Straight Razor History
All the different kinds of razors that have been used throughout history are a relative of the modern day straight razors. They might be different in terms of appearance, but their usage is quite similar. In the prehistoric ages, shaving was done by sharpening flint, shark’s teeth, and clam shells. Some tribes to this day use still use flint blades. Solid copper and gold razors have been discovered in tombs during excavations in Egypt, which date back to as far as the 4th millennium BC. According to the Roman historian Livy, the legendary king Lucius Tarquinius Priscus introduced the razor in ancient Rome during the 6th century BC. Priscus was much ahead of his time since razors came into general use only a century later.
Manufacture and Exports
In the 1680s, a manufacturer in Sheffield, England produced the first straight razors. These razors had narrow blades. Soon after we find razors with silver handles and many other Sheffield made products being exported around the late 1680s. These products were popularly known as Sheffield wares. They were being exported to the ports in the Gulf of Finland, which was around 1200 miles from Sheffield, by John Spencer. John Spencer was a wealthy industrialist and a landowner from Cannon Hall. These wares were also distributed from the Gulf to Finland and Russia. During 1740 we find Benjamin Huntsman selling the best straight razors at the time with decorated handles. These had hollow ground blades produced from cast steel. They were being manufactured using a unique process that Huntsman invent. A French adopted his process soon after. Only after seeing the success of this process in France did the English manufacturers begin using this process.
Evolution of The Razor
The razors produced before the 1800s were quite different from the modern day straight razor. The handle and the blade were both shaped like a wedge, while the blade was wider than the pivot. The blade’s profile had no hollow grinding and had a straight edge. The blades did not have any tang and neither a monkey tail, which is the curved piece near the handle end. The handles were made using materials such as wood, bone, and horn. Oftentimes ivory and tortoiseshell were used. The handles had a flat surface and were beveled at times. The pins at the end of the handle were made of brass and iron. Razors that were produced between 1740 and 1830 had engravings of the words ‘cast steel’ or ‘warranted’. This meant that they were produced using the Sheffield metal invented by Huntsman.
The period between 1850 and 1870 could be called the golden age of the straight razor. This period saw the production of many stunning straight razor blades which had the company names engraved on the tang. The spine of the blade at times had fancy decorations too. The handles were inlaid with silver and other precious stones. The introduction of celluloid and the frame back razor are two significant events during this period.
After 1880, most of the blades were forged in machines. A new method was discovered using which the hollow-ground blades were etched in a way similar to the old wedge blades. The blades’ appearance was further enhanced by other processes such as the gold wash.
Sheffield steel is high-quality steel which is used even in the present day in France by manufacturers such as Thiers Issard. This is highly polished steel popular for its deep gloss finish. Straight razors were the primary instrument used for manual shaving for over two hundred years ever since they were introduced in 1680. Their use persisted long after until the middle of the 20th century, with avid fans getting straight razor tattoos to show their loyalty. After the 1950s, the market share of straight razors went down as they were gradually replaced by electric razors.