[Note from the editor: caution, this post is image-heavy.] Whether you’re a new or veteran wet shaver, chances are you have purchased or at least looked at a few vintage razors. At times it may be a little overwhelming, as at any given point there may be hundreds if not thousands of razors listed on secondary sale websites such as eBay. The last thing you want to happen is get a vintage razor that wasn’t up to your expectations. How do you know to purchase a good vintage razor? In this article, I’ll discuss how to buy razors from the popular secondary sale site eBay. I’ll go over how to search, what to look for and some red flags to avoid in the process.
I personally use a four step system when looking for vintage razors. The first step, I identify exactly what I want. Whether it be an adjustable razor for everyday use or a rare 3 piece that’s cased and belongs in a display case, these are questions I ask myself before even starting.
The second step is to research. Once I have an idea of what I want, I research as much as possible about the razor. I use the who, what, where, why, when and how approach. This includes where the razor was produced, how many were made, what the razor is going for in the market today, why is it collectable and when it was made. At this point I also look up how much average repairs and/or restoration.
Third, I establish a budget on what I’m willing to pay. I ask myself a series of questions:
What is the highest price I am willing to go?
What is the most I will pay total including purchase price and restoration (if needed).
Finally, I search with the intention of purchasing. I have my list at hand and I am ready to buy. While this step may seem like the easiest of the four, it’s actually the hardest and requires the most patience.
Let’s go over these steps in detail so we can get you started!
Step 1: Know What you want:
First and foremost it’s important to know exactly what you want. Do you want an adjustable razor,or a classic 3 piece design? Is there a particular model that you’re interested in? Or are you just looking for anything that is of value? Are you looking for a Gillette razor or something else? These are all questions that you need to ask yourself before you begin your search.
At this point I would grab a sheet of paper and start writing down any and all thoughts you may have regarding your new collection piece. There is no limitation here. Jot down your thoughts and hold on to this sheet for our next step.
Next, condition, condition, condition. Does this razor have to be perfect or are you just looking for user grade model that has all it’s functionality just cosmetic flaws? Does the razor need to have it’s original case? Do you plan on sending it out to be restored? These are all important questions to ask yourself they are huge factors when determining price.
In my experience, knowing exactly what you want is winning half the battle. This way once you’ve determined the vintage razor you want to purchase you’ll be able to focus more time on researching it to make sure this is exactly what you want. This takes us to our next step, research.
Step 2: Research
Now that you’ve pinpointed the particular model of razor you want, it’s time to do some research. Just type in the model name and let the Googling begin.
Grab that piece of paper and start recording the 5 Ws (and H)
Some important things to look up :
Who produced the razor?
Is the maker still in business?
Actual Model Names/Numbers
There are many “slang” terms given by collectors to many vintage razors. It’s very important to know both the slang and actual model name/number from the manufacturer as both of these terms can be used as titles for items being sold.
For example: Do you know that the Gillette Fatboy is just a term used by modern day collectors? The real name given by Gillette was the “195” which represented its price.
Where exactly was the razor produced?
Where was it sold/distributed?
Is/was it available in the country I live in?
Knowing exactly when the razor you’re searching for was made can really make the search a little easier. Look for serial numbers and date codes.
Date Codes/Serial Numbers:
It’s important to know date codes, especially if you’re buying a vintage Gillette. Date codes tell the story of exactly when the razor was produced giving you the year and quarter it was made. Companies are known to have changed designs even mid-way through the year so it’s good to know when it actually happened. Check out this link for more information on Gillette date codes.
Some things to look for:
Razors that take blades that are no longer produced: yes, there are a lot of them out there. If the blades are no longer produced then it may be difficult or impossible to use. Even if you find NOS blades during your search, chances are they will not be as keen as when they were originally produced.
Razors that require power: Let’s be honest here. Electrical currents were a tad different 50, 60 or 70 years ago. I would be extremely careful with using these razors in modern times.
Step 3: Price
Determining the price of an item of interest has a lot to do with condition and the razors popularity. Thus, if the razor is in good shape, and in high demand then the price will be higher.
Next, condition,condition, condition. Here we go again. Does this vintage razor have to be perfect or are you just looking for user grade model that has all it’s functionality just cosmetic flaws? Does the razor need to have it’s original case? Do you plan on sending it out to be restored? These are all important questions to ask yourself (again) as they are huge factors when determining price.
If you do not have a budget, then you can omit this step, but for many of us it’s a factor that can make or break the search. Once you’ve determined the razor you want it’s important to have an idea of what you want to spend, especially if you’re bidding in a live auction. Some vintage razors tend to go very high at times so know you max bid and stick with it.
For example, if you are in the market for a Gillette Bottom Dial, be prepared to spend over $1000 in any condition.
Step 4: Search and Buy
Create an Ebay and Paypal Accounts
First off, you’ll need to sign up for an Ebay account. It’s relatively safe and gives you access to millions of items. If this is something you do not feel comfortable doing, then this may not be the method of purchasing shave gear for you. There are other ways, (wet shaving forums, garage/estate sales, ads in paper ETC), but this greatly reduces your chances of finding exactly what you want as the market is very limited. Remember with the power of the internet, you can purchase almost anything from anywhere in the world.
After you’ve set up you’re ebay account it’s time to get your Paypal account going. Paypal is what 99.9% of all sellers accept as a form of payment when dealing with sites like eBay. It’s safe for both the seller and buyer. Again if this is something you do not feel comfortable doing, then this form of purchasing is not for you.
