The Gillette “Bottom Dial” Fat Boy has held the attention of collectors and enthusiasts alike for years now. One of the first major collectible safety razors during the resurrection of wet shaving, the Bottom Dial still brings a lot of attention in online auctions and wet shaving groups/forums with its value increasing steadily every year.
Although valuable today the Bottom Dial (known as the Aqoss at Gillette) is a product of trial and error Gillette was experimenting with when creating an adjustable razor. Users were not fond of the design at the time which is why only a few were made.
You may remember a few years ago we briefly discussed the Aqoss in “The Amazing Story of the Gillette Toggle”. Writing that article increased my interest in the Bottom Dial and I began researching as much as I could about it.
As a collector and more importantly user, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I have always been on the lookout for a Bottom Dial. In fact, it took exactly nine years to find one.
This year (2020) is the 60th Anniversary of the F4 (date code by Gillette for the fourth quarter of 1960) production Aqoss. So, what better way to celebrate than to dedicate some time one of wet shaving’s most prized razors and introduce a new discovery.
In the 1950’s Gillette realized that not all users preferred the same aggression level while shaving. Gillette found that men preferred a razor that was more dialed into their beard type. This led to the creation of several Super Speed razors which were designed for those with different beard types.
There was the Blue Tip which was mild and designed for light beards, the regular Flare Tip which was standard and the Red Tip which was more aggressive and recommended for those with thicker facial hair. The popularity with these new razors increased as users were able to customize their shave depending on their beard level.
Although these razors did the job, you needed three of them to enjoy the full spectrum. Gillette realized that users wanted the ability to customize their shave, so they began developing the Gillette Adjustable. There were several different designs all with similar features that Gillette worked with from the mid -1950s until 1960.
Gillette began selling the first version of the Gillette Adjustable (Gillette Toggle) in 1956 to a limited market in Milwaukee to begin its testing phase. Shortly after, Gillette created a second study giving testers the Toggle Style razor and a Twist to Open (TTO) adjustable razor (Aqoss) with the adjustment knob toward the bottom of the handle. Users received cards to send back to Gillette with their thoughts and feedback.
Users liked the adjustable design but preferred the TTO handle and the adjustment knob toward the top of the razor. Two more razors were created in response to the feedback pricing one at $2.49 (later nicknamed the Red Dot) for a limited market and another similar version for $1.95 (later nicknamed the Fat Boy) everywhere else. After receiving more feedback, Gillette decided to continue with the 195 design and discontinued the other models.
The Gillette Aqoss was only sold in 4th quarter of 1960 to the public although prototypes were being distributed prior. The popularity of the standard 195 took off selling over 6 million razors in just a few years. The adjustable design lasted until early 1989 when Gillette seized USA production of double edge safety razors to concentrate on the more popular cartridge style razors.
*Original test market material from Gillette
Many wet shavers know of the Aqoss razor, but do not know there were several different versions produced. Gillette experimented with different weights, materials, and adjustment settings in the selected test markets before coming out with the production model.
The first prototypes consisted of 1-5 adjustment dials and were made with different materials to test different weights. These razors did not have a date code and as far as we know were never sold to the public.
There were two versions of a 1-5 Adjustment Aqoss.
• 1-5 Position Black Dial (maybe 10 or so still in existence)
o Anodized black aluminum dial, nickel coated brass.
• 1-5 Position Dial Nickel
o Produced with an aluminum handle, retaining cap and tto knob (less than 10 in existence)
Standard Production 1-9 Adjustment Dial
There were 6 different versions made, based upon different weights as a study to see what consumers ultimately preferred. Unfortunately, we don’t know the exact variations only that there were six, but I have been able to partially prove this theory.
I went ahead and contacted several owners of 1-9 Aqoss razors and asked them to weigh their razors. Out of the 8 razors weighed 6 of them weighed the same and the other two weighed differently.
The 1-9 Aqoss razors had the date code F4 stamped on the baseplate and were available in a case with promotional materials. See below:
*Original instruction booklet with the F4 1-9 Aqoss
*Original Case for F4 1-9 Aqoss
Updated: Production Numbers
I caught up with Greg McCoy the senior archivist over at P&G and he was kind enough to share some updated production numbers of the bottom dial:
• 1956 – Boston Consumer Test Market had 500 Aqoss razors (were likely 5pt dials)
• 1956 – Unknown city Consumer & Sales Test of 2500 Aqoss razors
• 1957, Oct – Jacksonville, Duluth, and Spokane Sales Test Market had between 21,000 and 25,000 (was a 9pt dial)
Estimated total production of the bottom dial 195 is anywhere from 24,000-28,000 respectively. With over 6 million 195 Fat boy razors produced this leads the bottom dial to be less than ½ of a percent of total production.
