A CUT-THROAT BUSINESS

Last year, Disraeli's old razors were sold at auction for pounds 1,400. Shaving paraphernalia prices have tripled as interest has mushroomed. Dominique Joyeux meets the collectors who are at the cutting edge

Renzo Jardella, Britain's most dedicated collector of safety razors, is reaching a crossroads in his life. The walls of his home are lined with display cabinets full of shaving artefacts, and many more boxes heaving with the stuff are hidden away in storage. It is time to decide what to do with his ever-expanding collection.

Renzo's would prefer to use his 30,000 quality shaving items to create a hands-on Shaving Museum of London. If he does it will be the world's only such museum, including among its attractions a working barbershop where men can experience the sensory delights of a traditional barber's shave - the hot, scented towels softening up the beard; the gliding of the cut-throat across the cheeks; the soothing face massage. Renzo feels this experience would refresh even the most jaded visitor.

He himself is a clean-shaven Londoner of Italian descent, whose trade is restoring antiques. His collecting obsession takes him around the world, buying and exchanging razors. His willingness to drive to a weekend antiques fair on spec and his early-morning habit of searching through exhibitors' displays before the crowds arrive, have turned Renzo from a keen collector to a potential curator.

"Since the age of 15, I've always collected things," he says. "If there are more than two of anything, then I've collected them. At one time I amassed the largest collection of escape and evasion items in the world. There were lapel knives, pens with guns in them, compasses in pencils and fly buttons, silk maps in jacket linings and camouflage outfits to suit every possible climate and landscape. But I couldn't really sustain two collections and a family at once, so I sold the escape and evasion equipment to the second largest collector."

The only two items he kept for himself were two unusual razors. One contained a compass, the other was like a transformer toy and changed into a dagger. These joined his main shaving collection, which tells the story of men's shaving habits around the world. His razors from Ancient Egypt - resembling small, one-bladed tomahawks - would have been used to cut or scrape the hairs off men's heads as well as their cheeks, as a way of dealing with the omnipresent lice and sand. The Romans - unlike the bearded Greeks - were also a shaving civilisation and used palm-sized, sharpened bronze blades to scrape their cheeks. After the Middle Ages, the more familiar straight razor (or "cut-throat") took over. This tool barely changed its shape during the 600 years until this century. Renzo Jardella's main interest, though, is "transitional razors" - the type which, from 1850 to 1920, created the revolution that made razors safe for the layman to use and marked the death-knoll for barbershops.

The number of razor collectors has mushroomed in the last five years, so the going rate for shaving items has doubled or tripled in price. Top- of-the-range mother-of-pearl cut-throats can change hands for pounds 300, and even bottom-of-the-range pearl razors whose handles are made up of several pieces of pearl can fetch pounds 45 to pounds 50.

Among the more sought after razors are the seven-day sets. These are straight or safety razors with a different day of the week engraved on each blade. This allowed the shaver to rest the razor for a week - which, it was claimed, gave the blade a sharper edge when it was next used. There are even 31-day sets in existence.

More recent electric shavers also have their ardent collectors. The first model appeared in 1931, produced by a retired American army colonel called Jacob Schick. Most of the major shaving companies followed his lead - and a few non-shaving ones too. Bofors, the gun manufacturer, tried (as did Bang and Olufson, the Danish hi-fi maker) to jump on the electric shaver bandwagon. An early Fifties electric shaver, in its box and with a decent cable will command between pounds 15 and pounds 20.

Because shaving items are made from a wide range of materials, shaving collectors often have to vie with collectors from other fields. Bakelite collectors are attracted by Thirties and Forties razor packaging; lovers of sterling silver collect straight and transitional razor blades; collectors of advertising items snap up Coca-Cola disposables and other ephemera, while those who collect gizmos and mechanical oddities are fascinated by the gyroscopic motions of pre-electric dry shavers.

Ceramic collectors are also attracted to shaving items, particularly shaving bowls of the 18th and 19th century. Oval or round shaving bowls were specially indented to fit around the client's chin and catch the lather scraped off by the barber. These are often decorated with country scenes, flowers and shaving paraphernalia. There are many copies on the market, but a genuine plain 19th-century one will cost at least pounds 55. Imported Chinese and decorated varieties from the 18th century will fetch pounds 3,000 or more.

