Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Super Speed 201: Variants

In Super Speed 101, we went pretty well in-depth with the evolution of the venerable Super Speed. Let's now dig a little deeper into variants of the same models, starting with the grand-daddy, the Ranger Tech.

I'm still a bit fuzzy myself about the first RT, the Milord, in that it's sometimes listed as a 1940 and not 1941 like the RT that was scheduled to be released, in nickel plating, for Christmas 1941...

Yeah, I still haven't gotten anything concrete about that brass head.

After World War 2, Gillette resumed civilian production and released the 1946 RT, removing the patent info from the smooth band above the TTO knob (placing it under the center bar) and adding end caps.

 A gold-plated Milord model was also offered...

Gillette was known to swap parts and used them on other models, which led to a hybrid of sorts in 1947. The uncreased baseplate head was mated to the standard Super Speed handle that lacked the smooth band...

1947 production used the creased baseplate; but something odd occurred, and I've run into a dead end. Some '47s had a flat shoulder milled into the handle, just below the neck...

 ...while others didn't...

I've only seen the Milord with the flat-shouldered handle.

For 1948, Gillette redesigned the center bar, giving it notched ends to facilitate loading of blades from their quick-load dispensers. The only real difference between the 1948 and 1949 models were the case, with the 1948 coming in a cardboard box, as in the previous year, and a red plastic case for 1949...
(Images courtesy mr-razor)
And, as with the previous models, the 1949 came in the gold-plated Milord (not really sure if there was a 1948)...

Now, as we learned in Super Speed 101, the patent info under the center bar read "PAT. NOS.ON PACKAGE" through 1949, and was changed to "PAT. NOS. ON PKG." beginning in 1950. There were also no date codes up to this point...with one exception: the V3.

 There are two variants of the V3, one where the stamp is upside-down in relation to the rest of the markings, and another...
 ...where they're right side-up. The V3 was produced during the third quarter of 1950. The rest of that year's production had no date code. The V3 was supposed to be a "test" code, but it makes on wonder...why only June, July, and August? Why not continue through the end of the year?

(Revised patent info)
Gillette officially began date-coding their razors in 1951, W1. 1951 also saw the "black tip" Super Speed (giving a "regular" shave; more on the colored-tipped razors later), one with a steel handle (pictured with the "mild" blue-tipped Super Speed)...
...and one with an aluminum handle (both were made during the Korean War, and reduced the use of brass needed for shell casings).

These Super Speeds are known as "40s style", and ended with the 1954 Z3 and Z4 "TV Special", which included a unique blue case...
 (Image courtesy mr-razor)

1954 also ushered in the era of the "flare-tip", an improved (some say) TTO knob and knurling on the handle...

Back to the color-coded tips: The unfinished tip was advertised and "regular", the blue-tip was "mild", and the red-tip for "heavy", tough beards. The different levels were defined by the blade gap, or exposure, for varying degrees of aggression.
A second "TV Special" came out in 1958, with the absence of horizontal grooves on the handle, and coming in a red case similar to the 1954 model.

Note: The band just above the TTO knob is slightly narrower from previous models. This continued through 1966-67 when Gillette changed over to the black-handled models...

 ...which morphed into the "waffle" pattern in 1980...

 And lastly (as far as I know), somewhere along the way, head geometry changed as well.

(L-R: 1956, 1961, 1973)

The heads on later models became slimmer, and the razors milder. Weight was reduced as well. Gillette stopped production of the Super Speed in 1988, a run of 41 years. And considering the condition of the older razors still out in circulation, I'd say Gillette made a pretty damned good razor.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Band razors

Up to now, we've seen double-edge, single-edge, and injector razors. But there's another type, one the razor companies would probably you rather forget... razors. 

Considered by many to be the red-headed stepchild (no offense to the red-headed stepchildren out there) of the razor world, band razors use a spool of thin steel encased in a removable cartridge with one edge sharpened and exposed. Each length of sharpened edge can be advanced, once its reached its useful life, by turning a lever on the back side of the razor's head.

