Your Next Razor: Vintage or New?
While watching youtube reviews of the Rockwell T2 adjustable razor, I got to thinking about why someone would pay $150 for a new razor rather than purchase a vintage Gillette Fatboy or Slim Adjustable. I am NOT suggesting you should purchase a vintage razor over a new one, nor am I suggesting the opposite is the best choice. I am really just trying to weigh the pros and cons of each option.
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The Rockwell T2 is a good example of this comparison. It is a one-piece, TTO-butterfly head adjustable razor with an adjustment collar near the top of the handle. This makes it similar to the Vintage Gillette Fatboy and Slim razors. If you wanted a new razor with the same features, the other competitors I am aware of are the Vikings Blade Emperor models (just under $50 at this time) and the Global Shave Club’s Fatguy (about $120), a recreation of the Fatboy. The other adjustable razors for sale new are not one-piece, TTO-butterfly head designs, although they are good razors (e.g, Merkur Progress, Merkur Futur, Parker Variant, Rex Ambassador, and others).
Pros vs. Cons
The cost of a new razor is a known quantity. You may save a few dollars depending on where you purchase and even more if you find the razor on sale. If the uncertainty of vintage pricing puts you off, then buy a new razor.
Vintage razors are available at a wide range of prices. If you purchase through an eBay auction, you might get a super bargain. Then again, you can purchase vintage razors that have been cleaned, adjusted, and restored to good as new in appearance and operation. The cost of a restored Gillette Fatboy may be more than a new Rockwell T2.
Mechanical Operation and Warranty
When you buy a new razor, you aren’t going to be worried that it might not operate properly. You may not like its design or shave, but the turn-to-open knob is going to open the butterfly doors when you turn it. The adjusting collar is going to change the blade gap and exposure. Everything should work as advertised. And, if it doesn’t, you will have a warranty and can either return the razor for a refund or get it replaced with a working razor.
Purchasing a vintage razor is a riskier option, but a lot depends on who and where you buy the razor. Some eBay sellers do not allow returns. If you buy it, you own it. But other sellers on eBay and Etsy allow up to 30 days to return your purchase, no questions asked. Further, these sellers often sterilize, clean, polish, and adjust the razor, so it is in the best shape possible without refinishing it. There are also sellers who will go the extra steps required to completely disassemble the razor, clean it, and re-plate it to like new condition, replacing parts as needed.
Many unrestored vintage razors are tarnished with ridges filled with soap and grime. They might have scratches and gouges from being dropped. They are not all shiny as you would expect from a new razor. As mentioned above, you can buy razors that have been restored, but if cost is an issue, you will get a better deal on a dirty-looking razor.
You can clean and disinfect a razor yourself. You can mildly polish it. If the Nickel plating has worn off, there’s nothing you can do unless you have it refinished. But even gouges, tarnish, and brassing (where the Nickel has worn off and the underlying brass shows through) does not affect the operation. If the razor works and is in alignment, you can get a good shave.
Dirt and Germs
I’ve posted previously on razor germs. If you’re a germaphobe, then a new razor is your safest bet. But it is unlikely that there are any germs still alive on a vintage razor. Metal surfaces don’t provide a good environment for germs to survive. Metal is also easily cleaned and disinfected. Think about silverware when you eat out at a restaurant. Hot water and dish soap clean the utensils and you aren’t worried about germs. You can do the same with your vintage razor.
Pros of New Razor
- Predictable price
- No worries regarding the operation
- Warranty in case your razor has a problem
- Appearance is new, clean, and shiny (unless you chose a non-shiny finish)
- The new razor will be as germ-free as any new product you buy.
Pros of a Vintage Razor
- Vintage Fatboys and Slims have a history of over fifty years and have proven themselves to be among the best-designed DE razors ever made. A new razor such as the Rockwell T2 does not have that proven record behind it.
- If you don’t mind some small risks or doing some cleaning and polishing after you purchase a razor, you will get the best value from a vintage razor that needs cleaning.
- If you don’t want to take any chances on an old razor, you can still find fully tested, cleaned, and restored razors for less than or equal to a new Rockwell T2.
- If price is no object, for the price of a T2 up to $200 ($50 more than the Rockwell T2) you can buy a restored, re-plated, good-as-new vintage razor.
The major con of a new razor is it isn’t a Fatboy or Slim. You may love the Rockwell T2. I wouldn’t mind having one. But, based on many user reviews, a Vintage Gillette gives the best shave the user ever had. That said, the Rockwell T2 is too new for many comparisons to vintage to have been made yet.
The major con of a vintage razor is the uncertainty about everything about it: price, condition, function, and appearance. You can minimize each of these potential problems but the more you do so, the more you will pay. Once you reach the level where you are paying as much for a vintage Gillette Fatboy as you would for a new Rockwell T2, you need to know which is more important to you: The security of knowing your razor will arrive fresh from the factory and has never been used by anyone else or that you own a vintage piece of history that performs as well now as it did sixty years ago?
My choice? If I could, I would try all the adjustable razors available, new and vintage. But so far, I’ve purchased a vintage Gillette Slim adjustable and hope to get a vintage Gillette Fatboy this year.
By the way, the Rockwell T2 adjustable looks really nice.
Vintage razor worries – watch out for these.
The turn-to-open (TTO) knob has to open and close the butterfly doors. It also should lock in the closed position after an extra quarter of a turn.
The adjustment collar has to turn and move the razor blade up and down to adjust how much of a gap is between the blade and the safety bar.
The most common problem is a misalignment of the blade with the edges and safety bar. The bar can be carefully bent back into alignment, but this requires a jeweler’s pliers and a careful touch.
There are non-mechanical items that affect the appearance but not the operation of the razor. Tarnishing of the finish is common. This can be corrected by mild polishing, but if it is too badly tarnished or you polish too aggressively, you can remove the plating down to the brass. Soap (shave cream) and dirt can be cleaned. Gouges and deep scratches are likely permanent. Pitting and corrosion (rust) are significant problems. Water spots are a smaller issue. The only cure for brassing is to have the razor re-plated, but worn plating that shows the brass beneath it doesn’t affect your shave, just the appearance.