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Synthetic Fibers – A Historical Perspective and how they Relate to Shaving Brushes (Part 4)

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This is the fourth in a series of articles on synthetic fibers and how they relate to shaving brushes, including a brief history of synthetic fibers, their development, stagnation, and resurrection in the market place. In the previous article, the discussion was based on how Nylon brushes were accepted in the toothbrush and in fact other applications but not for shaving brushes.
It was clear that even mixing Nylon and natural fibers was not going to bring the user community around to even semi-synthetics at the time. The overwhelming superior performance of available natural products proved a barrier to acceptance. However, even back in 1949 there were skeptics as to the validity of the reasoning of those who endorse more costly fibers against the backdrop of other alternatives.

    “Shaving brushes are the aristocrats of the brush world and frequently sell for more than $100, a luxury price that results from the costly hours of hand labor needed to select, grade and match badger hairs for length and color. Legend has it that the best, long, silver-tipped, banded hair can only be obtained from aged, virgin, female badgers caught along the Lena River within the Arctic Circle in Siberia; a theory which may help to explain a hundred – dollar shaving brush.” [1]

Now considering that the preceding, hyperbolic or maybe tongue in cheek, statement was written in 1949, with inflation we are looking at an equivalent brush price of approximately $965 in 2012 dollars.[2] It is clear that an excellent quality $100 brush in 2012 dollars could be had for around $10 back then. So with the choice of an excellent quality natural brush, versus a clearly inferior synthetic brush, it was clear that synthetics would go nowhere fast unless more work was performed. Unfortunately this was not to be, and even the natural brushes that dominated the shaving kits of all shavers became an endangered species with one invention.
The invention of canned shaving cream caused a seismic shift in the world of shaving.

    “In 1949 a grooming product innovation was unveiled: an aerosol shaving product named Rise that was the first pressurized shaving cream. Soon after Rise introduced in the early 1950’s the first shave foam product that combined the speed and convenience of a brushless shave foam with superb lathering and moisturizing characteristics. The now baby boomers, their fathers and grandfathers overwhelmly welcomed and rapidly adopted a simplified, fast and clean shave with Rise Shave Foam which proved to be highly effective without water or a brush.”[3]

[Author’s note: The quoted words, “The now” should more than likely read “Now the” and overwhelmly should be overwhelmingly. However, the original statement is left unchanged in this citation.]
The enemy of all shaving brushes, not just the new synthetics, had arrived and the majority of the shavers in the United States, the American Hemisphere, and even in Western Europe, made a massive change in shaving philosophy. Now what this new product traded was time, versus the greater hydration that could be achieved with the traditional tools of the time.
In the new marketing thrust that was first tied to the Jet engine, “Jet Age” and later “Space Age” individuals would reject the older, slower more proven approach, for the newer and more advertised driven approach of canned lather. Shaving brush production of all types began to go into a strong decline as a generation of shavers began to adopt the new canned sensation. As time passed more and more brush manufacturers dropped production of low to medium priced shaving brushes all together. In the United States, ASR consolidated their traditional shaving items under the Burma Shave name and Ever Ready brushes disappeared. Only the C40 type was left and renamed as the Burma Shave brush. Other U.S. manufacturers such as, Rubberset, Erksine, Made Rite and even Fuller faded from the scene. With dramatic reductions in demand for natural brushes across the board, no research and development money would be spent on making synthetics any better. There would be no return on investment in a product (synthetic shaving brushes) with extremely limited sales potential.
Interest in traditional brush and lather would fade away to almost nothing in the United States and to a very low level even in Western Europe where only a few of the strongest shaving brush makers would last over the decades of canned lather dominance. That would mean that the Nylon brush technology of the 1950’s was all that would be available for the next fifty some odd years, for those who wanted a brush without animal fibers. There would have to be some changes in other areas that would spark a resurrection in both traditional shaving methods and in the reason to develop new synthetic fibers. That will remain for future discussion in a later article.
[1] Bristles and Brushes: A Footnote to the Story of American War Production – Merrill Denison page 30.
[2] This calculation was made on the following site on 11 August 2012:
The calculation yielded $964.19 against $100 in 1949.

GD Carrington

GD Carrington

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