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.
Thank you for compiling this information. I read some of this on the forums but don’t spend much time there as I like this format much better. Great picture of Nimmer Mill – have never seen that before. The history is interesting, to say the least.
Wow, have I passed on that much info already!!
After visiting my parents at the weekend I have been passed a VHS tape of a programme called ‘Bygones’ that filmed at Nimmer back in 1986. I am trying to get it transferred from VHS to DVD so I can hopefully download to You Tube.
And yes, plenty more history to pass on! In fact after chatting with my Dad yesterday there may be some historical facts that may um, how shall I say, upset the apple cart a bit!
For the record as well, it was Coates that made the toothbrushes not Simpson. Simpson solely made shaving brushes and Coates solely made ‘toilet brushes’ (that is hair, nail, tooth, cloth).
I wonder why Gary thinks the Wee Scot is best, yet uses a Chubby 2?
Gary has been posting on the Pogonotomy forum: http://pogonotomy.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=brushes&action=display&thread=79
He says: “The family always saw the Wee Scot as the cleverest brush we ever designed and made. We actually used to make 2 sizes of Wee Scot because it was such a great little brush. I always say this is the best brush around because, comparably, it can compete with the big boys (Chubby, Duke, etc). Great Uncle Alex knew this was going to be a singularly important brush in the history of brush making which is why he applied his signature as an endorsement. We also nearly marked up the Chubby range the same, as the family also thought of this brush as one of our finer designs.
All the males of the family use/used the Chubby 2 in Best as our preferred brush for day-to-day use and the Wee Scot when travelling, etc.”
I am sure that he has an embarrassment of riches and an emotional attachment to the various models, so it is a bit like asking him to name his favourite son.
Fascinating….abso fascinating. Sure hope Gary shares more insights into his family’s legendary company. Good stuff….really good stuff
Bruce, im new to de shaving,and having heard so much
about the wee scot i went ahead and purchased one.im trying to improve my lathering so i wanted to know what you thought of the wee scot. how should this brush be used , face lather,bowl or mug ? or does it even matter
Here is a very good discussion about the Wee Scot: http://pogonotomy.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=brushes&action=display&thread=79
I happened to use mine this morning and it really does behave like a far larger brush.
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