The ultimate vintage razor gift buying guide

December 4 | Guest post by HedwigStrange

Razors-Screw-On-Flip-Up-ButterflyTrying to figure out a gift for your partner/groomsmen/dad? How about a vintage shaving razor! They're eco-friendly, economical (both for you to buy and for the recipient purchase blades for), built-to-last, and damn cool.

Since my man is a huge shaving aficionado, I interviewed him to make a little guide for anyone who wants some pointers on buying a razor. I hope it's helpful…

If someone wants to get a vintage razor, should they go for a straight razor or a safety razor?

Safety razor. Unfortunately, straight razors are extremely high maintenance. They require special (usually professional) sharpening, they're not quick and easy to use (and therefore, probably not something that will get daily use), and somewhat surprisingly, they don't offer the closest or smoothest shave. They are badass, it's true, but in the end, a vintage safety razor is probably your best bet as a gift for all but the most dedicated shaving nerds. They are fairly inexpensive, relatively easy to use, and offer a very nice shaving experience.

Do vintage razors work as well as modern razors?

Yes. In fact, they're often better than modern razors if the person you're buying for suffers from ingrown hairs or irritation when using normal razors. Modern razors rely on the first blade pulling the hair (and subsequent blades cutting the hair afterwards) which can lead to infection of the hair follicle. Vintage, double-edge razors have a single blade that cuts the hair, which is less irritating to the follicle. While vintage razors are generally high quality, as with most things, there are good and bad brands and models.
A Selection of Awesome Gillette Models (L-R): the 1949 Superspeed, a British Superspeed, the Presidente, the Adjustable Fat Boy. Just look at that Presidente sparkle!
A Selection of Awesome Gillette Models (L-R): the 1949 Superspeed, a British Superspeed, the Presidente, the Adjustable Fat Boy. Just look at that Presidente sparkle!

What are the good production years/brands/models?

1. The best vintage razors were produced by Gillette from the 1940s to the 1970s. To figure out the year of production, look under (or inside) the head of the razor for a letter and a number. Then look up that code on this page, and you can find the production year. Models before the 1940s are quality make, but are mostly screw-on heads, which don't work as well. Some models have no date code — notably the 1948-1949 Gillette SuperSpeed, which is my favorite razor.

Finding Production Year. See the wee "E" and "4" close to the handle? That letter-number combo can be translated using this page to figure out year of production.

2. Gillette is the only really good vintage brand. Other brands such as GEM and Schick were produced, but Gillette held several important patents, and produced the butterfly-opening razors which are the most desirable.

Opening Mechanism (L-R): Screw on, Flip top (GEM brand, takes one sided blades), Butterfly mechanism (Gillette -- awesome!)
Opening Mechanism (L-R): Screw on, Flip top (GEM brand, takes one sided blades), Butterfly mechanism (Gillette — awesome!)

3. The best models are the butterfly-opening type, and the nicest to start with are the adjustable models. The butterfly models are preferable because while the screw-on types of razors can deliver a nice shave, the ease of access to the blade area in butterflies is excellent for rinsing out detritus during and after shaving as well as for changing out blades. The adjustables are great because they have a do-dad on the handle that adjusts the distance of the safety bars from the blade, which allows the shaver to adjust for the task at hand; are they chopping off a thick beard, or are they trying to get a close shave on a delicate area of skin?

Desirable models from Gillette include the Adjustable, the SuperSpeed (no date code or British models only) and the Aristocrat or Presidente (see pics).

Detail of the Adjustable -- has a turnable wheel jobby under the head with different settings for different shaving qualities. This type of razor should always be adjusted with the blade doors open, then close the doors on the blade afterward.
Detail of the Adjustable — has a turnable wheel jobby under the head with different settings for different shaving qualities. This type of razor should always be adjusted with the blade doors open, then close the doors on the blade afterward.

Where do I get one? What is a reasonable price to pay?

You can get them on ebay, through internet shaving forums, and at antique shops. The highest quality one I have (a rhodium plated Presidente in perfect condition) I got at an antique shop for $3. There are tons of great razors laying neglected in antique shops! If you do go to an antique store, go armed with information about models, years, and styles of razors. You don't want just any vintage razor!

A reasonable price range is between $10-40. Fifty bucks for a razor is the tops I would pay for a really, really nice one with the original case. Often you can find them for much less, sitting on the shelf of an antique store, covered in soap scum but otherwise fully functional. Back then, they were designed to be used for a lifetime at least, not thrown out when the next model became available.

