Some “British” shaving brush brands

Britain is the home of the classic shaving brush. Even today there are a lot of brands that have survived the lean years when horrible aerosol lathers nearly killed them off. I have put the word British in inverted commas for two reasons. Firstly because by far the biggest manufacturer of these brushes is Progress Vulfix who are on the Isle of Man in the middle of the Irish sea, which is not part of Great Britain. Secondly because a lot of what goes into these brushes nowadays is Chinese.

All the badger hair in all the British brushes comes from China. It is still from Meles meles, the same badger that we have in Europe. In China this animal is vermin which is culled annually and the meat is eaten whilst the hair goes to the brush industry. Whereas in Europe the badger is protected, though there is probably going to be a cull in Wales early next year as a measure against tuberculosis. The Chinese don’t just sell the hair, they take advantage of their cheap labour to make the hair up into knots, in fact the vast majority of all badger knots are now made in China, some by hand and some machine made. And of course the Chinese make the handles, some by moulding and some by machining.

So we have the situation where it is possible to buy a knot and a handle from China, glue them together in Britain and then write “Made in England” on the brush!

Here are some of the brands:

Body Shop.
Bonds of Oxford Street. A London tobacconist who sells a lot on eBay offer the Vulfix range of brushes with their own name printed on them. You can buy the same brushes elsewhere for less.
Coate’s. The Brush company was founded in London in 1875. They shared premises in Somerset with Simpson’s from 1941 and amalgamated with them in 1990. Nowadays more famous for their shaving soaps but you can still buy new old stock Coate’s Fitzwilliam brushes made by Simpson’s which look very nice indeed.
Culmak.
Cyril R Salter.
D.R. Harris.
Edwin Jagger.
Floris.
Geo. F. Trumper
Kent
Kingsley
Mason Pearson
Men-U
Morris & Forndran
New Forest
Pecksniff’s
Penhaligon’s
Rooney
Simpson
Taylor of Old Bond Street
Truefitt & Hill
Vulfix
Woods of Windsor

How its made video – Safety razor & double edge blades

Escaping from the dark side. A road map

Due to being brainwashed by marketing there are tens of millions of men in the world who use multibladed system razors with patent protected cartridges that you can only buy from the one monopoly supplier. This is very expensive, does not give the best shave and ends up being a chore. Yet there is the fantastic alternative of traditional shaving where you can buy 100 blades for as little as £10, and enjoy a shave that is not only better but which is also an enjoyable and luxurious experience.

So why don’t more men throw away the absurdly expensive system razor and move over to something far better in every way? The answer is partially that they have been brainwashed by billions of dollars worth of advertising featuring famous sports stars. Then there is the fact that most know nothing about traditional shaving. And finally those that do can often be intimidated by the change to new equipment. So I thought I would write a road map to enable people who have trepidations to escape the dark side and enter a new world where everything is better!

Step 1. Throw away all those aerosol cans that you get your lather out of and replace them with a lather you make yourself with a brush (keep using the system razor for the moment). This sort of lather has several advantages:

  • The brushing action lifts the stubble into the lather making it easier for the blade to cut.
  • The brushing action exfoliates your face, helping your complexion.
  • You can use far more luxurious soaps and creams.
  • More active ingredient goes on your face.
  • The quality of ingredients is usually much higher.
  • The time taken to brush the lather on softens your stubble by as much as 80%.
  • This is a genuinely enjoyable experience.

For a brush I would suggest a Vulfix 404 badger/boar mix, a Frank Shaving finest badger bought from China on eBay or the incredible value Turkish horse hair brush. All three of these are low in cost and do an excellent job. They are widely used and praised by real shaving enthusiasts.

Then you have the option of a cream or a soap. Basically a cream is just a soap with water already mixed into it to make it easier to use, so a soap is better because it is more concentrated. The soaps I would recommend are Palmolive shaving sticks, Mitchell’s Wool Fat and, my favourite, Otoko Organics. If you must go down the cream route then Taylor’s of Old Bond Street have a great range, their Avocado being particularly lush.

Only once you are settled into and happy with this new regime should you consider moving to step 2.

