Valerie lives in Birmingham, Alabama and writes about fun things, like recipes that really work!
Vintage Gillette Adjustable Safety Razors
The Gillette adjustable double-edge safety razors of the mid-twentieth century—including the Fatboy, the Slim Adjustable, and the Black Beauties—have become popular both for shaving and collecting.
These models have an adjuster beneath the head, that allows you to raise and lower the razor blade to control the closeness of the shave.
These classics make lovely gifts for a man who enjoys wet shaving. Their style and quality bring back the memory of fathers and grandfathers lathering up!
You can find vintage razors in many places—your family's attic, flea markets, yard sales, or thrift stores. In many cases, the razors were put away dirty and wet, and left to corrode and even rust. How can you decide if it is worth buying?
We'll be looking at some old, grimy adjustable razors, and seeing how to evaluate their condition.
Check for a Razor Blade!
Vintage razors at flea markets and yard sales will often still have an old, rusty blade inside. It may be difficult to see under the grime, so don't run your fingers over the finish until you have opened the razor and discarded the blade!
Sometimes the endcaps have fallen off—make sure they're present and not loose. The end cap is decorative, not functional, so its loss would not affect the shave.
Make sure that the razor doors are closed completely and evenly.
Look at the finish on the outside of the doors. A brassy color could mean the finish is worn off. Also, look for pits and scratches. This photo shows how the camera and a bright light bring out the small scratches.
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Check the inside corners for rust or verdigris. It will take some work to clean there. You can see that the inside of this razor has a yellowish shellac-like film, that will be hard to remove.
Also, look at the center, the depression under the center bar. This area is likely to corrode badly, and it's almost impossible to remove more than light build-up from under the bar. If there's rust here, the razor will likely need professional cleaning and replating.
The handle is another place that's likely to show wear. Look at the knurling from different angles to detect brassiness.
This is another place likely to rust, and difficult to clean.
The date code is a letter and number between the Gillette logo and the handle. The letter tells what year the razor was manufactured, and the number what quarter of the year. Many people collect razors made in their birth year or the year of some special event; others try to collect a whole series of years, sometimes with one from each quarter.
Gillette Date Codes
Turn the adjuster knob. It should turn freely, clicking at each number and the dots between the numbers. This adjusts the blade exposure gap, which let you control the closeness of your shave.
The black paint in the adjuster numbers and dots is usually one of the first things to wear off. So if you find one with the paint still dark, that's a sign of little use. But wear is not a bad fault—you can easily repaint the numbers.
Turn the knob at the bottom of the handle to open and close the razor doors. The knob should turn smoothly, and the doors should close straight and tight. Any stickiness is a bad sign, though sometimes it can be fixed by cleaning.
Should You Buy the Razor?
You've completed your inspection, and have a good idea of the razor's condition. But should you buy it? That depends on what you want.
- If you're looking for a daily shaver, you may not mind a worn finish or scratches. But you'll want to be sure that all the mechanisms work smoothly, and that the finish isn't eaten through with rust.
- A collector is usually looking for the best possible condition, so you may not want to buy a razor that's too grimy—it can be hard to tell what damage and wear is hidden under the scum.
- For a collection, you'll want to be very wary of the red and green of rust and verdigris, since this may mean significant holes under the grime. Though if the mechanism works and it's a razor you really want, you could have it replated.
- If you're collecting particular years, or want a complete set of date codes, you may want to take a risk on a less-desirable razor, which you can sell when you get a better one.
- Which leaves the ones with broken adjusters, stuck doors, missing parts, and rust pits. If you enjoy tinkering and rebuilding things, pick these up cheap for parts and experiments. Some can be repaired, and others replated.
Video: Shaving With a "Fatboy"
Demonstration shave with the Fat Boy. Note how he lathers up three times, each time shaving in a different direction. This technique gives the closest, smoothest shave. Also includes interesting technical details about the razor.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Valerie Proctor Davis
Would You Shave with a Safety Razor? Yes, Women Shave with Safety Razors, Too!
S K goel on July 11, 2019:
I have one, black handle bought around 1980. Now screw of shaft has a backlash. Need one new
Dale Szajek on June 18, 2017:
I've used my Gillette double edge slim adjustable razor since it first came out 1961. Received it for Christmas, it replaced my father's old brass one from the 1930's. Still works wonderfully, only problem is the nickle is wearing down to the brass. I thought they were stainless steel. Best razor ever made for durability, comfort and balance. Need a pristeen plastic box to retire it when I die.
Joe Mackey on May 12, 2017:
Where can I buy the Gillette Classic slim adjustable razor? On mine the doors are a mm wider on one end and I don't know if this can be fixed!
Larry on February 05, 2017:
Great article! I am waiting for the delivery of my first Fatboy Gillette. I have returned to double edge safety razor shaving. Anyone who has not tried it simply doesn't know how good and pleasurable an experience true wet shaving can be. It takes time to develop the technique. Its better for the environment and the money I save by not using disposables I can now apply to collecting vintage razors.
Sergeant Prepper on November 17, 2016:
I have been collecting safety razors since I was a teenager. I have double-edge honing devices & a Rolls Auto-strop razor that is like new. I have shaved with just about every kind of razor except a straight-razor and prefer the cheap Personna twin-blade above all others.
I do believe shaving for men is, for the most part, just a moneymaking racket. However I retired from the military ten years ago and still shave almost everyday.
rick-herman-568 on March 20, 2014:
I've shaved most of my life with one (since about 12), and always will, from now on. Sure, I've cheated, a few times, when I've had trouble getting blades locally, but the safety razor always gives the best shave. I've unfortunately lost 5 of them, but I intend to hang on to my current one until it falls apart. Currently, I have a Gillette Fat Boy I rescued from an antique store 5 years ago, for $2.50. Sure, it was grotty, but it made it cheaper than a shiny "looks like new" one, and cleaned up perfectly with a boil in dish soap.
Dawn Romine from Nebraska on October 28, 2013:
My Dad used these razors his whole life and my 24 yr old son just announced he bought a Gillette Fat Boy and has using it, saves him money and says he gets a closer shave.
robertzimmerman2 on January 04, 2013:
No thanks! I like the double edge disposables with the lube strip. But I could see collecting them. Small, not too expensive, still out there in enough numbers to find, etc. Thanks for the cool article!
anonymous on January 03, 2013:
As soon as I saw this lens, it brought back memories of my dad in the 1960s.
artmarks on December 14, 2012:
I remember that my father used one of these to shave. They are great.
anonymous on November 16, 2012:
The "Black Beauty" you refer to is often call a super slim adjustable.
poutine on November 04, 2012:
My husband has one of those and likes it.
Ahdilarum on October 29, 2012:
I think, this has become now antique model
Kay on October 29, 2012:
I am just such a fan of disposable razors. I think these are neat though!