It's been an unchanged morning ritual for nearly three hundred years. Waking up in the morning, men the world over get out their blended bristle shaving brush and soap and prepare a nice warm lather. But whether it's a replaceable single blade or the smooth snakewood scale handle of a Thiers-Issard straight razor – men have long hallowed the tradition of using a straight razor to give themselves the smoothest shave possible.
But what of this time honored tradition? Why do so many men prefer to stand by their old-fashioned straight razor? Maybe it's the feeling of taking a finely honed 7/8” blade up the length of one's neck? Perhaps it's the feeling of their loved one's hand on their smooth face. Whichever the reason, Thiers-Issard has forged impeccable polished steel since the beginning of straight razor production. Both barbers and gentry have come to rely upon those individually crafted steel blades to survive decades upon decades of sharpening, honing, and stropping.
But what did men do before this? Certainly, when we take a look at the exhibits on ancient history, whether we're looking at the Qin dynasty or Alexander the Great, one can't help but wonder what daily shaving was like back before the days a steel straight razor existed!
Egyptians Knew the Value of a Good Barber and a Great Razor
Human beings have used various types of razors since the Bronze Age. Prior to that, archeological records show mostly it was a mixture of scraping with honed seashells, sharks teeth, and even flint. When the first razor made its introduction in Egypt, most of these were often reserved for nobility. The Ancient Egyptians prizing them so highly they decorated them with ornate gems and patterns.
Before the advent of the highly polished Sheffield Steel that went into the first Thiers-Issard razors, most of these first razors were made of either copper or bronze. Imagine hefting that cumbersome, constantly dull thing around your neck?! All the more reason why the early Egyptians valued their barbers. So much so, in fact, that royalty kept theirs on personal staff.
The usual stropping and sharpening process to get a modern Thiers-Issard carbon steel blade to a perfectly honed, crisp edge is just a daily routine of maybe ten or twenty minutes a day. Copper and bronze, though, dulls incredibly fast by comparison. Back then, it could take several hours to get a much smaller copper razor to hold an edge long enough to shave an Egyptian nobleman's face and head. And who wants to nick the throat of a pharaoh?
For the most part, the style of razor largely didn't change until the mid 1700s. It was through innovations in the forging of the steel itself that enabled barbers to begin creating long narrow blades perfect for a close, smooth shave. Thiers-Issard began their first production using the same techniques discovered by the first blade smiths, which began full production in 1860.
It's a tradition that would follow the world over, especially into places like Japan where closely groomed facial hair was widespread. Men were beginning to gain an appreciation for a relatively painless, hygienic way to keep themselves looking professional. It took nearly 3000 years from the first copper razor to a version that didn't require removing chunks of skin.
And here many are – lamenting a nick on the chin!
Running Along the Razor's Edge of Controversy
A great wealth of information can be learned about the full history of the razor in “Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History”. One matter that is never quite explained, however, who truly invented the first straight razor. While the French largely credit Perret as the inventor in 1760, apparently there is a record floating around of a listed manufacturer in Sheffield, England twenty years prior. Benjamin Huntsman, in 1740, made straight razors with decorated handles and hollow-ground blades from cast steel. This seems to run akimbo to previously thoughts in terms of who came up with the favored tool for grooming. However, it was Huntsman's technique which would later wind up being adopted into the Theirs-Issard straight razor used today, thereby lending that no matter who gets the credit – ultimately it's good technological innovation that proceeds on.
That the entire concept of making a hollowed-out blade – the process of forging it and crafting it – was so highly prized that the first razor smiths were inducted into a special guild known as the “Chart of the Jurande”. It was this hollowing out of the blades and subsequent polishing of the steel that gave these first Thiers-Issard razors a 'Sheffield silver steel' gloss that made them so sought after. Inadvertently, it was the original Pierre Thiers in 1884 who became known as one of the first widely regarded experts in the field of straight razor production.
Regardless of who invented the straight razor first, we can certainly all conclude this lesson satisfied that despite any's daily gripes about personal grooming – it's still possible to get the closest shave of your life every morning without any discomfort... And no painful copper blades!