What blades should I get?

Get several sample packs from different brands. The "right" blade brand seems to vary for different people, so give them a variety and they can find out what they like. Finding the right blade brand might take some persistence, but many online retailers offer a variety pack of five blades from different manufacturers, and there will be a noticeable difference for the shaver once a good one is found. Some good blades to try include Derby, Feather, Israeli-made Personna, Bic, Astra, and Wilkinson-Sword.

Are there any necessary accessories?

A nice soap is good — it doesn't need to be $7 a bar (I use $1.19 sandalwood soap from Vitamin Cottage), but don't use Irish Spring or similar. Clear glycerine soaps provide nice lubrication; either way avoid very strongly scented soaps which can irritate the skin. Using a modern shaving cream can work, but the convenience of an already formed foam can lead to rushing the job and the result in razor burn. Instead, it's best to use bar soap and take the time to massage a lather into the beard for a couple minutes prior to shaving. Shaving brushes and bowls are awesome, but not necessary. If you want to get a brush, don't buy a vintage brush — often these are worn out and the glues are deteriorating. Instead, Crabtree and Evelyn offers a "Best Badger" brush which is a great compromise between quality and cost, if you really want to get one.

If the recipient(s) want pointers on use, where can they look for instructions?

Forums at Badger and Blade and Shave My Face are FULL of info and really nice, dedicated shaving nerds willing to advise.

How do I clean an old razor?

Don't be afraid to buy a really scummy old razor! They're simple to clean; just scrub the bejesus out of them with a toothbrush and dish soap. Let dry, then soak in mineral oil bath. Remove from bath and wipe off the oil with a cloth and ta-da! Good as new.

Will vintage razors work for shaving body hair?

I can answer this! Certainly people used these kinds of razors back in the day for shaving body hair, but are they preferable to modern models? In my opinion, maybe. I have a BEAUTIFUL early 1900s razor that practically eats my legs. It is lovely, but not functional. I have used my guy's mini vintage razor on my armpits, and I like it. I have also tried his razors on my legs and they're so-so for me. They get a little razor burn-y, but then, I like to shave quickly, so I'm not as patient as I probably should be. You could certainly give it a try! Anyone regularly use a vintage safety razor on your legs?

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  1. My husband is a blade sharpening maniac, so he maintains three straight razors. I use them for shaving my legs and pits, and sometimes my bikini line. For legs, they're great – the closest, smoothest shave I've ever had. BUT they're really, really slow. Like it takes me at least 3 times as long to shave with a straight razor as with a modern safety razor. So I justify the extra time for shaving by thinking about how many more days I can go between shaves. (I have pale-ish hair on my legs, and I'm a closet hippie, so I go at least a week, even in the summer.) Straight razors are also hard to use in my armpits…the blades are long, and you have to keep a very specific angle, which I often find hard to do. And there's no way I would ever take the time to maintain a straight razor on my own. But if you like to sharpen things (or have someone in your life who does), straight razors give the best shave!

  2. I was afraid to buy a razor (my man is PICKY) so I started off with just a nice shaving brush, soap and mug. Something like this instead of a can from the grocery store. He like it so much that after a while he got himself a razor.

    He said the nicest part for him was that it changed his morning shave into "personal time" rather then just something he had to do.

    6 agree
  3. This is probably the greatest thing to happen to my Christmas shopping this year. I may have totally just bought a 50's SuperSpeed for $12 for my husband. Thanks for all the great information too! Hubs is definitely one of those that would shave more if it didn't hurt his skin and follicles so damn much. I mean, he rocks one hell of a beard, but that neck hair and chest hair have a habit of shaking hands every now and then, and while he (and I) fully embrace his wolfmanness, his boss isn't the biggest fan.

    3 agree
  4. Last winter I bought myself a vintage Lady Gillette razor on eBay (from the 1960s…has these great little blue retro starburst shapes on the chrome handle), which was "designed for women" because it had a longer handle for leg shaving, and has the "butterfly open" feature for changing blades. I'm still working my way through the sample pack of blade refills that I bought on Amazon, so I can't recommend a specific blade.

    I always shave AFTER I've taken a shower and really exfoliated with a loofah. I really like Proraso pre-shave cream (bought on Amazon). Really seems to make a difference. Otherwise I just use regular shave gel…I do have a brush, but can't say that it REALLY feels like it makes a difference on my legs. The main tip to remember for safety razor shaving is to go SLOW and GENTLE. Take your time. If you try to zip it all over the place like you did with your Venus, you're going to get cut.

