Gary Young’s great uncle was Alexander Simpson, the founder of the Simpson’s shaving brush company, his father and grandfather were both managing directors of the company and now he is sharing some of his knowledge about the company online with the traditional shaving community. His knowledge of the company is of the period when it was at Nimmer Mill in Somerset and extends up to 1990, when it was bought out by David Carter and Francis Woodhouse.
Here are some points he has made:
- They persisted with using catalin (which oxidises to a butterscotch colour), till the end of the ’80s, after more modern plastics were available because of the limitations of their water powered machinery which tended to chip the newer plastics.
- Their top brush maker was called Stan Archer and he made the brushes that Simpson’s produced for Aspreys.
- His grandfather and father used Duke 2s as their daily brushes. He uses a Chubby 2 in Super Badger hair.
- He says that the Chubby, the Duke and the Wee Scot are the best Simpson’s brushes. And of these three the Wee Scot is best.
- The Wee Scot was named partly because Alex Simpson was Scottish and partly because Gary’s grandmother’s maiden name was Scot.
- The amount of hair to go into each knot was measured by weighing it. Trial and error was used with new brush models till they got it right.
- Duke was the family nickname of Alex Simpson, hence the name of the brush.
- A Colonel of the Somerset Light Infantry in WW 2, David Durie, was a friend of Gary’s grandfather and great uncle. The Colonel brush is named after him.
- Simpson’s sold hand made toothbrushes to the British royal family in addition to shaving brushes.
- They had two brands, the other being Coates, which mainly made hairbrushes. The shaving brushes were about half of their total production.
- The logos on the handles were water transfers. These were not durable, which is why they also lamp blacked the brush’s details onto it.
- It took a skilled employee a couple of minutes to make a knot.
- They made both fan and bulb shaped knots. Deciding factors could include the grade of hair and handle shape. Gary’s preference is for bulb as he thinks that fan is less good at making lather.
- The brush handles were turned by hand with only the expert eye to get it right. For each model there was a reference pattern handle which the production handle could be compared against using callipers.
- Handles were made of catalin and ivory, the lathes ran at a different speed for ivory as it machined more like wood.
- They made boar as well as badger brushes.
- The hair came from a London supplier who sorted and sterilised it.
Some interesting stuff and he must know plenty more. Let’s hope that he continues to put time and effort into the shaving community, this is our heritage and there are huge gaps in our knowledge.