A guide to buying and caring for vintage razors.

#1
Here is a quick guide for newbies, and not so newbies on what to look for when buying vintage razors and how to take care of them.
In this we'll take vintage Gillettes as an example, but this applies to other razors too. (keep in mind that not all razors still have blades available for them)

The one thing that will be a deciding factor will be quality, a good quality vintage razor is often 30-60 years old, and with proper care, can last at least another 50 years, so don't let the price difference of a few pounds be the deciding factor.


Different parts and their names. (TTO)


Different parts and their names. (3 piece/Tech)

The head
This is the most important part of a razor, as it's the part that will touch your face and holds the blade. The things to watch out for are:
- Excessive (and especially "rough") plate loss
- Bent guard bars (this is the hardest to spot, and even a slight misalignment can make your razor unusuable)
- The blade gap (distance between the blade and the guard bar), should be even and identical on both sides.
- On TTO razors the head is comprised of 2 "Silo doors"


Blade gap on a rocket.


A very roughly worn head, plating loss is not smooth, and thus this is one for the bin.


Plate loss on the bottom of the head (fairly common).

TTO mechanism
Superspeeds, Rockets, Slims and Fatboys (and a lot of other vintage Gillettes) have TTO mechanisms, they allow proper loading of a blade by twisting the knob on the handle of the razor.
The mechanism should be smooth and even, the doors of the razor should open evenly and without effort.
A common occurance can be "lazy doors", this can be fixed with the right tools and knowhow, but it often means the razor has been dropped, and thus other damage maybe done, and you should check the razor for other problems. (see guard bars above)

Adjustables
Gillette adjustables are in general fairly robust, but the adjusting mechanism can be worn out, and is not repairable. (or not easily/worth it)
The mechanism should click smoothly on all setting with the TTO head open.
Although Gillette does not mention releasing the TTO mechanism when changing settings on an adjustable, this is probably the best way to change setting as it avoids putting strain on the whole assembly.
Blade gap should be checked on a few settings, I reccomend 1-5-9, it should be even accross the range. This can only be checked with a blade inserted.
If you want to go to the extreme, you can use a feeler gauge to measure exact blade gap. (these vary even from one razor to another, i.e. a 7 on one fatboy might be an 8 on another)


A fully restored 1960 Fatboy adjustable.


Instructions leaflet for an adjustable

Quality
In general a properly restored razor has been checked on all previous (and more) points, and can subsequently be "graded".
All razors should work perfectly and show no sign of "abuse".
Plating loss will not affect the shave. (but might spoil the "enjoyment" for some)
The different grades: (not everyone grades the same way)
Shaver grade - This is a razor that meets all mechanical requirements for a good shave, but lacks plating/numbering etc.
Good - This is a razor that shows signs of wear, and sometimes even some minor plate loss.
Very Good - Normal wear, no visible plate loss.
Mint - Less than normal wear, no plate loss.
NOS - Basicly a razor that has never been used.

Identifying years of manufacture
All US razors from 1951 onwards have "date codes"
These go as follows: letter + quarter.
The years:

  • 1951 W - 1952 X - 1953 Y - 1954 Z - 1955 A - 1956 B - 1957 C
    1958 D - 1959 E - 1960 F - 1961 G - 1962 H - 1963 I - 1964 J
    1965 K - 1966 L - 1967 M - 1968 N - 1969 O - 1970 P - 1971 R
    1972 S - 1973 T - 1974 U - 1975 V - 1976 W - 1977 X - 1978 Y
    1979 Z (and it goes on like that)
The quarters:

  • 1 = jan/feb/march
    2 = apr/may/jun
    3= jul/aug/sep
    4 = oct/nov/dec
i.e. Z-3 = third quarter of 1954
As you can see, the letter Q has been omitted from this list. Q code razors have been manufactured, and are from 1971.
Due to similarity to O codes, this idea was quickly scrapped, and Gillette moved to R for 1971.
The only Q code razors are Q-1
Older razors are more difficult to identify, and some can only be narrowed down to a few years.



NOS travel tech (3 piece), still with cardboard "blade".


Sheraton, one of the early razors that wasn't plated, and as such can not suffer from plate loss.

