Gillette did not invent the first Safety Razor, The Kampfe Brothers in 1880 patented the first “Star” safety razor that was a small section of a straight razor blade put in a small guard with a handle to make it safer to shave and not need a barber. See my before Gillette gallery I have many of them in my collection. You had to sharpen those wedge blades and it is assumed King was using his dull star razor when he came up with the idea for a thiner disposable blade. King for many years wanted to invent a disposable item people would buy over and over, the blade was his best idea. Early on Gillette provided return envlelopes for customers to send their bladed back for resharpening. Gillette did this so as not to scare away people who were not acustomed to the idea of disposing of the blades.
Most all the history of King Camp Gillette’s invention came from the Gillette company newsletter. Around 1917/1918 The Blade did a historical recap for the now large company on the early days of the startup. The financial and production struggles are all there with less than 15 years for them to think back on. Books and data used today come from those newsletters available on Google books. William Nickerson an MIT scholar inventor of incredible items in the late 18th century was the one person who brought King’s invention to creation and mass production. In only a few years not without great struggle and near failure the razor was a success and brought the end to the many wedge blade razor companies at the time ny 1910.
The Gillette tin set is the holy grail for Gillette collectors because it was the first, the start of it all from 1903 to today’s Gillette Sensor. All the Gillette razors in between are still used today as Wet Shaving is very popular and making an extreme comeback. For the shavers the holy grail could be a 50’s fat boy model or Toggle. Old fashioned shaving with soap and brushes is IMO the way to shave instead of expensive cartridge type blades. Gillette razors are even prefered over the most modern German engineered double edged razors made today.
Mysteries of the Tin:
No other Gillette razor from then to now would exist without the double ring. Why are there so few tins? Simple they didn’t make many, perhaps they cost too much OR a more logical reason is because the tin and blade had the word “Patented” on them. “Patented in all principle countries of the world” is lithographed on the tin. Gillette did not have the official patent until Nov. 1904 so how could they sell them? All razors prior were engraved Pat Applied for until it was official. We know in June of 1901 King’s patent application was approved but not released as the fee was unpaid. In December of 1901 another patent was applied for and not approved until November of 1904. Perhaps they expected approval earlier? Perhaps they stopped tin production and let a few go out. We know from Nickerson’s interview they sent out many sets for testing and the Gillette blade shows the early paste board white boxes and looking close a completed felt tin set. The tins were so elegant maybe they were sent to people of influence at retail stores to try and believe in the product. Since many tins were found in the factory holding small parts they may not have even finished them with felt in place of the wood cases. A small after thought in their time leading to such a highly desired collectable item in the 21st Century. Early Razors thought to be from 1903 were marked PAT.AP FOR. later razors were marked PAT APP’D FOR. and After November of 1904 all were officially Patented. This razor and another from a tin were marked as shown. They seem to be the rarest of the non serialed double rings.
Gillette Blade excerpt showing the cardboard boxes and a lithographic tin set. Looking close you can see the felt and razor platform in the tin. Previous manufacturers of wedge safety razors never felted tins and many collectors thought the Gillette tin did not ever have felt. The felted tins I started to see showed 2017-2020.
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