So far on this blog when discussing vintage Gillette razors I have mentioned the basic Tech model. This simple but effective 3 piece design has a two piece head, clamping the blade, which is held together by screwing in the handle. I have also written a brief history of the more upmarket Super Speeds, which are a one piece razor with butterfly doors in the head operated by a Twist To Open (TTO) mechanism. But top of the heap of the three main Gillette models were the adjustables.
The adjustable razors have a clever mechanism that allows the user to adjust the blade exposure, or aggression, of the razor very quickly. On these Gillettes this consists of a moveable ring going round the handle just under the head (though a small number were built with it near the bottom of the handle) which is numbered 1-9 (though some rarer models were 1-5). Virtually all the Gillette adjustables were also TTO. So to change the aggression of your razor all you needed to do was to slacken off the TTO mechanism a little and then rotate the adjusting ring, which clicked into the position chosen, then tighten up the TTO again.
Users mostly tend to experiment with the adjuster till it gives the results they needed and then just leave it in this one setting. But there are other use strategies. Because traditional shaving salami slices the hair in consecutive passes you can start with the adjuster set fairly aggressively, to take off a big slice, then dial it down to take off smaller slices in subsequent passes as the blade cuts closer to the skin. Another strategy is to dial down for those areas which are prone to bleeding from weepers, such as under the chin. Or you can just make up your own strategy and do what suits you. This is part of the variety and fun of real, traditional, shaving.
In all there were probably 14 different Gillette adjustable models, but here we will concentrate just on the three main models and one less common model. Once again there is a caveat that this is a simple introduction, not an academic paper.
The first to market was the 195 model, so called because it retailed at $1.95. We know it as the Fat Boy because of the fat handle need to accommodate both the TTO and the adjustment mechanism. It was also a heavy razor with all the features it offered. The Fat Boy is a great razor to shave with even today, it was only made for 4 years 1958 to 1961, so is less common than some other models. These features make it an extremely collectable razor, most traditional shaving enthusiasts either have one or want one. Currently in reasonable shaving condition they sell for about $35.
Gillette, like any successful company, sought to improve their products, so they managed to engineer the mechanisms to fit inside a narrower handle. This is the model we call the Slim and it was made from 1961 to 1968 and it is a little lighter than the Fat Boy. Fitting all that mechanism into a narrow handle wasn’t a total success, however, I have known two Slims to jam up their adjustment mechanism completely with the grime caused by shaving.
After the Slim came the Super Adjustable, this was a little lighter again, came with two different handle lengths and is easily identified by its the black aluminium handle. It was made from 1969 to 1986 so had a very long production run indeed, though there were design changes, such as the black plastic lower head plate which was introduced in 1977.
If you want an adjustable razor today you have to go to the German firm of Merkur and their three adjustable models, the Progress, the Futur and the Vision.
Now we come to the fourth, less common, Gillette adjustable, the Toggle. The toggle, quite simply, had a metal toggle at the bottom of the handle which worked as a lever to open the butterfly doors in the head (instead of having a TTO), this mechanism made them the heaviest of the adjustables. They were only made in very small quantities between 1957 and 1960 and they are extremely sought after by collectors. The supply coming to market is very small indeed, so if you want one expect to pay up to $400. Or you could get lucky and find one in a junk store for $5. This happens.
After reading all this you will probably want to see what they look like, so I can point you at two great websites. At Country Joe’s Collectable Stuff there is a section for identifying vintage safety razors, also his vintage razors for sale has lots of good photographs and gives you an idea of the market. Mr Razor in Germany has his History of the Gillette Safety Razor with some fantastic photographs covering most models (click on the thumbnails). He also has great resource of instructions for different razor models and he has an eBay store that is full of temptations.
As you can see, traditional shaving offers infinite variety and a huge range of fascinating, enjoyable experiences. Owning and using one of these vintage Gillette adjustables is a fantastic start to the day, you know you have done something special that is denied to most other people.