A Close Shave with History and a Warm Glow of Nostalgia February 02 2015, 0 Comments

Assuming that, like me, you weren’t waiting to be born – what were you doing in 1956? Spencer Tracey was still recovering from his Bad Day at Black Rock, Charlton Heston was delivering the Ten Commandments – whilst John Wayne was in The Searchers. Tom Hanks and Geena Davis were still at the bouncing baby stage.

While all this was happening, someone was making my Gillette Superspeed Flaretip in the USA – possibly listening to Elvis sing Heartbreak Hotel on the radio. My Gillette Blue blades were being manufactured in Great Britain while the British population was talking about the Suez Crisis and petrol rationing. And, just like me – my 1962 Slim Adjustable was still in the pre-production stage and wouldn’t arrive for another six years.

I bought the razors and blades after filming the Village Barber videos for Iain. I thought to myself – “I’m going to give that pesky DE razor another chance and follow Iain’s advice about blade angle and pressure.” My angle was okay but as for pressure, I had been pressing like I did with a cartridge. Well – to say that the shave was an improvement is an understatement. My previous attempts at using the £5 Wilkinson Sword Classic DE razor had left me nervous, and reluctant to try again, after slicing myself and making my face look like that of Edward Scissorhands. So I continued, and the shaves got better and better, until I got superb, comfortable shaves from this inexpensive razor.

I had long been a wet shaver, using a brush and soap for twenty years – but with increasingly expensive cartridges. Now I was thoroughly enjoying the art of shaving again and decided I needed, or rather, wanted another razor. I settled on the Edwin Jagger DE89L and a rather natty stand and bowl which certainly look the part sitting proudly next to the mirror in the bathroom.

Then I spotted the carbon steel Gillette Blue blades on eBay, still wrapped in cellophane. After opening them I discovered they were made in the third quarter of 1956 and set about getting a 1956 Gillette Super Speed Flare Tip razor to match – well who wouldn’t? By now this was proving contagious, and I obviously needed a 1962 to match me – after all we would have both survived and lived through the same world events – albeit, the one slightly more oblivious than the other! I settled upon a Slim Adjustable (James Bond uses one in Goldfinger). Both of these vintage razors give wonderful shaves, especially the more straightforward ’56, and some say they were around their best at that time.

Well, I was getting fantastic shaves with all the razors, but how would they perform with vintage carbon Steel blades? Originally, all razor blades were made from carbon steel until the 1960s, when Wilkinson Sword introduced stainless steel razor blades. Soon the company's blades made rapid gains in shares of the market and other producers such as Gillette followed suit. Not only did the blades resist rusting – they were noticeably smoother on the skin, without the rather scratchy feel of carbon steel.

So, now armed with vintage razor and blades I waited to try them that evening. So how do these, carbon Steel blades perform in a shave? Well, as mentioned earlier, rather scratchy and a tad uncomfortable – at first. But, after a couple of shaves they improve noticeably. I found it beneficial to use the Village Barber Shaving Oil as it allows the blade to glide over the skin comfortably and after the blades were bedded in, I got fantastic shaves. I also tried a brush and lather and found shaving soaps such as Mitchell’s Wool Fat, Palmolive and Proraso worked well, but benefited further from being used over the Oil.

I enjoy using these for an occasional walk through history – so I bought some more blades on eBay. I opened these after photographing the containers. The smaller carton was made in 1958 – the year Cuban rebels kidnapped five-time world driving champion Juan Manuel Fangio, and released him twenty-eight hours later. And in 1967 while Jimi Hendrix was recording Purple Haze in London – across the water – the French ‘Gillette Bleue Extra’ blades were being manufactured. Some of the ‘58s had a bit of rust – but not on the cutting edge. Don’t use them if the cutting edge has rusted. The French blades gave an incredibly close but smooth shave without any scratchiness! I only did a second pass for the sake of it. I wish I had a ton of these! These newer blades are marked ‘Extra’, and whatever extra thing they did to them made all the difference, as they are noticeably better.

In a world of people shaving with cartridge razors, it’s fantastic to enjoy a shave with a double edge razor – and even more special to know that you are one of the few on the planet shaving with a blade that hasn’t seen daylight for decades! So why not give them a try, if you can get some? Alternatively, try out modern carbon steel blades made by Treet such as the coated Treet DuraSharp and plain Treet Classic. In my opinion, the DuraSharps feel very similar to the ‘Gillette Bleue Extra’ blades.

The Village Barber Shaving Oil also helps prevent rusting, as given half a chance, carbon steel will rust – blow them dry after use. I take the razor to a dry room until the bathroom has dried off. I get a week of great shaves out of each blade and they leave a warm glow of nostalgia and a close shave with history!

Blog contributed By Shaun Dodds - shaving enthusiast and customer of Village Barber