Without further ado I bring to you PART 2 of my Q & A with Matt Pisarcik of The Razor Emporium. Sorry about the delay but we both were very busy the past while. Matt was hammered with work since Black Friday, and I have had guests and the holidays……..SO HERE WE GO!!!!
In your opinion are razors getting better over time or worse?
If we are talking about razors in general – I think that they are getting easier and easier to use. When you look at a cartridge razor – they require 0 effort. You don’t need to find the one that works for you, no need to experiment with different blades or technique – your entire shaving experience has been reduced to a chore that must be done and hurried through, and all products are meant for the “average” person – whoever that is.
Traditional wet-shaving using a Double Edge, Single Edge or Straight Edge razor is so cool because of all the variations possible. You are put into the driver seat of your shaving experience – free to make choices that work best for you, experiment and try new things. There are hundreds of products and choices out there- and new ones being added all the time.
The current climate of DE razors is quite skewed in both directions – we have plenty of choices for both cheap and high end budgets. Most of the cheap ones are simply clones of each other- with the Edwin Jagger head being the most copied. Every few weeks, someone decides to respond to the countless companies who solicit on Facebook for a Pakistan, Indian or Chinese made razor to be produced with “your logo” on it. I’m not saying these razors won’t give a great shave- but they’re fast food at best and really do nothing original.
I was hired by Neil Jagger, founder of Edwin Jagger, to work a tradeshow at the company booth in Las Vegas a year ago. We had several great conversations over the few days I was there – one of the burning questions I had for him was regarding the popularity and copying of the innovative head he designed years ago. He told me that it means that he did a great job, but of course, it was frustrating to see his design stolen.
Gillette was a company that innovated and constantly pushed the envelope of shaving technology – inventing the disposable DE blade, the first twist to open DE razor, the TECH solid guard design, the Adjustable DE razor, and even the cartridge system. Today’s double edge razor makers are not really designing new things or even making improvements – they are simply trying to get in on the “shaving craze” that has emerged in the last few years.
Some high end companies, like PILS or iKon, have made strides forward with material and design improvements. However, even the best or most expensive razors out there are still relying old head, guard or handle benchmarks from the past.
I generally am excited for the marketplace that has emerged over the past few years around the shaving culture- more companies means more competition, and competition usually breeds innovation. I hope more companies innovate and continue to push the envelope of what is possible so that the consumer has the best and most plentiful options out there when deciding what to shave with.
What is the most original Razor and or Bizarre razor?
Historically speaking – I think the Segal or Schick Repeating Razor were very original! The Segal twists open, but had a proprietary blade that had a hole big enough for the razor head to pass over once it was in the open position. The Repeating Razor was the Injector predecessor and was inspired by semi-automatic rifles after Col. Jacob Schick was in the first World War. The loved the idea of loading a rifle without touching the ammunition and carried that same concept to a razor design that loaded blades from the handle and a cartridge. In fact, this innovation was the basis of what would become the “system” or cartridge razor that is so commonplace today.
In today’s market- I recently saw a kickstarter campaign for Zaffiro razors – they use a synthetic sapphire blade that is supposed to last up to 1 year. It seems very innovative and I hope they do well!
What material do you feel withstands the test of time best?
Stainless steel is of course a great option – it just usually has to be cleaned or covered with some other material to avoid blade stains. Of course, taking a DE blade out of a razor is the best option to prevent rust or corrosion – sadly many people don’t do that.
We have coated thousands of razors in Rhodium and its an amazing choice for plating – some people even put Rhodium over Stainless Steel because of its anti-tarnishing properties.
Nickel is actually a great all-around material – I think that it may prevent blade stains the best but some people have an allergy to it.
Chrome is a clear coat more or less that goes over nickel in order to harden it. While its a great all around finish, it can crack if left exposed to moisture, one reason we don’t get involved with it in our workshop.
Brass is actually one of the best base metals out there- Gillette, Gem, Schick and Ever Ready used it for decades for a reason. It’s easy to machine and is malleable – meaning if you drop it, you can easily get it back into the right shape and working order. The same can’t be said for Zinc Alloy- a metal you see on most modern razors.
Brass is nearly as expensive as stainless steel, so that’s why you don’t see people using it too often today.
How much of your razor collection do you use??