A counter, much like that on a film camera, keeps track of the number of edges used. Used edges are stored on a take-up spool, so the user never touches the blade.

Gillette introduced the Techmatic in 1965, and supplied Gemini and Apollo astronauts with them for use during space missions, with varying degrees of success.

 Schick also made a band razor; it's cartridge also fits the Gillette, but not vice-versa. 

There are several other, older versions of the band razor, but would probably rarely be seen. The Gillette and Schick can still be found on online auction sites at fair prices.

Band razors have a very low level of popularity among wet-shavers, supposedly due to the razor's inability to maintain a flat edge. I recently received a NOS Techmatic, along with three NOS cartridges, and put this theory to test. My results? A new edge gave me a shave on par with a single-edge injector razor. In fact, it handled my trouble spots *nearly* as well as a double-edge razor. Will I make it my daily driver? No, but it will come in handy for times I'm pressed for time and need a quick, smooth shave.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Finding the "Best"

I initially began collecting these old razors to have something to pass on to one of my grandsons. It soon turned into a search for my personal "best" razor, best blade, best brush, best soap. I think I can honestly say I've found them.

Soap. Call me an anachronistic old fool, but I like Williams. They've been around since 1840, so they've got to be doing something right. It's not the same formula now as it was then, but I like it. Liked it so much I bought a case.  

Now, what do I use to lather up this fine puck of heavenly goodness? Lots of folks swear by the almighty badger, but I found my brush of choice to be a humble, vintage boar. Specifically, a Strong Set pure boar.

I stumbled upon the brush and equally vintage Old Spice (second model) mug in an antique shop in South Carolina. Paid a little more than I really wanted to, but turns out they were worth the money. I kept one of my badgers, an Ever-ready, that runs a close second. I'll use it for a back-up.

Blades are a highly personal part of shaving; there are great blades, good blades, bad blades, and horrible blades. After more than two years, +/- 90 razors, and 50 or so different blades, my go-to is the Teflon-coated Voskhod from Russia.

These work in every razor I own, better in some than others, and always give me a close, irritation-free shave.

Finally...the razor of first, it was the humble post-war ball-end Tech. Simple in design, mild, bomb-proof.

This was one of my first razors, and it always did me right. My only real issue was having to take it apart to insert/remove the blade, and to clean it. The solution? The 1941 Ranger Tech.

A truly wonderful razor. Mild like the Tech, but with the convenience of twist-to-open ease of blade changing and cleaning. The only other razor that comes close is my last purchase...

...a 1937 Sheraton. I wasn't too sure about the open comb, but I've been using it almost exclusively for the past few weeks, and found it to be the equal of the Ranger (with the added cool factor of the teeth). These two will accompany me on my adventures when I retire next year.

Finding your personal "best" will take some doing. Time and patience (and a little money), and working on technique, are essential. Knowledge of what you're looking for is just as important. Closely examine what you've found, then dig a little deeper, and you'll find some good deals. You'll also find that "best" combination that will last the rest of your life. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

< rant > That "auction site"

There are simple mistakes in sellers' listings that can be to your benefit (or detriment, if you're not wise to them), such as the last Super Speed I bought that the seller didn't list as a V3 (although it was plainly evident in the photos). Or the "rare '46 Super Speed!" that was in fact a hybrid (a '46 Ranger Tech head on a SS handle). Or the "no notch, no date code" SS that was in fact a '41 Ranger Tech. On the other hand, I've been fooled by the image itself, like the L3 Slim I thought was an Aristocrat (the lighting made it look gold; the auction was ending soon so I bit the bullet...good thing I didn't pay an Aristocrat's price for it).

But what I've been seeing lately is just plain stupid. Like the cased Aristocrat (marked on the inside of the lid as such) listed as a Fat Boy. Uh, the included directions say "Aristocrat Model" plain as day, dude! Even some Heavy Techs are being listed as Fat Boys. Stop it already! And a post-war ball-end Tech listed as 1931 because of the B4 date code (uh, the *blade* would have been 1931; razors began standard date codes in 1951, so the B4 would be *1956*). The black-handled Super Speed is not only *not adjustable* it did *not* come in the TV Special case.

