Collecting and using vintage razors is a terrific hobby. While there is a tremendous variety of razors that one can find and try, often very reasonably, the design, engineering, and history also add layers of interest. I was fortunate enough to begin my collection while it was still more affordable and not as popular. So, I’ve had a chance to use a number of razors. In deciding which razors should start this blog, I figured what better razor than my daily shaver: a 1952-53 British Gillette #66. A razor that is the epitome of form and function in a device.
The #66 is one of several razors manufactured and sold by Gillette in Britain (the #16 and the #58 are two other popular razors of the line). In addition to the heavier version (approx. 82 grams), there was an aluminum version of the #66 (approx. 37 grams). As the British razors at this time did not use date codes, the only way to estimate the date is by the case. The one I have is probably 1952, although it has been suggested that #66s were manufactured in 1953 that were not Coronation sets. (While information on many Gillette razors is known thanks to advertising, dating and identifying Gillette razors has been made more difficult because Gillette’s archive remains closed to the public since being acquired by Proctor and Gamble.)
The #66 is, in my opinion, the best Gillette safety razor manufactured. Plated in rhodium, it still maintains a rich shine over 50 years later. The weight and balance meet in a razor that provides a superb shave. In the early 1950s, Britain was still emerging from the privations of World War II and a sense of luxury began to appear in consumer products. This can be seen in the design of the #66. In addition to the rhodium plating, the barber pole design on the handle is overlaid with a finer, textured pattern that provides additional facets to reflect the light, as well as providing an excellent non-slip handle for use. The design of the razor head all just seems to fit beautifully, as you can see from the close up below. The parts seem to be properly proportioned and manufactured to last.
The #66 came in a faux pigskin case with silver trim and a hunter green velvet lining. While the case is not in as nice a condition as the razor (the exterior has mottling and is faded, the interior seems to have suffered from water or mold damage at some point), it still has held up remarkably well over the year.
Although the rhodium plating is durable and holds up very well over time, it is still a thin plating over either solid brass or pot metal. As you can see in the close up of the handle, there is some pitting on the bottom of the twist-to-open knob.
While there is no doubt that the British #66 is a well-made and beautiful razor, it is also very well-designed for its intended use: shaving. Other models of Gillette from that time (the American Aristocrat line) come close, but there’s something pitch-perfect about the #66 that makes it rise above its American cousins.