Now You See It, Now You Don't!

TellZall's object for February is the Straight Razor

Today, men usually shave with disposable razors or electric razors, but that has not always been the case. For more than two hundred years, most American men who wanted to shave used a straight razor, also known as a straight-edge razor. This type of razor first appeared in England in the 1700s, and remained the mainstay of men's razors until the twentieth century. Some men chose to shave themselves at home, while others went to the local barbershop to get a shave.

A straight razor is attached to two pieces called "scales," by use of a pin or hinge at one end. When the razor is closed, the scales serve to protect the razor blade from damage (and the person who uses it from accidental cuts). When the blade is open, the scales function as a handle. Originally, scales could be made of ivory, but many other materials have been used, including wood, bone, and plastic. The person shaving must keep the razor very sharp, stropping the blade on a leather strop each time that the blade is used. In addition, the blade must be honed or sharpened regularly. Men who used straight razors created their own lather by utilizing a shaving mug, a bar of shaving soap, and a shaving brush.

The first major challenge to the traditional straight razor came in 1901. King Gillette invented the safety razor, which had a handle that created a "T" shape like modern-day razors. Gillette's razor had a disposable blade. Consumer interest in the new disposable safety razor began to increase during World War I. The United States army issued this razor to troops for the first time during this war, and many of the men continued to use them once their service was over. Jacob Schick invented an electric razor that competed with the straight razor in the 1930s as well. By the mid-1900s, fewer and fewer people still used the traditional straight-edge razor.

As the use of straight razors went out of fashion, most barbershops chose not to offer the service anymore. Occasionally, it is still possible to find one that offers a traditional shave with a straight razor though. Straight razors, as well as the shaving mugs and brushes, are also collectibles. There are still a small number of companies that manufacture the straight-edge razor, and some men claim that this old-fashioned razor provides the best possible shave.