Bottom Dial Today
Although extremely rare the Aqoss still pops up here and there. From my records there have been less than 10 sold in the past 3 or 4 years with only 3 being sold in 2020. (It’s not known how many have passed through multiple collector’s hands)
This brings up the question: “How Many Are Left Today” …….
How many are left?
I’m not sure if that question can be accurately answered. There could still be some razors stored in attics, basements and/’or garages, just waiting to be discovered.
There have been around less than 20 sold on eBay since 2013.
After speaking with Matt of Razor Emporium who has serviced about 10 Aqoss razors since his company’s inception in 2010, it might be much less than I thought.
I estimated around 100 or so Aqoss razors are left in existence until a recent discovery had me rethinking my guess.
Repairs and Restoration:
This question does come up a lot when purchasing vintage shave gear. There are several places that repair and/or restore vintage Gillette razors including the Aqoss. Some collectors feel having the razors serviced and or restored can diminish value from the razor. Here are a few things to consider before sending our razor out:
Restoration can lower value: Whenever you alter a razor from its additional condition there is a chance it may drop in value. It all depends on the market and who’s interested in buying one.
There is a chance the razor may be damaged: Let’s face it, there are no Gillette Razor part stores out there and while these razors are built well, everything mechanical can break. You do risk a chance that your razor may not make it back in one piece.
Restoration can bring the razor back to like new if not better condition: If you want the razor to perform like the first day it came out of the package then restoration is for you.
It all boils down to personal preference. Personally, I like to keep things original but in good mechanical order so I can use them.
Recently there was a discovery of around 20 NOS (New Old Stock) Aqoss razors in the vault of Gillette’s Boston Headquarters. These razors were never circulated and have been in storage for around 60 years.
This discovery greatly increased the amount of Aqoss razors known to exist and just knowing they’re NOS gets any collector excited. Unfortunately, these razors are being stored for future generations to enjoy and sadly are not and may never be for sale.
Aqoss Test 2020:
It’s been 60 years since the F4 Aqoss made its noticeably short appearance and although things didn’t pan out, I figured I’d try it out for myself.
When I first picked it up, I could instantly tell why the test market preferred the dial on top design. The dial just feels out of place. It’s not uncomfortable to hold, and if this was the only model Gillette ever produced, I’m confident it would still be successful. Holding the razor just feels awkward, as I see my fingers trying to avoid the dial and spread out more so than with a regular adjustable.
My first encounter left me thinking “why would they design it like this in the first place”. I mean, it seems like it would be easier to have the dial closer to the head of the razor.
I’ll spare the details of the entire shave test, but I went ahead and used the Aqoss side by side with a regular 195 for two weeks straight and then side by side with an F4 Toggle for the same amount of time. Here is what I found:
Test 1: Aqoss vs 195 (Fat boy)
The overall shave experience was remarkably similar. As previously mentioned, it’s a little awkward holding the Aqoss compared to the 195. Shave quality was almost the same but as I found the 195 to be more comfortable to hold, the Aqoss had better balance. With the dial on the bottom, the weight of the razor is more evenly distributed, which makes it maneuver easier over the face and feels almost lighter than it is. The 195 is top heavy which I found to require a slightly different angle and less pressure than the Aqoss, but both were close.
Test 2: Aqoss vs Toggle
I had a similar experience with the Toggle compared to the Aqoss, but preferred shaving with the Aqoss as I’ve never been a fan of the Toggle handle. The Toggle’s design is probably the most complex out of any adjustable razor produced, and it is fun to use, but compared to the Aqoss the experience in my opinion is not awfully close. The handle just feels a little awkward on the Toggle and makes it hard to maneuver especially in those hard to reach places. In addition, the Toggle felt slightly milder on similar settings compared to the Aqoss and the 195 and is the most difficult one to use out of the three for head shaving.
I’m going to have to give it to the 195 for overall winner. I think the design is most user friendly and the easiest to use out of the three. The Aqoss although has an awesome feel to it and is for a more advanced wet shave as it requires more attention when shaving. The toggle although the coolest one out of the three performs well but the design makes it a little harder to use.
The Aqoss is a product of innovation from some of Gillette’s most talented engineers. It helped open the door for the adjustable razor which was produced until early 1989 by Gillette and replicated by dozens of producers. Although the Aqoss didn’t fare well with consumers 60 years ago, it sure brings a lot of excitement to today’s collector. There isn’t a time I walk into an antique shop, pull up to a garage sale or just search on eBay where I don’t keep my eye out for one and I can guess many of you do too.
Happy 60th Birthday F4 Aqoss!
Special thanks to:
Greg of Procter and Gamble
Matt of Razor Emporium
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 spending time with his wife Linda & son Anthony, reading, writing, outdoor activities and collecting wet shaving apparel. Joe has also written several dozen articles for online publications such as Sharpologist and How to Grow a Mustache. Find out more about Joe here.