Step 2. Move to two pass shaving. So lather up as normal and shave with your multibladed system razor. Then lather up a second time and shave with a Wilkinson Sword Classic or a Weishi razor from eBay (do not try anything else) and a razor blade from the supermarket. Watch the Mantic59 videos on YouTube first to get a leap up the learning curve. Both these low cost razors are incredible mild and are less likely to bite than a multibladed system razor, so you will come to no harm as you learn to use no pressure and to get the angle right using short strokes.

Now you are enjoying the better shave that a DE razor gives you whilst getting used to the idea of multiple passes. Your significant other will also be enjoying your smoother face.

Once again get settled into this before moving on.

Step 3. Now is the time to upgrade your double edged razor for something far more effective, whilst still using the multibladed system razor for the first pass. You need to buy an Edwin Jagger razor (do not try anything else) for about £20, or sometimes £15 on Amazon. The model I have is the DE89L. This is a fantastic piece of kit and all that you really need for shaving for the rest of your life. It is very easy to use and will not bite unless you really abuse it, which by now you will know how not to. And it is mightily effective at chomping through the stubble.

This will not take you very long to adapt to, so soon you will be ready for the next step.

Step 4. Now throw away your multibladed system razor and use the Edwin Jagger for the first pass. You can go to a two pass or a three pass shave, whatever gives you the result that you want. And one very good trick is to use the Wilkinson Sword Classic or Weishi for the last pass, being milder it can shave closer.

So now you are set for life, you are having really enjoyable shaves whilst saving yourself a lot of money. But there is more!

Step 5. Upgrade and experiment. When you are on the dark side you only have one supplier, but when you escape you suddenly find infinite choice so you can personalise every single shave to be exactly what you want. Buy a blade sample pack from Connaught to see which one works for you. Look at top end razors such as the Mergress, the iKon and the Feather All Stainless. And maybe buy a top end brush like a Simpson’s or, my favourite, a Morris & Forndran.

Step 6. Enjoy.

Custom horse shaving brush

Regular readers here will know that I have a penchant for horse hair shaving brushes. Once most brushes were made of this hair, until there was an anthrax scare  (which is no longer a problem). Using a horse hair brush is different, interesting and very good. You know straight away that you are not using badger or boar and the combination of softness and backbone may be better than both of those for some people.

The big bargain is the wooden handled shaving brush No6 from BestShave in Turkey. At just $2.45 this is the biggest bargain in shaving and every traditional shaver should have one. It isn’t just inexpensive, it is also a truly excellent brush, very many happy owners have now written positive stuff about owning and using one on the interwebs.

Another source of horse hair brushes is Vie Long in Spain. These are available as large wood and metal handled barber brushes with undyed and unbleached hair, intended for professional barber shop use these are good value at about $8 to $10. Also there are a huge range of normal consumer shaving brushes with a very wide range of handles in various materials using bleached and dyed hair. And finally there are brushes of mixed horse and badger hair and also mixed horse hair and boar bristle.

Something for everyone you may think. But not quite, for the purist it would be very nice to have the normal consumer shaving brushes but with unbleached hair. And due to consumer demand on the Pogonotomy forum this is exactly what is going to happen. Online retailer Gifts and Care, who have a fine reputation, are organising it. So if you have an interest in such a special and unique brush have a look at the forum thread about it.

How big is yours?

Simpson's Wee Scot and Penworks Finest Badger

There is a current fashion for ridiculously large wrist watches, you are not a real man without half a pound of steel strapped to your wrist, yet I remember when the manufacturers were competing against each other to make the thinnest watches. The same is true of mobile phones, it is not so long since smaller was better, now big is the order of the day.

Which brings us neatly to shaving brushes, the current fashion is for far bigger brushes than our fathers and their fathers used. Unencumbered by fashion previous generations used brushes that were the right size for the job, which we would now regard as being small brushes.

Part of what is going on must be conspicuous consumption. A Simpson’s Duke D3 costs about 50% more than a Duke D1 so it must be about 50% better, right? Well, not really, it just means that it cost about 50% more to make. Followed to it’s logical conclusion we would all be using Polo PL 14s, they cost the most so they must be the best.

Instead of looking at the cost of the brush lets look at what we use it for, building a lather and distributing that lather on our faces. We only need so much lather and even a Wee Scot can carry enough for three passes, so what is the point of having a massive brush and then making enough lather for a soccer team? It seems to me that the main result is a lot of wasted shaving cream/soap going down the plughole.

