Vintage Gear Exploration: Gillette 1967 Superspeed Razor

Posted: July 2, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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When I bought my first safety razor, it was a twist to open model, the Parker 99R. This is no coincidence. The twist to open or butterfly open style of safety razor was, for many decades, the dominant shaving system. Why? Because it was the type that Gillette made, and Gillette was king of the shaving game. Sure, you had other types of razors out there, but the one piece design was the one most people saw their dads and granddads using.

Upon getting that Parker, back when this all started for me, I was attracted to the twist to open design. It just looked right. It looked easy to manage getting the blades in and out. Easy to clean. It looked the the version of yesteryear I was comfortable with.

I have since discovered that there’s nothing to fear from two or three piece razors. On the contrary, they’re much simpler in many respects. Up until a few days ago, the Parker was my only twist to open double edged safety razor.

I’ll always have fond memories of the Parker, as it was my first foray into the traditional wet shaving game. That said, it has since fallen to the back of the pack in terms of razors I use. It’s a good razor, a perfectly useful piece of equipment, but the learning curve lets you discover a lot, especially about what sort of thing you will like best. Because I’d had such good success with the two or three piece razors, I’d shied away from the twist to open style in my purchases. I’d associated them with the Parker, which gives a good shave, but is one that I find to be much more difficult to shave with than a Merkur 34c or the Feather AS-D2. I used it as my measuring stick for all other razors of its type. This isn’t a shocker, as it is styled to be quite similar in looks to the vintage razors. It seemed that I was just not a butterfly opening razor kind of guy.

That is, until the other day, when I was poking around in the antique store, looking for interesting prospects. There were a whole bunch of different Gillettes to choose from. Different handle lengths. Different heads. Some were adjustable for amount of blade exposure. Something, though, drew my eye to a short, fairly light razor with a black handle. I didn’t know exactly what it was, and I still don’t know even a small fraction of what can be learned about historic Gillette razors, but it felt nice in hand, and looked different than anything I owned. I tested the mechanism, and found that it opened and closed smoothly and didn’t appear to be in any way damaged.

After cleaning the razor up at home and disinfecting it with 91% alcohol for a few hours (a step that I recommend…you can use Barbicide if you have it, but high strength alcohol and a good scrubbing with a toothbrush seems adequate to me), I looked at the date code and did some research. As the title states, it’s a 1967 model. The Superspeed razor was made for many years. Over the decades it featured several different styles. A variety of handle styles and sizes were used in this type of razor during its run. The black handled model, though, seems to be one that was built in good numbers and enjoyed many years of success.

Because of the anodized aluminum handle, it’s quite light. The handle is also short, so this razor doesn’t take up a lot of room. I suppose that it was probably considered to be a good candidate for a travel shaving kit in its day. It could still serve that purpose admirably to this day.

For the test shave with this razor, I loaded an Astra SP blade that had seen multiple shaves already. I had lost good count. I would say at least two, and as many as four. It had started life in my Feather, then been moved to my Merkur 34c. I remember thinking that the blade had more in it upon my last shave.

I have been shaving almost daily, and to full critical closeness frequently. To defray any damage to my skin, I used Proraso White preshave, and employed bowl-lathered Palmolive Classic cream (I’m right at the end of the tube, and trying to use it up, so as to justify further soap purchases <grin>).

With a very nice lather applied to my face, I went for it. It’s impossible to tell what you’ll experience when you put a new shaver to your face. It’s that momentary thrill – will it be a bloodbath, a revelation, or somewhere in between?

In this case, I quickly found that the Gillette was a mild, gentle, smooth shaver. Because it is light, and in no way feels intimidating, I had to concentrate on not applying pressure. It didn’t need pressure, but it was so smooth that it was easy to be too rowdy.

Honestly, this is perhaps the friendliest safety razor I’ve used. It just happily cut the stubble down, seeming just as safe as you can imagine. I did three passes, just as I am wont to do. No drama, no fighting the razor. It’s so much better than the Parker that it’s almost hard to fathom. Considering that the Parker 99R’s head looks almost exactly like the Gillette’s, I can’t quite grasp how they feel so differently on the face. The Parker, though, feels much more aggressive, requiring far more care. At the same time, it doesn’t really cut through the hair with any more efficiency. This is all based upon my remembrance of the razor – I haven’t dusted off the Parker in a while, and it’s possible that I’ll find it less stubborn this time around. Perhaps that’ll be another article…

Now, if your beard is extremely dense and coarse, this might not be the razor for you. It’ll do the job, I’m sure, but it might not be the ideal choice. Think about a more aggressive razor, perhaps. If you have a medium to soft beard, however, this thing is a sweetheart.

Is there a downside to all that gentle touch? Well, yes, I suppose. For me, the Superspeed didn’t yield the absolute reference level of closeness. I mean it was a damn fine shave, with no nicks, cuts, or undue irritation, but it didn’t quite equal the closeness I got from, say, the open comb WWI military Gillette I picked up in that same trip. That said, the old open comb razor requires a great deal more caution to employ, and I wouldn’t want a beginner to try it for their first razor. The Superspeed, though, could fill that bill nicely. Other than remembering to use a light touch, it’s very forgiving and gentle. It’ll still give you a shave you can be proud of. I’m sure, once I learn all the angles and how best to employ it, I’ll be able to do even better. With this razor, I can imagine that I might want the absolute sharpest blade I can find. It could well be that this one will be a razor that just wants the Feather Hi-Stainless. In which case I’ll have to buy some. Yikes. Perish the thought.

I’ve been really tickled to find out how well designed and useful some of these old razors are. Living in this time of resurgence for traditional wet shaving, we are spoiled for choice of blades, soaps, and brushes. It’s easy to get caught up in all the new products out there. Some of these vintage pieces, though, work just as well or better than anything available for sale today.

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Comments
  1. I have gone back and edited this article, after finding out that I had a misapprehension about the handle material. Previously, I’d assumed that the black part of the handle was some type of resin material (hard plastic/fiberglass). While it appears that they did make a resin handled Superspeed, that didn’t happen until many years after the one I have. Mine is anodized aluminum throughout the handle. The dial is likely nickle plated brass, from the way it acts and shines up. Sorry for the bad information in the previous edit.

    Cheers,

    Patrick

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