    I feel comfortable enough with my safety razor to shave certain regions of my Down Yonder, but not the more tender/complicated areas, so I did save my Venus razor, and have a pack of cartridges for it ONLY to be used to maintain the well-trimmed hedge. Everything else gets the MUCH CHEAPER safety razor blades.

    2 agree
  5. Well, this is pretty awesome. I'm going to be on the lookout for a nice vintage razor for the hubs now, since he hates shaving with modern ones.

  6. Love the handle and look of a straight razor, but prefer a safety razor shave? Replaceable blade straight razors exist! They take double-edge razor blades snapped in half (which is really easy and not scary.)

    1 agrees
  7. Yes yes yes!!! I recently made the switch to shaving with safety razors (my husband switched a few months ago and I followed shortly thereafter) and I'm never going back! It takes maybe one or two times of "omg super careful learning" but now I can shave my legs and pits as quickly as I could with a wasteful and expensive plastic razor. I get a much closer shave and I feel so badass. The only thing I would say for ladies is to look for a razor with a longer handle– the short handled men's ones can be tricky to maneuver on legs.

    I also use it for basic bikini line cleanup, but I tend to leave things more or less low maintenance down there so I can't speak for that area. But for cleanup to put on a swimsuit or whatever, it works great.

    3 agree
  8. YES. Great idea. My fiance switched last year when his friend bought him a safety razor for his birthday. He has tricky skin, and this helped him so much. He really enjoys shaving now, and bought himself some nice soap, etc. He likes the routine of it — soaking the brush, getting the lather right, multiple passes, etc.

    He got a vintage German straight razor on ebay and was using that daily until a local blade shop screwed up the blade. It might be toast. 🙁 I really recommend you take those to someone who knows what they're doing. (Our blade shop had apparently been sold to some amateurs, or at least people who weren't good with razors.) But safety razors are a really good entry point to classic shaving techniques, and it has done wonders for his skin. He got his grandfather's razor that his grandma had kept (she used it to shave her legs), but unfortunately it rusts.

    Also a good gift because you can get your shaver some nice soaps and blades they wouldn't usually splurge on for future gifts. Mine loves Mitchell's Wool Fat natural lanolin shave soap. It's more expensive, but it lasts a long time.

  9. Yay! I switched to a metal safety razor this year and this is the coolest thing ever to have entered my bathroom, except for baking soda maybe. I was verrrrry careful at first since my man advised me against one-blade razor, but I don't find it more dangerous than my former plastic disposable razor. I use for armpits and bikini and it work WONDERS! Go girls (and guys), do yourself a financial and environmental treat and buy yourself this shit. Cost me 10 bucks on ebay, and I get a 10-blade pack for something like 3 dollars at the supermarket (though you'll probably want to check if you local store offers compatible blades, though).

    3 agree
  10. Hi there- I just wanted to offer up my sincere thanks for this guide and its helpful suggestions. Using it, I bought my husband a 1958 Gillette Superspeed, some clear glycerine soap and a razor stand for Christmas. He's been using disposable blades his whole life but had a mild interest in switching over.
    He went and picked out a sampler pack of blades from a friendly local shave shop and tried it out.
    He's now a full convert and absolutely loves his saftey razor. He said he doesn't think he could go back to disposables. I'm so happy I was able to get something like this for him, and I never would have done it without this guide. So thank you very much for publishing it.

    2 agree
  11. That "straights don't give the closest shave" is a myth spread by safety razor shavers too lazy to learn how to use a straight, and too proud to admit it. Safety razors are great and give very close shaves, but not closer than a straight wielded by someone who knows what they are doing.

    As a gift you are right that safety razors are better. "Here's an expensive tool that you will have to spend 100 hours learning to maintain" is not a very nice gift. But that's no reason to spread misinformation about the quality of straight razor shaves.

    1 agrees
    • Hey dude, you have a right to your opinion, but is it really necessary to imply that my partner is lazy because he has found that safety razors give him a better shave? He really wanted to use straight razors (see: bad-ass), but despite plenty of research and persistence, they don't work as well for him.

      Still, perhaps I shouldn't have reported that straight razors do not give as close a shave. After all, I didn't back up my partner's assertion with objective proof. But then, can you back up yours? Until you can site several scientific papers stating that straight razors indeed give a closer shave, we will both have to acknowledge that this is actually a subjective issue.

      2 agree

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