And when it comes to using the brush on your face the large brush lacks precision, so you end up painting your ears and your nose as well as the stubble areas. A correctly sized brush is a delight to use precisely because it enables you to do a better job, to place the lather exactly where it is needed. And to only use the right amount of shaving cream/soap to shave one person.

Simpson's Commodore X1 and Beaufort B1

It is because of the innate rightness of a perfectly formed brush that I find myself using my Simpson’s Commodore X1 and Beaufort B1 more and more. Admittedly I am face lathering and I have to say that these are just about perfect tools for the job. They might take a little longer to paint your face but they make up for it by being far quicker to load up and to rinse. A further joy is that you can use the same brush at home and for travel, all you need is a standard brush tube.

So if you are a big brush user why not give a small brush a try for a while. Once you have got over the learning curve you might be pleasantly surprised.

Announcement about this blog

Now there are nearly 200 articles on here about traditional shaving it represents a considerable body of work. Easily as much as a book would contain. If you use the search box on the right you can reference all this knowledge to find what you want.

So now I am going to significantly reduce the rate at which I write articles on here, the plan is to create articles as and when something interesting comes along on all three of my blogs, Bruce on Politics, Bruce on Games and obviously Bruce on Shaving. Also, from a traditional shaving perspective, I am now putting a lot more of what comes along into the Pogonotomy forum, which attracts a lot more content from other people than a blog does, so gives a broader view.

Obviously I will still be posting articles here, it is just that they will not be so frequent. If you want to keep up with when these are published you can use the RSS feed, or the Twitter feed.

Fake Iridium blades

Iridium razor blades. Real on the left. Fake on the right.

Iridium razor blades. Real on the left. Fake on the right.

The Pogonotomy forum member mitsimonsta posted these pictures (and more) to the forum so that members could identify the fake Iridium razor blades that are currently being distributed and sold (photos originally from B&B user BlkKnight). These are presumed to be made in China and could sell well as there is a huge demand for this blade yet Procter & Gamble (Gillette) are not making any of the real ones available.

Fake Iridium razor blade. Says Brocter & Hamble, Meybridge, Hurrey etc

Real Iridium razor blade. Says Procter & Gamble, Weybridge, Surrey etc

As you can see the fakes are extremely believable except for the writing on the sides, where they are presumably trying to avoid the wrath of Procter & Gamble and of course the simple fact that the product quality is only a fraction of that of the real thing.

Fake Iridium razor blades. Says Betersburg Products International etc

Real Iridium razor blades. Says Petersburg Products International etc

Gillette don’t want to talk to me

Petersburg Products International factory in Russia

Gillette make fantastic double edged (DE) razor blades at the Petersburg Products International (PPI) factory in Russia that they (or their parent Procter & Gamble) 65% own. But Gillette also make two lines of patent protected system razors, the Guard and the Fusion, which are vastly more profitable. Recently there has been some worry in shaving circles about the future of the many Gillette DE brands, reinforced when the much loved Iridium blade suddenly disappeared with no warning. The dreaded shavepocalypse. So I thought I would ask them for some information.

Usually a company is very happy to get product information out to their customers, it is called marketing communications and they have special staff whose job it is to do this. The lady doing this job at PPI is Galina Petrenko. I sent her the following email:

from Bruce Everiss
to pg_ceemeaconsumerrelations@mailnj.custhelp.com
date 19 January 2011 08:02
subject For Galina Petrenko re Double edged blades
mailed-by xxxxxx

19 Jan (14 days ago)

Hi Galina,

I run the traditional shaving blog Bruce on Shaving http://www.bruceonshaving.com/ and the Pogonotomy forum http://pogonotomy.proboards.com/index.cgi so have a very keen interest in traditional shaving using double edged blades. PPI make what are widely considered to be the best double edged blades that can be bought so there is a lot of interest in what you are doing. I personally have many of the different sorts of blade that you make. However there is a great lack of information about what PPI are doing with double edged blades.

I was wondering if you could be so kind as to answer just a few simple questions about PPI. Your answers would be of great interest to many traditional shavers around the world.

