Vintage Gear Exploration: 1964 Gillette Slim Adjustable

Posted: August 12, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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There are several razors that people in the wet shaving community (it’s a fairly benign dementia) consider to be “holy grail” items. One of the razors often cited is the Gillette Adjustable.

Gillette came out with the first adjustable in 1958. The early adjustables had a short, fat handle, much like the Aristocrat models. These are often termed the “Fatboy” adustables, though I don’t believe that Gillette ever officially endorsed this nickname. There are a few low-production models during this era that are worth a lot of money, and the Fatboy is the most sought-after of the Gillette Adjustables. It was only made from the late 50’s through to the early 60’s.

In 1963, the Fatboy design gave way to a model with a slimmer, longer handle, the Slim Adjustable. The date codes on the model I have indicates that it is from 1964, so it is early in the run of that model.

In 1969, the Slim Adjustable was replaced with the Super Adjustable, which carried on until (if my information is correct) 1986, being one of the last double edged razors Gillette produced. Keep in mind that their popular “Tech” and “Superspeed” models were long gone by the late 70’s. Late in the Super Adjustable era, they changed the baseplate to black plastic, and the razor was unofficially known at that time as the “Black Beauty”. I’m told that there was also a “Lady Adjustable” with a long handle and anodized black aluminum handle. I don’t have a lot of info on that one, other than it existing. It was essentially similar to the Super Adjustable, from all I can gather.

Throughout the run of adjustable razors, they formed the premium offerings in Gillette’s range. Other than special models such as gold-plated razors, they were the top of the line, best that could be had from Gillette.

In all but a few models, all Gillette Adjustables function in the following way: They are a twist-to-open razor that allows the “butterfly” doors to open when the bottom of the razor is spun. This works the same as all other one-piece razors in Gillette’s stable. The difference is that there is a graded dial below the head, with settings from 1-9. Setting one is the least aggressive, while nine is the most aggressive. How is this accomplished? Well, the dial setting gradually raises a mechanism that is mounted below the base plate. This plate controls four bars that gradually raise the mounting point of the blade, creating more space between the blade and the safety bar. From my examination, this action is also responsible for a slight change in the amount the blade is biased and angled. It should be mentioned that the setting dial should only be manipulated when the butterfly doors are open or partially open, to avoid damage to the mechanism. All of this means that you can adjust the razor’s behavior to suit your needs. Really sharp blade? Turn it down a bit. Blade a little dull? Turn it up some. Pretty neat.

I’ve become a great enthusiast of vintage razors of late. For those who believe that newly manufactured products will always be better than something from yesteryear, I can say that, for safety razors, this is not the case. Without fear of hesitation, I can say this: Vintage razors, if you can get the right model for your taste and find one in good shape, can provide you with spectacular results.

My Slim Adjustable was sitting in the display case at my favorite hunting ground, Jitterbug Antiques. Right in, shall we say…interesting downtown Salt Lake City. It was in excellent condition, nearly perfect. It didn’t have any of its packaging, and it did have evidence of being used, but its operational fitness was right on. It wasn’t even very tarnished. I don’t buy razors to gaze upon. I get them to use, and so original packaging and never-used condition are not compelling worries for me. As long as they look good and function correctly, that’s enough for my purposes.

Vintage razors aren’t as cheap as they once were. There’s a finite amount of them kicking around, and there are razor aficionados wandering the land. Vintage razors are in demand again after years of obscurity. When an “in demand” razor in good condition shows up, you are going to probably pay a bit of a premium. You can find deals still, especially online or after an intrepid hunt, but I like to be able to check for function and hold them in my hands when I purchase an old razor.

As mentioned before, the razor checked out to be a 1964 model, a J-2 produced in the second quarter of the year. I took it home and cleaned it up, shining up the nickle finish and making sure that it was fully disinfected. The razor gleamed and shimmered after a little work, barely looking used. I’ll include pictures, so you can see for yourself.

The first shave? I used an Astra SP, and chose setting 4 out of 9. The middle position, more or less. The Astra had one shave on it at the outset, and it is a fairly sharp blade, while typically being pretty smooth.

I’ve got some really excellent razors in my collection. Both new and old, I’ve managed to find some neat toys. I’m not as easily impressed today as I may have been in the past. I’ve had my mind blown a few times. I’ve had to move “the line” of what was a great product a few times.

Well, the Slim Adjustable might just be moving the line, folks. First shave out, with the moderate setting and a second-use blade, It gave me a killer shave. Total comfort. Closeness right at the very pinnacle I’ve ever managed. Even in the spots that typically have a tiny bit of roughness after a good shave, my face was smooth. No cuts, no weepers. No sting when the aftershave went on.

And let’s not forget that the shave is not only the feel of the device on your face. There are dynamics of using a razor beyond that. And in that category, the Slim Adjustable excels in the same way in this arena as it does in cutting hair off your skin. Everything about using it is a pleasure. It’s wonderfully balanced. The knurling has great grip. The length of the handle, which is just a bit longer than the Superspeed or the Aristocrat, is very easy to employ. The dial clicks are concise. The razor closes securely and doesn’t loosen during the shave. All the “soft” subjective impulses I got from this razor were positive. Upon the first use, I was immediately not just comfortable, but at home with the razor. After one shave, I had to contend with the fact that this might well be the best razor I’d ever used, and would become my favorite. This without any experimentation. Just a good blade at the medium setting. Wow. Just…wow.

In subsequent experience with this razor, I have found that the the adjustable feature, an element I wasn’t totally certain about, has turned out to be quite useful. For me, the setting 4 is great for a comfortable 3 pass shave, making it feel much like a 40’s Superspeed or an Aristocrat. With a less-sharp blade, maybe a 5. If you’re in for a two-pass shave, or looking for more aggressive blade feel, turning it up may be a good move. I’ve found that, up to 6, it still feels pretty similar to any other Gillette, though my sense is that it’s more efficient than any of the twist-to-open models at 6.

The move from 6 to 7 really results in a change in character. The razor takes on a purposeful, more present feel of blade-on-face. I would say that, on 7, the Slim is on par with the Merkur 39c in terms of taking the stubble down. On 8, I think I’d give it the nod. With a Derby blade, setting 8 essentially makes a third pass academic. With two passes and no against the grain work at all, the shave is as close as most efforts that consist of 3 passes and cleanups. Even with a Derby, however, setting 8 demands care and respect. I may try 9 at some point, but I think that 7 or 8 is about as high as I would ever need to go. Trying setting 9 is more a test of my mettle than anything else. I’m not sure that it would have a practical application, at least for me. Nice to know it’s there, however.

The enthusiast’s enemy, I suppose, is the item that could well be “the only”. We like our collections. We like having a device for every occasion. We like being able to endlessly twiddle and experiment and try things. I am in no way immune to this instinct. I try, though, to encompass the thought of a shaver I could settle with. The only. The go-to. The one that could put ’em all into the display case for good.

Now, I don’t have to make a decision like that. There’s no desert island I have to go and live on. I don’t have to pack all my belongings into a duffel bag and hit the road on foot. Still, the Slim, with it’s ability to tune for different blades, different shaving needs, and different faces, could well be that desert island choice. Perhaps one day, I’ll have all the adjustables. The Fatboy, the Super, and on and on. Maybe I’ll like one of those even better. For now though, the Slim can put almost every other razor in my arsenal on the shelf. This from a 52 year old machine I found at the antique store. That’s pretty damn cool.

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