Gillette Adjustable Safety Razor: History, Models and Availability
The Gillette adjustable safety razor was introduced in 1958. The key innovation, setting it apart from the standard safety razors of the day was that the razor could be adjusted to provide a more aggressive blade angle for a closer shave, or shallower for a more forgiving shave.
The adjustables stayed in production until 1986, overtaken by the likes of the Trac II which debued in 1971, and later, the Atra, both cartridge type, modern razors. Even though these vintage adjustable razors are not in production, they've recently become popular again. Fueled by high-priced razor cartridges and the depressed economy, some men have reached back 60 years to discover five blades just might not be as good as one. Properly used, the safety razor gives a close, clean shave that some say is as good or better than any cartridge type razor.
The Gillette Adjustable 9 Setting Safety Razor Models
Heavy Handle "Fatboy"
This is the most popular vintage adjustable safety razor. A true classic, a lot of DE wetshavers really like this model.
Extra-long Handle "Black Beauty"
This razor features a full 4'' handle which is a full 1/2'' longer than the Fatboy. This model has a nice feel and the longer handle makes it easier to glide around the contours of your face.
Both of these razors will hold a modern double edge razor blade and when used correctly will give an excellent shave.
Merkur's Gillette 1904 Replica is a worthy safety razor
If you can't find a vintage Gillette, then Merkur's 1904 Gillette replica is a nice option. It's a copy of the original and Merkur really nailed it. It's the classic three piece design. It's not adjustable, but for those who don't need adjustability this might be a good option. Click here for more info and reviews from amazon.
The reviews on the Merkur are good. Three piece steel construction. Easy to change blades: just twist the bottom and the top piece comes off. It has a nice heavy feel, like the 34C, but with a vintage look. If you didn't know any better, you'd think it was the real thing. It is has small handle, so that may be an issue for those with big hands. (I've got big hands and the short handled razors work fine for me. I use a short-handled 34C daily.) Check the specs and reviews here.
Buying a vintage Gillette adjustable
These classic adjustable safety razors can be found at ebay (or maybe in a box in grandpa's closet!). When buying used adjustables online make sure to get the adjustable type. The older safety razors, while "safer" than straight razors, are a little less forgiving and, well, less "safe". With the adjustable safety razor you can set the blade to a more gentle angle and get a close shave without as many nicks. Later, when you get used to shaving with the classic razors, you can experiment with more aggressive angles to get an even closer shave. Stick to the adjustable 9 series razors and you should be fine.
It's worth mentioning to try and find pre-cleaned razors. Some are even sterilized. The clean, sterilized used razor is the one to bid on. The cleaned razors are great because you don't have to clean them but more importantly you can get a better indication of quality. Small imperfections, etc., will be visible on a cleaned razor that might be hidden under a layer of grime on an uncleaned razor.
Usually there are up to a few dozen used adjustable safety razors for sale on eBay at any given time. Resist the urge to jump in and grab the first Gillette you find. Make sure the image is clear and the razor clean. Are there any imperfections or flaws? Do a completed auction search and get an idea of current prices for the particular model you want. Then when the next one comes around, go for it.