Sellers: If you have no idea what you have, spend five minutes on the internet and *find out*. If you feel like you don't have time, you shouldn't be selling. You're making yourself not only look stupid, you could be selling something that's worth a lot more than what you're getting. If you *do* know what you have, but think you're relying on the buyer being stupid, then you're just being a cheat. You can keep your blue-tip (that never came in an "ostrich" skin case). $249? 

*smfh* </ rant >

Monday, October 9, 2017

Define "Best"

I just picked up (but haven't received yet) an old German open-comb four-piece travel razor. It looked interesting (it was listed as a "Gillette Tuckaway", which I knew it wasn't), and I had a $5 off coupon. It was grungy, but all the teeth were straight, and was in a nickel case. Looked like a good candidate for a revamp. Had a maker's mark of "P" over "F" (or vice-versa), and "Made in Germany" stamped on it. So, I started doing a little research on just what this thing could be. (So far, I've found nothing at this point.)

During my research, I stumbled across numerous websites touting "the best (insert random number here) razors for beginners" and such. I took time to read through some, knowing full well that "best" is totally subjective. Some of the information just misleading, some was flat wrong, some read like ads. And most are concerned only with new production razors, not vintage. But I'm not here to judge individuals or their sites. I'm here to tell you to find what "best" means to *you*, as a collector (and user) of vintage razors.'ve spent some time (and a lot of money) building a collection of vintage razors. You've also acquired many different blades, some brushes, and soaps/creams. Now is the time to put them to use and find out what to put on display or, in my case, pass on to a child (and/or grandchild). After nearly two years of collecting, I'm *still* in that testing phase, but have found a few that are definitely keepers (until I croak and my son gets them). There were some that I knew right away they would go away, and some that will stay. There were some that I wanted so bad to work for me, but didn't. So, they left. Like my E2 Schick injector. It's a tad aggressive, and doesn't give me as close and comfortable shave as the Schick adjustable with a twin blade. And all of my Milords...beautiful, near mint, they just don't perform to my satisfaction. My '41 Ranger Tech? It'll have to be pried from my cold, dead hand. The last V3 Super Speed I got is still trying out different blades, and I'm hoping it'll be a keeper. I'll hang on to the toggle just 'cuz it's a toggle. Out of the nearly 80 razors I've acquired, I'm down to 13, but I'll be culling out a few more before my next trip south.

I'm really hoping this old German razor will find a place in my rack.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Razors with teeth

When I first saw an open comb razor, it intimidated me. "No way I'll use one of those," I told myself. I pictured my face being shredded into a bloody mess.

Gillette "NEW" with common bar handle ("long comb")

Gillette "single ring" ("short comb")

From what I've been able to gather, the reason for the comb was its effectiveness in shaving around heavy growth (the ample sideburns & mustaches of our forefathers), and less apt to clog. More blade is exposed, too, leading some to feel the open comb razor to be more aggressive than the solid safety bar razor. I tend to agree. Other folks swear by them, though. 

Gillette "Goodwill"

Gillette continued producing open comb razors when it introduced the first "twist to open" (TTO) razor, the Aristocrat, in 1934. This, along with the Sheraton and Senator (as well as several British models), continued until the advent of the Regent and its solid bar around 1940.

1937 Sheraton

GEM Micromatic open comb

GEM Damaskeene open comb

Note: The early Gillette open comb razors were susceptible to cracks forming in the handles at the base and near the neck, as they were hollow tubes with the base and neck fittings pressed into them.

Careful observation is needed when buying these old razors online, as some of these cracks are so slight as to be barely perceptible (watch for statements like "No cracks that I can see!") and will not show up well when photographed (also be careful if you see that only one side is being shot), especially if it's in need of a good cleaning. My Old type and Goodwill both have fine hairline cracks, and their performance is not affected in the least...but, it's still cracked. My single ring, however, is solid. I was quite lucky to get it at a decent price. A beautiful razor, and quite the shaver. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Schick Krona: All but forgotten

Gillette, it seems, has ruled the twist-to-open double-edge razor scene since its introduction in 1934 with the one-piece, open comb Aristocrat. But there was one that, performance-wise, gave King Camp's razor a real run for the money. It wasn't all pretty gold-plated (although there *is* a gold-plated version), nor did it have fancy knurling on the handle. In fact, it was rather plain and unassuming...

