Over the years, man has used various tools of different shapes and sizes to shave. But shaving tool design and effectiveness nowadays are far better compared to yester year’s tools. One of those tools is straight razors. While it may look like a simple tool, many people don’t realize the stages of changes it has gone through to be what it is today.
Anyone who’s particularly careful about the type of straight razor they choose should first learn a brief history of this simple tool.
At least, this will hint about the changes experienced over the years before getting to the current designs.
1500 to 1600
From 1500 to 1600, the razors were not inscribed with the designer’s name or branding.
The earlier design was devoid of many aspects and probably was made by the local blacksmith.
It is hard to imagine how the shaving process was back then, and though they widely used them, most men preferred to grow out their beards.
The razors had a hatchet design. Of course this type of design made them hard to use and clunky. It wasn’t until the 1800’s when the improved design started to gain popularity.
1700 to 1800
The shaving tool had slight development in this period improved upon the earlier version in that the blade, and the handle were designed in a wedge shape.
Around the blade area, it was broader than the pivot.
The blades’ design had no holding part known as “tang” and most of them were devoid of the monkey tail (the curved part at the end of the holder). But if the makers put monkey tail, it was short and thick.
The types of handle used back then were designed from wood, horn, bone, and others used ivory and tortoiseshell.
The handles were not curved; instead, they had a flat surface. And only a few handles (known as scales) were designed with a slanting shape.
Most razors handle at the pin area used iron, but sometimes the brass would do the work.
Starting 1740 to the 1830’s some of the new designs back then would be inscribed with words ‘cast steel’ or ‘warranted’ to signify the metal was used before. Robert Huntsman of Sheffield in 1740 devised the metals.
1800 to 1820
Very few changes happened to the improvement of the razor, though it was a bit better. At least, the blade shoulder was a little bit raised, but they reduced the overall size.
A slight curve appeared on the scales, deviating from the earlier straight handles. Also, the handles had various decorations made from horns.
1820 to 1830
The difference in razor design happened between this period when Michael Faraday discovered ‘silver steel’.
It wasn’t much of a difference, but it changed the steel’s appearance after adding 0.02% of silver to 99.98% of steel.
The hollow grinding started to appear in 1825, though the final stage was realized after 60 years of several transformations.
After some time, Jimps were introduced on both sides of the tang to help with grip. During this period, razors with bladed wedge appeared and had marks showing ‘for barbers use’ or ‘improved silver steel’; however, they used them for only 10-years.
Around this time, English designers began inscribing monarch signatures to the razors. It consisted of the crown with monarch initials as brackets. For instance, ‘P (crown) S’ used to represent ‘Peter Smith’. These signs on razors used to represent the monarch period of reign.
1830 to 1840
The blade part and the holder improved to some degree during this period.
Both etched and notched blades were devised and cast steel slowly was entirely replaced by silver steel.
During this period blade slogans such as ‘The Celebrated Razor’ and ‘Old English’ emerged.
Handles that were designed with horns used to have slogans inscribed on them, while the scales this time had a better-looking bow shape.
1840 to 1850
Things were getting better for the straight razor as photo etching was now a popular idea on wedge blades.
They used a method known as ‘penning’ whereby scales were patterned using silver pins.
Others could use hundreds of pins which was a complex process to create the patterns.
But for common handles, they were designed using horn and bone. This improved razor idea continued until 1860’s.
1850 to 1870
People regard this as the golden period of the wedge razor.
Spectacular etched blades started around this period, and producing companies would inscribe their names on the blade spine and the tang.
More materials to create handles were available such as bone, ivory, and horn decorated using silver.
Also, makers introduced the use of precious stones to make very outstanding beautiful designs.
In 1868, celluloid use in making scales was a defining moment that created a momentum of razor designs of all shapes.
During this period, the invention of ‘frameback’ razor brought signs of a more effective shaving tool.
The frame back razor came with a blade using a heavy spine and non-removable thinnest blade that quickly gained popularity.
1870 to 1880
As more razor designs advanced with time, this period saw the popularity of celluloid handles soar.
It was easier to come up with several designs, probably due to the versatility of the material.
It was during this period use of wedge-shaped blades began to diminish.
1880 to 1900
This period machine forged blades were the common designs.
They were stamped on the blades with ‘’hand-made’ or ‘hand-forged’ similar to the style used by earlier makers.
The new design had hollow ground blades that were etched to look like the older designs of wedge blades, plus they used gold wash processes to enhance their appearance.
1900 to 1920
By this time, celluloid was only used to make scales.
It is during this time plastic design known as ‘bakelite’ was introduced in the market.
The hollow ground blade design was very popular at this time, and come in 1914, a company owned by J. A. Henckels provided around sixteen diverse degrees of blade profile. They designed from full wedge designs to extreme hollow ground plus 4-blade with their end shapes in 10-blade depths going from 3/8” to 8/8”.
During this period, straight razors were very popular until knife manufacturers decided to incorporate them into their product lines.
Makers designed more sophisticated designs of straight razors; it became a desirable fine art.
Through this popular wave, it caused the majority of US manufacturers to lose out to their European counterpart as a result of more fashionable designs. Buyers preferred fancier and trending designs.
These straight razors’ designs have held their ground to date, and now more men prefer them for their daily shave.