A New Horizon For Wet Shaving: I Bought a Vintage Gillette Safety Razor

The L1 Travel

In an interesting twist of fate, my Feather travel DE razor, one of the loveliest tools I've ever had the pleasure of using, suffered a sudden death this week. Measuring a mere 3.25 inches in length, the little wonder snapped at the head. The soldering of the screw to the head plate gave out, instantaneously rendering it useless.

Disappointing as it may be, my little tragedy follows eight years of heavy use, so at least I got my money's worth out of it. The silver lining is plentiful; I've always wanted a vintage Gillette DE, particularly one of the travel models, and the passing of my trusty Feather sent me on a little internet shopping adventure.

One potentially interesting little factoid about me is that I dislike regular safety razors. By "regular" I mean typical long-handled models. I'm accustomed to shaving with a snub handle. There's something about having my hand close to my face that enhances my sense of control with the blade, and I could never get used to the extra few inches of a normal handle. My friend has one, and it's an awkward shave. Sure, I can hold it wherever I like, but the surplus metal is distracting.

For a few minutes I deviated into the question of whether or not a Merkur Futur, which is an adjustable, was worth my coin. But after reading this review and watching the corresponding video review, I realized it's not for me. It looks like a quality machine, but it's unnecessarily complicated, and potentially dangerous. As a design grad, I value simplicity, elegance, and effectiveness over bells and whistles. The bulky Merkur seems to have its share of pros, but with its finicky settings and harmonica-sized head, it's a pass for now, though I may consider it again soon.

I hopped on eBay and reviewed the many travel-sized vintage Gillettes for sale there, most of which are going for under forty dollars with their original cases. You have to be careful when buying these old birds. Their plating can be excessively damaged (look out for rust), there can be pitting (too much of which can cause uneven surfaces on the heads), and screw threads can be partially stripped. This last point was my main concern. Fortunately I found what appears to be a mint condition 1966 L1 travel razor, a lovely object to behold. It was only $29 shipped.

Its dimensions and proportions closely match the Feather's, but I do see some differences. The L1's head seems narrower, and its handle has a bulb (perhaps a variation of the barber pole design) on the end, which may or may not hinder handling. My Feather's handle has a space before the end, but the lines are straight, so I never notice it when shaving. I'll have to use the L1 and report back on that. Also the L1's head shape cuts in at the corners, while the Feather's plated shape corners out, which keeps the whole blade flush to metal at all times. Given that this isn't really a lip feature, I doubt I'll be nicking myself with the corners of my blades, but you never know.

All told, I'm excited by the purchase. You can go on Badger & Blade or Shave Nook and read about the utility of Edwin Jagger DE89s and Muhle R89s, Parker 65Rs, and all the incredible, legendary Merkurs. Yet peppered consistently throughout the dialogue are wistful references to how none of these razors quite stack up to vintage Gillettes. Guys will literally just come out of left field with comments like, "It's nice and I really like it, but still reach for my old Gillette more."

You can find a wide range of vintages from this brand, some dating all the way back to when Gloria Swanson was still hot. Most are relatively inexpensive three piece units. I'm just hoping mine is a winner. It was put on shelves the same year the Dodge Charger was introduced, and iconic films like Alfie and Blow-Up were released, so I'm thinking it'll be alright. Unlike perfume, cold hard steel rarely wilts with age.


  1. Enjoy your new friend. I have two Fat Handled Techs that I love dearly. I have tried a few other razors, but always come back to these timeless beauties.

    1. Thanks, just used it today for the first time. Weekend review of my travel Tech and a wonderful Myrsol aftershave pending!


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