Vintage Gear Exploration: 40’s era Gillette Superspeed

Posted: August 21, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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The Gillette Superspeed was produced for something like forty years, one of the longest runs of any razor. Really, a remarkable outing for any retail product. A twist-to-open design, the Superspeed is probably what most people will recognize as simply “what a safety razor looks like.”

As I covered in a previous post about the 1967 Superspeed, this is a fairly mild razor design, one designed to perform smoothly and shave well for a broad spectrum of people. A razor for the masses.

Of the various Superspeeds, the 40’s style model is often considered to be a favorite. The earliest Superspeeds were an adaptation of a model called the “Ranger Tech”, that was produced for a short time just after World War II. The reaction to the Ranger Tech razor had been positive, so Gillette continued on with the design, tooling up for a large production run of their new standard in one piece, twist-to-open razors. The earliest iteration of the design, it is a somewhat plain razor, without any wild stylistic flourishes. The primary visual queues to this version of the razor is that the twist knob at the bottom of the handle is not flared, and that the knurling is the standard sort of solid checkering that you’d see on an older razor, such as a ball-end Tech or open comb. While not quite as ornate as the traction pattern on, say the Aristocrat or the various adjustables, it still provides very good grip.

The early Superspeeds had a shaving head that was somewhat “tall”, having perceptibly greater loft from the baseplate to the top of the head than later models. This design is in common with many other twist-to-open Gillettes of that era. Some say that the amount that the taller head biased the blade made for a slightly better shave. At best, I think that the functional differences between the Superspeeds are fairly subtle. The older models may be slightly more efficient, but going to a Superspeed in hopes of finding a very aggressive shave is probably a mistake.

The various Superspeeds are some of the cheapest and easiest vintage razors to find, and they’re still very viable today. Most of them are going to mild to moderate razors that benefit from a fairly sharp blade. The only aggressive version is the Red Tip. In a weird quirk of fate, these razors have a twist knob that is red in color. But that’s not what we’re talking about today.

As is my habit, I dropped into Jitterbug Antiques on my lunch hour to see what sort of trouble I could get myself into. After mulling it over for a while, I walked away with a fairly nice 40’s Superspeed, one of the perceived “holes” in my collection. After cleaning it up and engaging in what would kindly be termed as meticulous polishing (verging upon obsessive weirdness), it looked really nice. Not brand new, but with a surprising gleam for a razor that I believe comes from around ’48 or thereabouts (there are no date codes for this era).

A word about establishing dates for your Superspeeds. There are some great resources online. One of them, for all Gillette razors, is the date code page on the Razor Emporium website. There are also some great forum posts on sites like Badger and Blade that can be of assistance in this regard. The earliest of the Superspeeds were built upon the design of a razor called the Ranger Tech. There are very subtle differences in the earliest models, with the center bar that has “wings” and no notch. Mine is the slightly later, with the notched center bar. It is said that the ’48 through ’50, as mine is, is just a little less mild. Again, very subtle distinctions here.

Gillette Date Codes

For Gillette razors beyond 1951, they will have a date stamp consisting of a letter, which will track to a model year. For some models and years, there are numbers, indicating the quarter of the year in which they were manufactured. Some collectors like to have a “birth year” razor, and will hunt for one. Just a data point. Anyway, back to the razor itself:

When put into action, I found that it shaves much the same as my ’67, though the “feels” are different. It’s heavier, a little grippier, and the feel on the face is quite reminiscent to the Aristocrat. With a sharp blade, it’s capable of a really close shave, but it’s primarily a friendly, safe razor that just wants to be your friend.

There’s room in the world for all kinds of razors. If you have a coarse beard, or want to get through to a good shave in fewer passes, sometimes aggression is called for. I have a few razors, like the Merkur 39c, for that occasion. If I just want a shave with the minimum of peril, though, I like to go back to something like the Superspeed.

I’d highly recommend a Superspeed to someone just embarking upon the adventure of traditional wet shaving, as they will often allow you to do inadvisable things without significant repercussions. In the same way, if you’re a veteran wet shaver and haven’t tried one of these classics, you’re doing yourself a disservice. A good old Superspeed can be had for a very reasonable price. If kept with care, they should be able to shave for almost any length of time without failure. There’s really nothing quite like taking something from forty or more years ago and putting it back to work for you. With a little effort, they can be restored and polished to almost appear new. I don’t know. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe being crazy isn’t so bad.

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