 First-generation Schick Krona

Nickel & Gold

There's not a whole lot of information about the Krona. Like Gillette, there are markings under the bottom plate. Mine is marked as such...

...a "1" over an "M" on the left, and another "1" over "5" on the right. It was thought that the "M" stood for the plant of manufacture (Milford, CT), but the true meaning is still unknown. I did find this plausible bit of information on one of the better-known shaving forums:
  • ca. 1964-65: original design with short metal knob, two-ply center bar, labelled with code M-5 and "Made in U.S.A" plus either a "SCHICK" or a triangle logo, blank doors, approximate weight 55-g.
  • ca. 1966: design revised with long metal knob, two-ply center bar, often labelled with code 6-M, "3-2" or "4-2", and "Made in U.S.A" plus either a "SCHICK" or a triangle logo, blank doors, approximate weight 50-g.
  • ca. 1966: as above, but grey instead of black and branded EVERSHARP with eagle logo.
  • ca. 1967-68: design revised for 1967 patents, plastic knob, one-ply center bar, often labelled with code 1-M, "PATENTS PENDING", doors stamped "Schick - Schick" or "Schick - Krona" or "Schick - (blank)", approximate weight 38-g.
  • ca. 1968-76 or later: plastic knob, one-ply center bar, various codes, doors stamped "Schick - Schick" or "Schick - Krona" or "Schick - (blank)", approximate weight 38-g.
Of course, this is not a definitive explanation, but it *is* one of the few sources of information on the Krona I've been able to find. The only 100% accurate, can't be denied, set in stone *fact* about the Krona is this:

It is one helluva razor. 

The blades that came with mine were early production "Plus-Platinum", marked "18" over "K", which is just as big of a mystery as the razor's markings. I seriously doubt they have anything to do with the date of manufacture, as I had ordered some later-production blades marked "17" over "R". These are *great* blades; smooth, sharp, Teflon-coated masterpieces. In fact, I have a package of three more 5-packs in my hand I just took out of my mailbox...

The top dispenser is what I received with my razor. According to my source, it's dated late '60's - early '70's. The font used on the blades changed in 1971, and in 1976, the phrase "with exclusive TEFLON coating" was first used. The bottom pack is the latest production, having dropped the "TEFLON" and added "Fits all Double Edge Razors". They are still the (reportedly) same great blade.

Another blade worth trying are the Super Chromiums...

...not quite on the same level as the Plus-Plats, but still worth keeping a few on hand. (Yet another version, the "Krona-Chrome", is available, but I've not tried it...yet.) I had my best shave ever last night with my '50 Gillette Super Speed and a Plus-Plat, so who knows? The Super might turn out to be the blade of choice for my '41 Ranger Tech. But I digress...

(Note: All of the NOS blades I've purchased had to be removed from the dispenser, separated (a pointy-blade X-acto knife works great), and cleaned with soapy water. Schick apparently used some type of preservative, a light oil perhaps, that turned to glue over time. Not a difficult task, but they would not slide out in the normal manner otherwise.)

The Krona is long, about 3/4" longer than a Super Speed, not quite 1/4" longer than a Slim adjustable. I thought having that long of a handle would be awkward (like the Super Adjustable 109), but on the felt well-balanced and easy to use. Some folks say the handle is plastic, but from the feel of it, I'm inclined to agree that it's a resin-coated metal (brass, I'll wager). I didn't find it slippery in the least, although the TTO knob could be a bit grippier. It's not as readily available as a Gillette, and from what I've noticed, that's reflected in the prices of better condition razors. Still, one can be had for less than the price of a '40s Super Speed. An under-rated and under-appreciated razor worth keeping in your rotation.