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The illustrated guide to razor appraisals

April 23, 2011 — R

A-friend-of-mine-bought-this-You-can-have-it-without-any-markup-Honest'How much is that razor worth?', is one of the questions encountered far too often in shaving forums. Issued by either a clueless buyer or a clueless seller, it is annoying either way. Because it is nigh impossible to answer.

Modern production razors are easy to appraise. They have a market price. If you know what the purchase price is, that is even better. A subtle hint, markups of 300% and more are more of a rule than an exception. From there, all you need to assess is the state in which the razor is (cracks, chips, rust, loose pins, rescale jobs, etc), and putting a price on such a razor is easy.

Custom razors are a different matter entirely. Obviously, there is a market for them, but personally, I just could not be bothered with anything but one of Joe Chandler's early, visually subdued models. Any other custom I have seen so far has either given me eye cancer or reminded me of a marriage aid for Martian invaders. Either way, their low supply, caused by the apparently very time consuming production processes, allows makers to price them in the most interesting ways.

Which brings us to vintage razors. First things first: There is an abundance of vintage razors, not a shortage. Even discarding the thousands of broken, semi-broken, dodgily "restored" or otherwise undesirable trash being put up for online auction, chances are you will get almost any razor your heart desires under US$ 100 within less than twelve months if you know how to use eBay's search syntax, and bring some patience. Myself, I only own four razors that would cost more than this: two current production ones that were given to me by a vendor and a manufacturer in order to review them; an 8/8 Henckels "Friodur" that was practically new when I bought it, and had very nice cracked ice scales (US$ 130), and a Dovo "25" that was in need of restoration, the cost of which exceeded the purchase price (USD 65) by 150%.

Why is it, then, that more and more razors are sold - and, of course, bought - for much more? There are three phenomena that have to be taken into consideration here, none of them quite palatable.

  1. The number of beginners interested in straight razors has risen sharply over the last few years. However, and despite their hundreds of thousands of articles, neither of the two big shaving forums have managed to produce a systematic way of assessing, or appraising, razors sold there. What is worse, discussions of prices of razors being offered for sale is actively discouraged. I never understood why. The official line is that the market will regulate itself. But that is easily disproven by comparing the prices of razors sold three years ago and today. Interestingly, the Straight Razor Place even removes advertisements of razors which were sold, thus making it even harder for someone looking for a reasonable basis of comparison to appraise a razor he wants to buy or sell.
  2. Americans love bling. Speaking from my own experience, I can assure you that removing rust while retaining patina is practically impossible unless you a) have a fully equipped workroom, and b) have the manual skills required for the job. Like many others, I have neither, but it seems that some people carry on regardless. Because putting a mirror finish on a metal surface is not very hard by comparison. And that bling! effect is appreciated by many. Goldwash, etchings, even makers's marks - all sacrificed to the God of Metal Polish. A crying shame if you ask me. Many of these razors did not have a mirror polish when they were made, and an 8/8 Sheffield razor looks obscene when polished to a high sheen. But no accounting for taste and all that.
  3. Shaving forums love a good hype. They really do. Filarmonica razors used to be frowned upon because of their horrible scales. They were appreciated as decent shavers, and they are indeed. Decent, that is. Until one day a highly respected member and restorer posted a review of one, providing his telltale commercial grade photography. And hell broke loose. Within a few weeks, these razors went up from US$75-100 to US$150 and more. Today, US$350 for a 7/8 or 8/8 Filarmonica can be considered an excellent price. For a decent razor.

So with madness abounding, and a seemingly limitless supply of good razors, there is no way of appraising the one you want to buy or sell. Market value is a moving target. Prices for Wade & Butcher razors have actually dropped, while I am waiting with bated breath for the next hype to start. Swedish razors looked like a promising target, and certainly their prices have risen dramatically, but they are still reasonably priced (ie they can be bought for less than US$100, and hardly ever fetch more than US$150). Gottlieb Hammesfahr looks like another likely choice, because there is a sufficient supply in the market to start a hype, but not enough to cater to the army of fanboys should some restorer with a sufficiently large ePenis declare them the new Filarmonica. Who knows? And, more importantly, who cares?

Comments (2)

Related to the article on "shilling?"

Could you say this article is somewhat related to your article on "shilling?"

Let's say someone posts an amazing review on another decent shaver of which there is an abundance. Simply for example, I'll say F.W. Engels.

Obviously there is no shortage from this brand, there are plenty that show up in great condition, and plenty that can use restore work. So what stops an influential forum member from starting a hype on this brand to bring work to themselves or a friend? Nothing. This is a good reason that pricing needs to be discussed in some form on a shaving forum and not necessarily in dollar amounts.

I recently bought a NOS FWE Leader for $30 (which is a great deal, I'd of paid upwards of $100). It shaves alright, looks great, and if someone more experienced than me claims it shaves amazingly and the scales are well built, etc. the price will triple. Now beginners would be paying insane prices for a razor that isn't any better than any other full hollow razor out there.

In a way, yes.

If you are referring to this article, then yes, they are related. There is a growing tendency among vendors to equip influential forum users with free equipment. There is nothing wrong with that in my opinion, if the users who then promote or review the products fully disclose their source. I have been given quite a few products by vendors over the years - ranging from US$1.5 soap samples to US$200 strops -, but I have made it a habit to publicly state where the samples and products came from.

Case in point, a local shop let me try dozens of soaps, creams and aftershaves. I would never have bought them, simply because the cost wouldn't have justified the results. But it was a nice experience, and it allowed me to give others objective (I hope) reviews of these products. Of course the vendor benefited from the exposure they got through the links to their site I added to my reviews. And why not? They have the best selection of shaving products worldwide in my opinion, and they deserve the exposure for their willingness to let me take 10 or more tubs, jars, and bottles over a weekend.

However, what I've been seeing more and more recently is vendors shipping instructions that border on pyramid schemes recently. Typically, they offer - sometimes substantial - discounts to buyers who bring in more buyers or who write positive reviews. And that is wrong. Experience shows that this type of incentivation leads to reviews that are far from objective. So yes, the articles are related in this sense.

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