When people look for vintage razors to put to daily use today they mostly think of Gillette, who manufactured very large numbers of well engineered razors which, with care, have an almost infinite life. But there were many other, smaller, razor manufacturers around the world, some of whom made very good razors and one of the very best was James Neil & Co of Composite Steel Works, Napier Street, Sheffield, England, who manufactured the superb Eclipse Red Ring razor.
At the time that the Red Ring was designed Britain was still the world’s superpower with the biggest empire ever seen and a technology base to match. The unions and socialism were yet to yield their destructive power. Robert Watson Watt was inventing radar, Frank Whittle was inventing the jet engine, Alexander Fleming was inventing antibiotics, Ernest Rutherford was splitting the nucleus and Reginald Joseph Mitchell was designing the Spitfire.
The Red Ring had several innovations and was protected by patents. British patent no 344280 by W. V. Hudson and J. L. Pickerell is from 5 March 1931 and British patent no 380958 was granted in September 1932 to J. Neill & Company Limited. Innovations include the head design, the adjustment mechanism and the magnet. It is quite a heavy razor at 62.1 grams (2.19 ounces).
The head design is like no other before or since. On the bottom plate there are teeth but these have a solid guard bar before and below them, the top plate has matching grooves. The head is a fairly mild shaver but is unusually effective at cutting through the stubble. What I think may be happening is that the curved profile of the teeth, just before the blade, moves the hairs sideways into the edge. This creates a scything action a bit like a slant bar razor. However it works, it gives a unique and excellent shave. Also it is particularly insensitive to the angle you use it at, it seems to find its own perfect stance as you shave.
The adjustment mechanism was a quarter of a century ahead of the Gillette Fat Boy, it works in a similar manner to today’s Merkur Progress, you turn a knob on the bottom (which has an arrow on it) up fully for mildness then slacken it off slightly for more aggression, there are markers on the handle so you can calibrate your setting. Unlike the Progress it clicks as you wind it back.
The magnet is a small but very nice touch, handling double edged blades takes some care and with the magnet life becomes a lot easier, especially when picking a blade up from a flat surface. You wonder why more razors don’t have this useful feature.
The wonders of the Eclipse Red Ring are not all over yet, there is the logo. This is the very height of Art Deco and depicts a stylised solar eclipse. A square moon is moving in front of a square sun which has rays shooting off it.
If you want to own an Eclipse Red Ring there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that it is a robust razor and was in production till the 1950s, so they are still about and come up fairly regularly on eBay. It was chrome plated, which was very rare in that era and we know from our Mohs that this makes it more durable. The bad news is that just about every traditional shaving enthusiast wants one (or more), which is quite understandable. It is one of the most sought after of razors and the price is rocketing, even over the last few months they have more than doubled in value. Expect to pay £50 to £100 for an OK to use example, double that if it is in its original box and add another 50% if it is in mint, new condition. These prices can only go up as demand far exceeds supply.
James Neil & Co became a part of Spear and Jackson, which is still thriving today. If they still have the tooling for this razor they could put it back into production to satisfy the demand and we would have a rival for Merkur.