Gillette began production in the early 20th century – a time when a lot of change was occurring. The Gilded Age had come to an end and the Progressive Era was in its full flower. Industrialism, modernization, and government reform were major social features. The Art Nouveau style still held some sway. All of those influences seem to come together in beautiful razors and cases manufactured by Gillette: the ABC Pocket Editions (as they’re commonly known today because they were manufactured by the American Button Company for Gillette). Advertising for these razors shows they were marketed as “New Pocket Edition” razors. While Gillette had been manufacturing razors since 1901, it’s rare to find earlier razors and the ABCs are still the earliest, most commonly found razor from Gillette. The ABC Pocket Editions were manufactured beginning in 1908 and continuing up until around the start of WWI.
Handles of the razors are solid metal, tapered, and can be found in four patterns: Plain (a Grecian column in appearance), an ornate Shell pattern (resembling more of a vine than anything shell or ocean-like), a Flower pattern, and an Empire pattern (more of a “leafy vine” type of appearance). The cases, similarly, were patterned metal with a purple velvet lining: Plain (no decoration at all), Shell, Flower, and Empire with a fifth type of case called Basket (resembling a woven basket). Both handles and cases were either gold-plated or silver-plated. Gillette also manufactured “gunmetal” finish cases; those cases were sold with gold razors and are not commonly seen.
The razors and cases were attractive, with a rich look that seems inspired by Art Nouveau. Prices varied from $5.00 to $9.00, and the set came with a supply of blades. $5.00 – $9.00 may not seem like much today for a solidly-built metal razor with gold or silver plating. But considering that the median U.S. household income in 2007 was $45,113 and that the median U.S. household income in 1910 was $1,200 (for people earning $2,000 or less per year, which was the majority of the population, per Income in the United States: Its Amount and Distribution, 1909-1919, page 293), it was a purchase that most would have given thought to. It would, I suppose, fall into the “special purchase” category for many.
Finding a set today is still pretty exciting. Whenever I see one, I always take a look. The ABCs really are beautiful and utilitarian pieces of industrial art. Modern double-edged blades fit the razors and the razors provide a close, pretty comfortable shave with modern blades. However, they were originally manufactured to be used with blades manufactured from steel ribbon. Those steel blades were thicker than modern razor blades, so the razor can be aggressive. (Aggressiveness of these razors can be mediated, a bit, by loosening or tightening the handle until one gets a more comfortable shave.)
For an item that is both beautiful and useful, an ABC razor is a must have for anyone’s collection, and they are razors that are nice to have in your regular shaving rotation.