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 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.