1) You produce many different brands of blades. These include Astra, Sputnik, Permasharp, Polsilver, Rotbart, Nacet, Minora and the several different variations of the Gillette brand. Is it possible to have a definitive list from you of your DE brands?

2) Are all these different blades engineered the same in terms of steel, grind, coatings etc. Or are they all different to one another? Or do you have a small number of variations that are packaged under different brand names for different markets? If so which blades are the same?

3) The stainless razor steel you use is excellent, it will hold a good edge for a long time. Is this Swedish steel? If not what nationality is it?

4) There is a huge resurgence in interest in double edged shaving in the West. The number of enthusiasts is growing rapidly. Is PPI aware of this and does it have plans to look after such enthusiasts?

5) The Iridium blade was a favourite amongst double edged shaving enthusiasts in the West. However it is currently unavailable for us to buy. When will it be available again?

Thank you very much in advance for your time and trouble in answering this,

Kind Regards,

Bruce Everiss

And the response, after two weeks, is a big fat zero. Now Galina might be on her annual vacation, which would be skiing at this time of year. Or maybe it is taking her time to collate the information. But I doubt both of these, I think that they just don’t want to talk to me. And you can see why, to them DE blades must be a low margin commodity compared with their highly priced and high profit margin cartridge razors where they have a patent protected monopoly. So why give publicity to something they have openly said that they are trying to replace? It was just wishful thinking to expect them to actually give answers.

Winter Palace, St Petersburg, Russia

The Marketing Powerhouse that was and still is the Gillette Safety Razor Company, part 4

Here is the fourth in this fascinating series of articles by Matt Pisarcik of Razor Emporium:

The One-Piece Razor

The NEW razor was short lived and made way for the razors that most people know Gillette for: the One-Piece. Debuting in 1934, the Aristocrat was a model name used twice already that now carried a newly unveiled design. Using a twister knob at the bottom, engineers at Gillette were able to develop a razor model that could accommodate a double edge blade in a concise, one-piece style. One of the most interesting aspects of this consolidated design however was all of the marketing and gimmicks that sprung up around it.

The initial advertisements played up the convenience while using catch-phrases such as: “A Twist! It’s open, A Twist! It’s closed.” The ads promoted the idea that you no longer had loose parts or trouble loading a blade, basically evoking the premise of convenience and ease. Later into the 1940’s Gillette even put out a new blade dispenser to work in combination with their razors. At first, they were simply telling consumers to remove the blade and place it into the opened razor bay, but later modified the actual razor to allow the blade to hook onto the notched center bar. This scheme of  a the disposable product being closer affiliated with the “Freebie” product increased customer loyalty of razor owners choosing genuine Gillette blades and not using third-party or off brand competitors.

Even while Gillette was producing this great new design, they still continued on with 3 piece style razors all the way into the 1960’s. They never phased out these inexpensive models because they were always after blade sales. However people would buy their razor blades, Gillette sold them a razor to do so. The idea of having a product range that all drove the same revenue-generating profit center (razor blades) is a marketing and business model that not only is successful, but also wide-spread in our modern day and age.

Advert images from Razor Archive.

Boots No7 for Men Protect & Perfect

The vanity of the world’s women leads them to spend billions of dollars every year for grease to put on their faces (and other bits of their bodies). They will happily pay out $30 dollars for a small pot of grease that costs cents to produce in the belief that it has some sort of magic effect on their appearance. A woman and her money are easily parted when you employ the vanity mechanism.

The profits on this grease are so vast that the manufacturers can pay for ridiculous amounts of advertising. We are bombarded with it. And this advertising promises women the world. Often falsely. National advertising standards are kept very busy trying to discipline these claims and punish the very many instances where they owe more to fiction than to fact.

Against this background, amazingly, there has emerged a grease that actually works and does what is claimed for it. Boots No 7 Protect & Perfect anti-ageing face cream has been scientifically proven to do what it says on the bottle. You would wonder why women are now buying any other brand.

So what has this got to do with shaving? Well Boots, without any fanfare, now make a range for men using the same technology. So now we have an after shave balm that makes us look younger! Which is something that some of us may want. The No7 for Men Protect & Perfect Intense Anti-Ageing Moisturiser currently costs £22 for 50ml here in the UK, which compares well with the fancy prestige global brand names. However the Boots product does something that theirs can’t.

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