Shave and Sound: A Father's Day Examination of Straight Razors

Straight Razors, 19th to early 20thCentury
Various makers; Various countries
Steel and horn; 6 x 7/8 x 3/8 in.
31403.4-.6
Harry and Mabel Duffill Collection
Albert Duffill, 1891
Unknown photographer; Toronto, Canada
Photographic print; 12 x 10 1/2 in.
31370.3
Harry and Mabel Duffill Collection
Although specific traditions and dates for Father’s Day differ from country to country, our dads are often very important figures in our lives. Rather than stereotypically being known for their doting nature, though, fathers tend to show their love in subtler ways. This post focuses on an object which in many ways epitomizes the emotional link between fathers and their children, the straight razor. The three straight razors featured herein and the two generations of their owners, Albert Duffill, an Orange County citrus mogul and his son Harry who followed in his footsteps as a notable area grower, all possibly hint at one such understated relationship.
Harry Duffill, 1896-1897
Unknown photographer; United States of America
Photographic print; 31 x 24 1/2 in.
31376.1
Harry and Mabel Duffill Collection
The first of the three razors was manufactured by Frederick Reynolds of Sheffield, England and features scales of black bone and a biconcave hollow ground blade with a barber’s notch. The exact date of manufacture is unclear, but the use of the slogan “The Old English Razor” makes it probable that it was made between 1840 and 1850, given that the Frederick Reynolds company printed that phrase on its razors during that decade. However, Albert Duffill was born in 1843 and Harry Duffill was not born until 1878, making it likely that this razor belonged to Harry’s grandfather and was passed down from father to son. Moreover, it is uncertain whether or how much Harry Duffill would have used these razors, given the rapid rise of the disposable-blade safety razor in 1905, but still he kept the outdated blade. Many people have early memories of watching their fathers shave; perhaps that routine but deeply personal memory is why these razors were kept. In an age when photographs were not as easily taken as they are now, items carrying memories of one’s father would be especially important as keepsakes.
Straight Razor, 19th Century
Wade & Butcher; England
Steel; 6 1/4 x 1 1/8 x 1/2 in.
31403.5
Harry and Mabel Duffill Collection
Another razor, a “Wade & Butcher’s Celebrated Razor,” comes with a handwritten tag that reads: “This razor had belonged to Sydmer Ross. Given to me by the Duffills.” While the author of the tag is unclear, we know Sydmer was a cousin by marriage of the Duffill family. It is difficult to date the manufacture of the razor itself, but given that Wade & Butcher was in operation between 1818 and 1890, and that Sydmer Ross passed away in 1934, it was likely made sometime in the late 19thcentury. The final razor, made in Germany and imported by Wester Brothers in New York, comes from the Ben Wielputz Exclusive Cutlery Shop in Los Angeles, at an address that is now home to a pleasant neighborhood in Venice Beach. Because the Wester Brothers company was active between 1904 and 1967, this is probably the most recently manufactured razor in the group. Unlike the first two, it has a French tip and a hollow-ground profile, giving it a more minimalistic look. Its box boasts that it is made of “Manganese Steel,” a steel alloy that boasts high tensile strength and durability.
Straight Razor, 1840-1850
Frederick Reynolds of Sheffield; Sheffield, England
Steel and black horn; 6 1/8 x 3/4 x 1/4 in.
31403.6
Harry and Mabel Duffill Collection
Made in the age of industry, these objects were crafted by nameless factory workers on unknown dates, sold in now-demolished buildings to people who were known only by the good graces of the company they kept and their families. No declarations of fatherly love between the Duffills exist, but one can be constellated from artifacts like these. Yes, assumptions are risky business. Yet some things are certain: these razors and the stories of the men who inherited them somehow mattered enough to find their way to us. This Father’s Day, show your appreciation for the biological fathers, adopted fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, and all other father figures who raised us.
Label on the case of 31403.4

Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change upon further research.
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Wednesday, 23 September 2020

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