Shaving mugs, too, are often skilfully decorated and collected in their own right. European mugs can be made of pewter, sterling silver or porcelain and have two compartments to hold the soap and the water. In America, the collecting of mugs is more esoteric - and prices reflect this. American barbers had racks running along their walls to hold clients' personalised porcelain mugs. These usually featured a design denoting the owner's trade, and today's prices highlight the respective rarity of these occupations. Horse dealers and railroad people were quite numerous at the turn of the century, and fetch only $50 apiece. A mug which belonged to an undertaker or baseball player will fetch $1,000 or more.

Despite the current boom in shaving ephemera, Renzo Jardella can still find shaving items when taking his early-morning walks around the stalls of Petticoat Lane, Portobello Road and Camden Lock. Finding straight razors made of cowhorn, bullock horn and cellulose is relatively easy, he says. What true collectors look for are good examples of razor handles made from less common materials.

Mother-of-pearl handles, for example, are hard to find in good condition. Most were made in the last century, but the pearl handles have the disadvantage of becoming slippery when wet. During two or three years of use, a man was bound to lose his grip at least once - and nobody in their right mind was going to attempt to catch a falling cut-throat

Tortoise shell razors in good condition are also a rarity, since they are susceptible to being eaten by the larvae of the carpet beetle. "I've seen some wonderful tortoise shell razors that have been devastated by being eaten right down to the blade," says Renzo. "With tortoise shell, as with ivory - which tends to dry out - it pays to massage a little almond oil into the handle from time to time."

A hundred miles north of where Renzo lives, in 200 carefully labelled albums, is one of the world's five largest collections of razor blade wrappers. Its owner, John Liss-Ronett, works with his wife from their Midlands home translating books and business texts. Like most collectors, John started filling his bedroom with collectables while still at school. "In the playground, boys were always collecting things. One month it would be fancy razor blade wrappers, the next football cards. Then we'd move on to exchanging the papers wrapping our break-time oranges. I made the decision to buy the other kids' razor wrappers when they moved on to football cards, and the dye was set."

In the 40 years since, John has traded, swapped and added to his collection so that it now stands at over 26,000 different wrappers. The pristine blades they once enveloped would keep every man on Guernsey clean-shaven for a year. Razor wrapper designers tried hard to make the manufacturer's product unique. Some, like Gillette, kept their wrappers unchanged for decades. The portrait of King Camp Gillette, with his flowing signature underneath, has remained the wrappers' trademark for 90 years. Others varied their designs, embracing popular themes such as animals, sports, ships and famous people. Among the more unusual were those given away with bottles of whisky, packets of cigarettes and the ubiquitous Coca- Cola.

Nobody knows exactly how many wrappers exist to be collected, but there has been an attempt recently to bring some kind of order into the collecting world by issuing catalogues. This is a trend John regrets. "One of the beauties about collecting blade wrappers," he says, "is that there are no definite values or known numbers of razor blades. How boring it would be if everything were to be catalogued. What fun would there be in haggling, if every wrapper already had its price?"

Shaving items that originally belonged to royalty or the famous are, in collecting terms, the equivalent of winning the National Lottery. A pearl razor that once belonged to King William IV, say, will be double the price of one with more plebeian origins. Last year at auction, a boxed gentleman's set containing pearl straight razors with gold pin work, silver mirror and mini strop fetched a handsome pounds 1,400. The reason for the inflated price was the name of its first owner - the dapper Victorian Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.

SHAVE AND PROSPER: WHERE TO FIND SHAVING EPHEMERA

There are no shops that deal uniquely with shaving bygones, but there are many Bakelite dealers who will have electric shavers; porcelain specialists who'll hold moustache mugs and general antique sellers who'll have razors and other shaving collectables for sale. In London, Alfie's in Church Street, off the Edgware Road, houses over 200 such dealers, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-6pm. Bermondsey Market on Friday mornings (5am- llam) is another likely place to find shaving collectables. Portobello Road on Saturday mornings, has a myriad of stalls. Property of a Gentleman in the Teapot Arcade, often has shaving mugs, brushes and straight razors available. Renzo Jardella is willing to talk to collectors of safety razors and related items on 0181 948 0043. Collectors of American Shaving Mugs can contact Penelope Nader at 320 S Glenwood Street, Allentown PA, 18104, USA. Collectors of old Philishave electrics can contact Mr E Dienaar, Secretary, Philishave Collectors Club, Gomber straat 131, 8031 LD Zwolle, The Netherlands.

FURTHER READING

Shaving, a Short History and Hints on Collecting by Thorsten Sjolin, pounds 3 from Renzo Jardella, see above. Wig, Hairdressing and Shaving Bygones by Gail Durbin (pounds 2.50, Shires) is available from many local museums and bookshops.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own