Once your accounts are ready you’re all set! You are officially ready to purchase some wet shaving gear! Start your search and see what you come up with! Is it that easy? Well, yes and no. Let’s get started!
How To Search:
Now the most important part. The actual search. For argument’s sake we’re going to stick with eBay for this segment.
A basic search is pretty simple. Just put the name of the razor you’re looking for and a bunch pop up. Usually the first one on the list will be what the search feature feels is the best match for you. I don’t always agree. You can easily filter your search to find exactly what you’re looking for.
For example: I’m looking for a Gillette Fat Boy 195. My price range is under $40-$85 and I’m not willing to wait for an auction so.
You would first type in “Gillette Fat Boy” In the search bar on the top of the page (see image)
Next, you want to filter a few things. First click on the “Buy it Now” just under the search bar. That will only show Gillette Fat Boy razors that are available for immediate purchase.
Now, move over to the left side of the page under the column “Categories” and scroll down until you see “price”. There enter the desired price range and click on search again.
As you can see there are few razors that are obviously not Fat Boys (195). That’s where the research aspect becomes very important. Knowing exactly what you are and what you are not looking for is most of the battle. That’s really all there is to it. But what if you’re really busy or want to know exactly when an item is listed for sale? Yep, there’s a way to find out without even searching.
All you need to do is click on “save this search” and it will save your criteria to your account. (see image).
You can have this search sent directly to your email when new items pop-up with a few simple steps.
Go to my eBay
Click on ‘Saved Searches”
Click on “Subscribe Email”
And there you have it! Now when new items emerge you’ll get an email. If you’re really tech savvy you can even get notifications on your phone. (check to see if your email provider has this option) Are there other tricks of the trade? Of course there are! Everyone does something different and my only advice is to put your time in and practice, practice, practice.
Popular Vintage Razors to Look Out For:
There are literally 100’s of different razors out there. For argument’s’ sake here are the main types that people are looking for.
Adjustable, TTO Razors
Probably one of the most searched for type of vintage razor, adjustable razors (particularly Gillette) are popular, abundant and have the largest price range. They shave well and typically hold their value so there’s no worry of losing your investment.
Adjustable razors can hide mechanical issues which is important to know if you do not plan on getting it restored. Look for rust, fortified soap scum and and missing parts. While these razors are quite durable, the test of time can be very hard on them.
Expect to pay $75 -$125 to repair an adjustable razor and $100+ for restoration. There are several companies that service adjustables.
Razors of interest:
Gillette Adjustables: Fat boy, Slim, Black Beauty
Non-Adjustable 2 and 3 pc razors:
These razors traditionally do not have moving parts thus making them less prone for repair issues. Surface rust and patina are repairable although this will add time and money to the desired outcome.
There are literally hundreds of non-adjustable razors in the wild, and can fit almost any budget.
There is a ton that could be said here. Let’s keep it simple. All specialty/weird razors will tend to be difficult to have serviced and repaired. That doesn’t mean to stay away from them. If you happen to find a vintage razor that appeals to you but there isn’t much information on it, I suggest you pick one up and become the expert!
Lucky for us, there are options if a vintage razor is in disrepair or in need of a restoration. Several companies are dedicated to making your razor look and operate new again, but first let’s look at what can and cannot be repaired.
Things that are not repairable:
Bent teeth on open comb razors. Once a tooth is bent or missing, there isn’t a magic fix or repair that will bring it back. Most likely the razor will shave the same, especially if it’s missing only one or two teeth but the value will diminish.
Stripped top caps. If the top cap screw it’s probably not worth getting. You’ll have to find another razor to replace the part which makes purchasing the original pointless.
Deep Pitting in metal: If you notice any pitting of metal just remember you’ll have to live with it. Replating razors require a perfectly even and smooth surface. Any variation will affect the final finish.
Cracked handles/other parts: If you see a crack, there’s a good chance you’ll have to live with it. Although common with earlier razors (Gillette Old Types) they typically will not affect the shave. If the crack is extensive your vintage razor may end up being a showpiece rather than a daily driver.
Things that are repairable:
Surface Rust: Surface rust can be repaired but can expose severe pitting which cannot. Although a cosmetic flaw, excessive rust can affect the shave if its deep and if not treated will get worse. Light surface rust can be removed but I recommend staying away from rust in general unless the razor is highly collectable or has sentimental value.
Patina: Patina does not affect the shave and can be covered up by replating. Although to some it’s undesirable, it’s a great representation of age and is pretty cool. You can leave it alone or have the razor resurfaced.
Be patient! Remember that finding what you want will take time and be prepared to be on the hunt for several weeks to months and even years.Do not to give up if you don’t find what you’re looking for right away
Only you can determine what a particular vintage razor is worth to you. It’s important to know that wet shaving is all about having fun performing a task that otherwise is repetitive and boring. The hunt is just as much fun as using the razor itself so remember to make it a great experience. Who knows, you might make a few friends along the way.
It’s also important to remember that razors with just cosmetic flaws will still perform as intended and will often save you a ton of money.
About the Author:
Joe Borrelli is a long-time wet shaving enthusiast and collector. He hosts the Wet Shaving News/Talk Podcast , runs his own self-funded website http://shavestraightandsafe.com/ and operates a YouTube channel to help inform the community of new information involving the wet shaving world. Joe holds a BBA from Florida Atlantic University, and currently works for the nation’s largest wine/spirits/beer retailer. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Linda, reading, writing, outdoor activities and collecting wet shaving apparel. Find out more about Joe here.