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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.

1 comment:

  1. hey john i have seen entire collections of razors
    displayed in glass cases without handles at all.

    some folks collect the blades only.just thought i would point it out.-peter