A Close Shave: Rick Harrison and The Art of the Safety Razor

Unlike the majority of Hollywood’s new generation of male stars, I shave.

At least, I shave enough so that my face doesn’t resemble a sheet of 40-grit sandpaper.

So I was surprised the other night when a commercial came on with Rick Harrison’s smiling face. For those of you not really into watching much TV, Rick is the star of Pawn Stars, that reality show where people come into his pawn shop and sell their birthrights for pennies on the dollar. What was surprising about the commercial was that it was selling something I used to use all the time but haven’t for the last few years or so.

Safety Razors

A safety razor. Also known as a double-edge razor, or Dad’s razor. Yeah, that’s how old these things are.
The basic form of this razor, “the cutting blade of which is at right angles with the handle, and resembles somewhat the form of a common hoe”, was first set forth in a patent application in 1847 by William S. Henson. This included a “comb tooth guard or protector” which could be attached both to the hoe form and to a conventional straight razor.

But the point is, these things have been around for over a century in one form or another. They were the razors our grandfathers and fathers most probably used. Of course, today’s men, when they bother to shave at all, are more likely to use one of the new throwaway shavers like the Gillette Mach 21 with those work-of-art 21 blades of titanium offering a shave so close you can actually see UNDER your skin.

So that’s why this commercial was so surprising to me – that someone would have the chutzpah to try to sell these things on TV. But you know what? For the 30+ years I used them they were the best shaves I ever had. I had tried the early models of throwaways, like the first one by Wilkinson in 1970, and they were disappointing to say the least. Of course, they only had a single measly blade, and how good of a job could THAT possibly do? In the case of the safety razor, a pretty damned good one, at least by MY standards.

Antique Safety Razors

I used to be a flea-market addict and an inveterate collector of weird things. One of my earliest finds was a vintage Gillette safety razor, in original box, from 1911. I used that puppy for years without a single problem. Well, maybe one – I always wondered who had used it before me.

Squeamishness aside, it was as finely-crafted an instrument as you’re likely to find anywhere outside of a Rolex or a Ferrari. Everything fit perfectly and performed flawlessly. The same cannot be said of my current razor, the Gillette Mach 3. Although I believe it to be the best of a bad bunch, it still has several drawbacks: it’s disposable (which goes against my minimalist / re-user nature); the space between the 3 blades quickly fills up with decapitated stubble, which then makes both further shaving and final cleaning a laborious affair; and, worst of all, the actual shave it produces is far inferior to that of the trusty old safety razor.

They’re also God-awful expensive. Sure, the razor itself – basically, the handle – is fairly cheap, but for the refill cartridges you need a bank loan to buy a 3-pack. It’s the same principle that is used by drug dealers to hook their new clients, or the automotive and household appliance industries with their planned obsolescence. These cartridge razor manufacturers KNOW these cartridges won’t last anywhere near as long as an old-fashioned double-edged blade, even though they charge 5x or more for an equal number of them.

It’s marketing hype, plain and simple: “Multiple blades will cut your beard so close, closer than anything you’ve ever experienced, because as the hair is snapping back into place after the first blade passes the second blade is already cutting the hair down. The more blades you have, the closer the shave”.
Bull. If the blade is properly made, with the proper cutting angle and the required sharpness, then ONE blade is all you really need. They’ve never scientifically proven the multi-blade theory simply because they can’t.

So, here’s Rick advertising this latest wonder of modern science – The Micro Touch One Safety Razor. He gives a decent accounting, mentioning how his bald head is shaved clean by this instrument, and sweetens the pot by offering to throw in a couple free blades. Let me have Rick tell you in his own words.

The Catch

So what’s the catch?

Well, it isn’t exorbitantly priced, at least – $19.99 + S&H, which of course is part of the bad news – $7.99 to ship something no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Then you get the 12 free blades included.

If you’re really hairy you can choose to include the bonus 12-blade pack with your order and only pay for the additional S&H – $4.99.

Wait – what? That’s more than you’d pay if you just bought the blades at your local drug store or supermarket, IF you can find them. There’s the rub – with all the marketing mania over cartridge systems it’s getting harder to find a simple pack of 10 double-edged blades anymore. You usually have to look at the very bottom of the shaving supplies display to find one or two forlorn packs. You might even have to run around to a few stores to find one that even carries these things. A shame, really, but can you blame the manufacturers when they’re looking at a profit margin of over 500% for pushing the new technology?

So if you buy the Micro Touch One from Rick and you want the bonus blades you’ll end up paying $32.97 – still not bad, but you can do better on eBay or Amazon or even your local drug store, which is what I’ll be doing shortly now that Rick has re-ignited my passion for a close, simple and economical shave.

It’s just heartening that, in this age of high-tech triple-titanium 5-blade motorized cartridge shaving systems there’s actually someone advertising an old-school, economical solution – the humble safety razor.

Kudos, Rick.

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