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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pins Are Important

Removing pins for the purpose of cleaning is absolutely forbidden in our shop, as the original pin cannot be re-installed. We, on rare occasion, replace broken scales with ones from the same era and style, but this is infrequent because we must wait, sometimes years, for a set of scales that match. We DO NOT manufacture new scales - ever.  In those cases, we retain as much of the original fastening hardware as possible, including washers and collars.  Some pin replacements are easy to detect.  You should look for:
  • Top and bottom pins that are made of different materials (most common are brass and nickel silver)
  • Pins using flat external washers
  • Pins that look different from one another, even if they are the same material (this is not a guarantee of a replaced pin, just suspicious)
It is here that I should mention something happened frequently in the life of an old razor.  Antique razors, particularly early ones, tended to be expensive (imagine spending several days wages on a razor today). So the owner did not simply throw them away if something happened to the scales or one of the pins.  It was common for a pin to be replaced, generally with a common nail, so that the razor could continue to be used.  I find this a fascinating practice and one could build an impressive collection of such period replacements.  When we encounter razors like this, we leave them with the improvised pin.
Why does it matter when the razor is removed from the scales?  The main reason is that you can no longer be sure that the razor was original to those scales.  The scales can be a vital clue to a razors age and identity.  Replacing scales with a model never used on that razor cheats history by creating a "fantasy" piece - not a genuine collectible.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Late Night Thoughts On Old Straight Razors...A Ghost Story.

Have you ever just sat down and looked closely at a straight razor which you know hasn't seen the light of day in a century?

This is an experience I have quite often.  And looking at these old razor I sometimes feel that I can see flashes of the former owners reflected in the blades.

You could tell the folks who were in a hurry to get their shave - they tended to "lean" on the razor when honing, placing their finger on the tip of the spine as they ran the blade over the stone. Over time, of course, that part of the razor tended to be overhoned, leaving the razor narrower at the tip than the rest of the blade.  Then there is "the brute" who seemed to feel that extreme force exerted at the center of the razor would "force" the blade sharp - leaving the telltale overhoned center on the spine and, eventually a "frown" on the blade. 

Then there is the well-worn blade which is much narrower than it used to be; the hone wear is extensive but even.  Here is the sign of a man who used and loved his razor and maybe even passed it down to his son, who put yet more honest wear on it.  Then, probably around the end of WWI, it was abandoned and sat unnoticed in a drawer for decades before finally finding its way into my hands.

Maybe I am overly romanticizing a simple instrument for cutting facial hair.  But it is thoughts like these that find me generally opposed to the "extreme makeover" that seems to be so popular these days.  Actions like replacing old, structurally sound horn scales with new materials like Micarta and heavily regrinding pitted blades, just seem to take the spirit out of these once dearly loved items.

And perhaps the screaming noises we hear when putting an old razor to the grinder aren't all the mere sounds of metal giving way to rock. Or maybe it is just our imaginations running away with us in the cool, dark cellar.

Something to think about when we put that blade to our throats in the morning.

Pleasant dreams :-)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Going...Going...Gone! Straight Razors Rapidly Vanishing.

Take it from me, someone who looks just about everywhere for razors - they are disappearing from all markets at an alarming rate.  Several years ago, you could go to a flea market, garage sale or antique shop and find some pretty nice straight razors virtually by the boxful - sort of like you can today with common pocket knives.  This is a burning hot market folks!  When I visit antique stores, indoor and outdoor markets all over the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, I'm finding very little material of ANY quality. I'm not even finding razors at unreasonable prices.  The last weekend I spent looking yielded just ONE razor - and it wasn't anything impressive.

The bad news is that those of you who haven't been buying have missed the "ground floor" opportunity to buy nice razors cheaply. The good news is that with availability low, values are just going to increase.  So look for and buy the very best examples you can find (originals, not the "rescales" or reground blades) - even if you have to pay more than you ever have before.  Wet shaving and straight razor collecting is growing.  Even the DE razor market, which used to be completely dead (you could easily find Gillette "Fat Boys" for a couple of dollars.) is red hot.  Mark my words - we haven't come close to seeing the top of this market.  If you are an investor, buy now and put a lot of money in your pocket later. If you are a collector, buy the things you love while you can  - your opportunities are shrinking. 

In the meantime, I will, as always, keep my eyes open for all of you - picking up both the good and the common stuff when I can.