm just going to give a few to get you thinking):

Focus a collection on scale designs (the way they look) or materials (horn, bone, ivory, metal, Bakelite, celluloid or plastic.

Collect shanks/tangs with the manufacturers name on them. It doesn't even matter if the blade is cracked or shortened. You will get some great deals on these.

Collect blade etchings - the blades with designs on them. This one can get expensive, especially if you get nice ones, but there are so many designs out there, it would be a great deal of fun. You don't even need blades that have scales to do this and you could llive with a razor whose blade is too chipped to shave with.

Collect a particular manufacturer. Try to get all of their designs. If possible, get one of their catalogs from the period. If you are going to collect Wade & Butchers, Filarmonica's (ugly, in my opinion) or Dubl Ducks, you are going to shell out big money - especially for nice ones. But you can find a wealth of other manufacturers and razors that are not pristine and still build up a very interesting collection.

Don't forget the box! My prediction for the future is that ORIGINAL boxes in great condition are, in some cases, going to be worth more than the razors they hold. Trust me, really nice boxes are MUCH rarer than nice razors. One day the market will wake up to this fact and then it may be too late for you. If you have a really nice razor and would like an original box for it, contact me and I will see what I have.

Well, that's it for this week. I hope you found some inspiration in these ideas. You don't have to spend yourself into poverty to enjoy this wonderful hobby.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Do You Have Razors To Sell?

 The Vintage Shaving Shoppe, in addition to selling fine vintage razors is an ENTHUSIASTIC buyer of all vintage straight razors, double-edged razors and vintage shaving items. Whether you need extra cash or would simply like to trade razors that you have for the razors you REALLY want, we provide immediate cash for your items. For more information, send us a message at

Some Valuable Insights For The First-Time Shaver

No matter how much you prepare your beard, hone your razor or spend on shave soap, you will bleed during your first few shaves.  Why?  Well for starters, you are exfoliating – not in the girly way some guys do with a scented apricot facial scrub, but with the sharpest blade you have ever held to your face.  You will shear off every bump and imperfection on your face.  Don’t let that get you down – it’s actually a good thing.  As long as you keep your face clean after you sop up the blood.

Buy yourself some styptic pencils.  One will probably do just fine, but they are cheap and if you have just one, it will almost certainly fall from your bathroom shelf and shatter on the floor at just the moment that you need it the most – when you are trying to seal that small but copiously bleeding hole in your face where that pimple used to be.  That is not the time to be groping for shards of styptic on your tile floor as you create a work of art in red that would do Jackson Pollack proud.  Your significant other will be quite upset with you.  Before using the styptic, make sure the areas is clean and as dry as possible.  Wet the pencil slightly and hold it over the bleeding area.  I have found that leaving some of the styptic powder over the wound is helpful.
Keep a towel (or a few of them) set aside for shaving.  My personal recommendation for color is red or black.  This way, if you are dumb enough to leave it there for the wife or girlfriend to find, they just may not notice that the towel is dotted or smeared with your blood.  That is, unless the blood is still fresh and they use it for a facial towel after washing their face.  In this case, do not be alarmed by their shrieks of terror when they take that one last glance back in the mirror before starting their day.

Using bits of toilet paper as a means of stopping the bleeding is a suburban legend – it may stop the bleeding while it is applied, but pull it off (as you must, because it looks really stupid) and you will find that the scab that sealed the wound is pulled off with the paper leaving you right back where you started from – except this time, you aren’t in your bathroom in your boxers, you are about to go into an important meeting wearing a white shirt.

You will find it useful to have some good manly stories of how you got all cut up.  Fights over a woman’s honor are always good (particularly if the listener is a woman).  If you are facing inquiry from one or more men, you received your injuries in combat.  Your opponents can be members of the other team’s fans, the car, a chainsaw or a swarm of angry insects.  If however, you know that the listener is a fellow wet-shaver, you can simply tell them the truth.  Trust me, they will not laugh at your – except perhaps in sympathy.
After the first several shaves, something remarkable will happen.  You will find yourself bleeding less.  More than likely, you skin will have also improved in both texture and clarity.  Your skin is being conditioned to daily exfoliation by cold, hard steel.
How do you know when your razor is dull?  That may be a tough question to answer for the fledgling wet shaver.  Why?  Because “sharp” is all relative.  A razor that you have dulled by shaving is still sharper than the sharpest kitchen knife.  A dull straight razor can cut paper like butter.  A dull razor can, and is actually more likely to cut your face than a sharp razor.  But wait, you say, how can a dull razor be more hazardous than a sharp one?  The reason is that a properly sharp razor when used at the proper angle on your face will easily cut THROUGH your facial hair.  A dull razor is more likely to CATCH on your hair rather than slice through it.  The result is either a tiny lateral (side to side) movement of the razor on your skin, or the tendency of the razor to “dive” into your skin – either can produce an impressive wound.  After some time using the razor, you will get a sense in your first stroke or two if the razor is dull.  If it is just a bit dull, it’s time to break out your trusty barbers hone.  Stropping doesn’t actually sharpen your razor but rather removes the harsh edge left by honing and use.  The barbers hone (also known as a touch up hone) is designed to refresh the edge of a razor that has become dull with use.

So get cutting and look for more postings!

My Very First Blog Posting!

If you are reading this, I welcome you and invite you to become a charter member and active participant in my blog.  This blog will be much less a sales/marketing tool and more a forum for opinions and exchanging information about the wonderful world of wet-shaving.  The Vintage Shaving Shoppe, LLC., of which I am the sole owner, is a leading seller of antique and vintage straight razors and Barberania (yes, it is a word!) which refers to the collecting of anything having to do with the history of shaving and the profession of barbers.  In addition to our website (which currently is our eBay store), we have a Facebook page on which I post new discoveries and other errata.  There may be some overlap between my blog and Facebook page - although I will try to keep all of my most interesting information on here.

One day last December, I got it into my head that I needed a way to slow myself down.  I am, by nature, a very busy person and left to my own devices, I would be active 24 hours a day.  So I gave it a bit of thought and VOILA - what better way to slow myself down than to put a deadly instrument to my throat on a daily basis!  I soon was researching straight razors and bought my very first - a Dovo "Best" off of Amazon - along with a puck of rather expensive shave soap (silly in retrospect) and a Pure Badger brush.

I washed my face and even went to the trouble of moistening towels and placing them in the microwave (not recommended) to give myself the full “barber shop” treatment.  I had heard that beard preparation is important and I did my very best to make sure that the hairs on my face would easily give way to the scythe-like blade. 

It was a bloodbath.

But if Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson could dry shave with a piece of broken glass using the bottom of a tin pan for a mirror, I certainly was not going to give up on my first try armed with far superior equipment.

That first shave, as well as the shaves that followed it for a few weeks thereafter, provided me with lessons that will be of great value to you as you start on this great adventure.  They have also taught me some very important Do’s and Don’ts that I will pass on to you in future blog postings.

And yes, it did teach me to slow down.