Most of my razor collection is just that- a collection! I have shaved with a few pieces here and there- but really most items in the display case are in New Old Stock condition and I hate to dirty them or even affect the finish in the slightest. People know me for repairing / revamping razors in our workshop, however I do absolutely nothing to the pieces I’ve collected over the years. I just blow out any dust with compressed air, wipe down with a cotton cloth and display. I think there’s something really cool about the originality of the pieces I’ve collected – and I’d like to keep them that way! I have
several vintage razors in my shave den at home – and those get used often. My favorite razor lately has been the NEW Criterion that Gillette produced in the 1930’s. It’s no wonder that companies like iKon and Above the Tie have taken design specs directly from it – it’s a great all around shave!
When and How did you get into wet shaving?
I got into wet-shaving in 2005 after getting fed up with cartridge razors. I was in college at the time and I was hating the razor burn associated with both electric and mach 3 systems. I then tried more blades, going to fusion, and that was no better. I got online and found this MSN article and the rest, as they say, was history! 😉 I didn’t want to commit to buy a Merkur or similar razor so I thought I would find a vintage one instead. My first antique hunt included finding the following:
Back then, a day out antiquing would yield great finds, in fact this first one had a Big Fellow, Slim & Fatboy adjustable, Single Ring Old Type, Aristocrat, Super Speed and NEW long comb 😉 All for under $80 if memory serves me correctly. I went to find information on how to clean and use them, their history and what not, and realized there was hardly any. I managed to get some blades ordered online and sanitized them the best I could, and got to shaving. Man, was I hooked from there!
When did you think that you could turn wet shaving into a business? And
when did you open the door to The Razor Emporium?
I quickly started collecting and fixing razors, all the while selling duplicate sets on chat rooms and ebay. But wanted to have a direct source that people could get in touch with me, so I started building my own
website. The site when live in September of 2009 but we didn’t have our first sale until March of 2010. For the first several years, the business was my after-hours gig: I was a marketing director of a hospital
by day. The workshop was my garage and my living room served as the place I stored my collection and occasionally met with customers:
In 2013, I decided to take the plunge into self-employment and moved the business to a corporatebusiness park. Today we have a 1,400 sq foot workshop, lobby and office with 6 employees.
Who Taught you how to wet shave?
Certainly not my dad – he was an electric guy. I’d say I learned through trial and error- but I do remember watching several Mantic59 videos for pointers!
What was your first wet shaving lineup(ie.Razor, Soap, Brush, Blade)?
Well this picture says it all – 1940’s Gillette Aristocrat, Proraso (in the old packaging!), Crabtree & Evelyn brush (those were being made by Edwin Jagger), Trader Joe’s shave cream, alum block and a Merkur long handle classic. Really good setup for sure- fond memories looking at this 10 years later 😉
Do you still own any of your original gear from that shave?
I don’t think I do – over the years I have given away tons of shaving gear to friends and family who were
interested in wet shaving. But I still have many of the first collectibles I found!
What is your favorite razor of ALL TIME and why?
I think if I only had one to bring with me to a desert island, it would be my 7/8 JA Henckels Friodur straight razor. I always get a good shave with it and really enjoy the custom scales a friend of mine made. It’s pretty unique and I don’t see many around with the hand ground spine like mine.
TOP 3 MUST TRY vintage safety razors?
1930’s NEW Criterion, 1950’s Gillette Fatboy Adjustable, 1910’s Open Comb Old Type. I think these razors cover the gamut of what Gillette made and are extremely versatile!
Most Underrated razor?
Gillette Super Speed. It was the razor that millions of men counted on and it still delivers today. Plus you can get it for cheap if you go out antiquing!
Most Overrated razor?
Not really sure- people ask a lot about the Fatboy! While its great, so is the Slim!
What is the most valuable Razor that you own and how much
approximately is it worth?
Hmm – never thought about this too much. I have a few that come to mind but I really don’t put values on my collection too much because I really don’t sell any of it off 😉 For a while I had a 1903 Gillette Lito Tin Double Ring set – from the very first year of production, Patent
Applied For marked on the razor handle. The tin was amongst maybe 10 or so known to still exist. I recently sold it to Proctor & Gamble so that it could be displayed in the Gillette headquarters since they
don’t have one.
You can see a photo of it here:
I also have an uncirculated nickel Toggle adjustable set. These came out for Christmas 1958. Check it out here:
Not many of those complete sets are left around, and mine hadn’t even been sold to a retail store so its probably in the best condition of anything in my display case.