Keeping a vintage razor in good condition.
The fact that the razor you own/buy has survived the last 50 years means it's probably one of the better ones made, as we can presume the bad ones have been thrown away many years ago.
Razors get dirty, it's a fact, and unless you grow a beard, there is nothing you can do about it.
There have been a lot of questions on cleaning a vintage razor, I won't go into the whole restoring part, as that is another topic, but more the daily/weekly maintenance to keep it nice. If you've bought it from someone on the forum, ask if it has been properly disinfected, if in doubt, disinfect it yourself.
There is no need to go to extremes in disinfecting, if the razor has no "residue" on it, the metal is a hostile enviroment for germs and bacteria, and most will not last more than a few hours, your razor will be "dirtier" after a day in you bathroom, than it was when you got it.

This is my recommendation, adapt it to your own habits;
- After every shave
Open the TTO mechanism and run it under the tap, you can remove the blade, but it is not essential.
- When changing a blade
Once the old blade removed, you can clean the razor with an old toothbrush and some washing up liquid. (or anything else you have on hand, i.e. shampoo/shower gel)
- After each pack of blades
Soak the razor in 1/3 white vinegar and 2/3 hot water, add a dash of washing up liquid.
If you are changing razors more often, then I would recommend cleaning the razor properly before putting it away and using a different one.
If you have a rotation, it might be a while before you use it again.

Storing a razor.
I recommend keeping a TTO razor stored with the mechanism just closed, but not tight, as it will be strained unnecessarily.
3 piece razors should be stored disassembled if it doesn't contain a blade.
(wich will allow it to dry better)
Of course, you don't need to do this if you plan on using it again the next day.

Hope this guide will be useful for those wanting to use vintage razors.

Now the important part, where to buy?

Where to buy?

Several option depending on the risk you want to take, and the time/money you want to spend.
  • BST The BST section on this forum is a good place to look for a nice vintage razor in good condition, I have dealt with a lot of people on here, and 99.9% are a honest bunch, and you won't end up with something that's unusable.
  • eBay eBay is still a source for a lot of us, the only problem is that it's often a hit or miss, you find that aristocrat gem at a couple of quid that cleaned up perfectly, and then you buy a Fatboy that looks perfect, and ends up having a bent guard bar. For those new to the game, my advice, avoid eBay to start with, buy something that you know will be good.
  • Online vendors A few online vendors sell vintage restored and even replated razors, prices are in general higher than current BST/eBay prices, but it's another no-hassle way to go if you don't mind the premium.
  • Us Who are "we"?, a few people on this forum, myself included restore vintage razors for the fun of it, and we've got some good experience in knowing what will clean up (and how), and what needs to be chucked. Restoring a vintage razor can take anything from 15min to a couple of hours, but you'll get a quality razor below eBay/online vendor prices.

So if you're looking for anything specific, be it a razor, or a specific year/quarter, let us know, and we'll try and find it.

Any things I've forgotten or questions, please let me know, and I'll add it.
For more specific questions on a particular razor, you can contact me through PM, and I'll try and help.

Happy Shaving! :D

Max
 
#12
FrenchBlade said:
hunnymonster said:
Be superb in the Wiki this :)
I'm having problems with editing the wiki, something about permissions, I didn't pursue it.

But if you can fix it, I'm all for it :D

Max
Can't see any reason for you not to be able to create a page... editing the main page is a slightly different kettle of fish (protected to stop spamming bastards editing it)
 
#13
hunnymonster said:
FrenchBlade said:
hunnymonster said:
Be superb in the Wiki this :)
I'm having problems with editing the wiki, something about permissions, I didn't pursue it.

But if you can fix it, I'm all for it :D

Max
Can't see any reason for you not to be able to create a page... editing the main page is a slightly different kettle of fish (protected to stop spamming bastards editing it)
I'll create a page if you want, but I'm no good at posting photos in there.:blush:
 
#14
chrisbell said:
hunnymonster said:
FrenchBlade said:
hunnymonster said:
Be superb in the Wiki this :)
I'm having problems with editing the wiki, something about permissions, I didn't pursue it.

But if you can fix it, I'm all for it :D

Max
Can't see any reason for you not to be able to create a page... editing the main page is a slightly different kettle of fish (protected to stop spamming bastards editing it)
I'll create a page if you want, but I'm no good at posting photos in there.:blush:
I'll give it another try later on...

Max
 
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