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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

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.

1 comment:

  1. ill have me a cleaver one day! when i do ill post my pics here first!