What vintage razor would you recommend for a new wet shaver to start
Gillette Super Speed or Gillette Tech. Really any year of these- the head didn’t change too much. They offer great medium / balanced shaves that are not too mild or too aggressive. They are widely available and quality made.
What are your thoughts on slant razors?? IS it more hype than anything?
I made a Slant Showdown video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9c6xjVwyY4
Basically I compared a vintage Hoffritz, modern Merkur and iKon slants using the same blade. They are a great option for those who have curly / heavy beards but sensitive skin. Not everyone needs or is able to
do 3 passes – slants offer a 1-2 pass shave that is very close and should cut down on ingrowns or razor burn. I’m a fan and used the hoffritz showed in the video for years!
I know you are a vintage razor fanatic, but what modern razor has really
Razor Emporium was the first vendor in the USA to carry PILS German razors and iKon razors. Both of those modern companies still impress me with their form and function.
Would you call yourself a USER or a Collector?
I’m a wet-shaver for sure! I just don’t really use any of the razors out of my collection. The collection represents some of the best razors that have passed through my hands and is a way of being ok with selling thousands of vintage razors over nearly 10 years. My den at home is quite concise and while I do experiment with new products, I really have the same few razors in my rotation.
Where do you go to get answers for questions about vintage razors that
you cannot answer yourself?
A few places. I created RazorArchive.com to house ads / instructions / catalogs / books and more that are direct sources of information about Gillette. Just because I put them online doesn’t mean I memorize it. So I honestly use that site myself all the time to reference something. The other place is my friend Achim who has mr-razor.com. He’s done a great job at photographing sets over the years and I often look there too. Last, but not least, is the Safety Razor Compendium by Robert Waits. We sell it
online as a digital book – its a PDF that is searchable and I have it on my desktop computer and reference it nearly everyday.
Aside from razors what is your next biggest acquisition disorder in Wet
I have really enjoyed collecting old spice mugs and accessories. Also, I have a secret love of barber scissors and have restored a bunch that we use around the shop! The advertisements and instruction booklets are really fun for me as well.
What are your favourite shave soaps?
Always been a fan of the Proraso line of products. They are so “normal” but are such great performers for the money. I have some WSP barbershop, Grimm Blades Smolder at home at the moment, but
always trying samples it seems. Can’t forget Mitchell’s Wool Fat- always a classic for sure!
What is your “HOLY GRAIL” Razor?
I’d say a serial numbered Toggle at the moment. They were released in very limited numbers in 1956 and I’ve been looking for one for some time. Sadly I sold one years ago- oh well! Lot’s has passed through the Emporium so in a way, I get to experience them for a while regardless.
Is it worth replating an heirloom razor? And would it decrease the value?
It absolutely does hurt its value…to collectors. Luckily there are lots of wet shavers who will happily pay for a well restored razor so its okay. We did an entire video on this question:
What is your method of cleaning razors?
At home- toothbrush and dish detergent. It’s safe on all metals, loosens the surface soap scum and generally makes most razors shine. Anything more than that- lots of care needs to be had as mostly damage can happen. At the shop, we use brass brushes, polishing wheels and ultrasonic cleaners – the kinds of things a jewelry shop uses as well.
How do you deal with cleaning gold razors?
At home- you can try to use a light acid like a vinegar. At the shop, we use sulfuric acid and ultrasonic machines. NEVER use a MAAS / FLITZ / Mother’s as it is literally liquid sand paper and the gold will be
gone in seconds.
Do you use NOS, or razors that are close to NOS or do you keep them as strictly for show?
My razor display is that – for show. I’ve never used a NOS item to shave with and wouldn’t consider it. My razors at home are for shaving and if I used the NOS ones then they wouldn’t be New Old Stock anymore 😉
Where do you get most of your razors?
At this point, people contact us. I haven’t really antiqued for business in years. We get calls and emails everyday to buy collections or estates. But for the first several years – yes I was doing a lot of “picking” so to speak. I still antique often- just not on a “mission” to only find razors. But if I do spot one, I still pick them up 😉
Again I want to thank Matt for doing this and answering a whole bunch of the questions I had and ones blog followers submitted to me. Some great answers, and some things to think about.
Hope you all had a great Holiday Season and your New Year has started off well.
A BIG HAPPY NEW YEAR from THE CANUCK SHAVER!!!!!