Thursday, October 7, 2004
Collectors on the cutting edge
Shaving-implement seekers in their element
By Cliff Radel
Enquirer staff writer
WEST CHESTER TWP. - Steady hands and thick skin are essential for collectors of safety razors and razor blades.
Steady hands to keep collectors from getting nicked.
Thick skin to help when these collectors are razzed about their hobby.
"We're all normal people," insisted collector Jerry Rosenthal. "It's the stuff we collect - razors, blades, after-shave bottles, shaving brushes and sharpeners - that's different."
Jerry Rosenthal of West Chester with part of his collection, a 1920s Heljes Strand from Sweden.
(Enquirer photo/TONY JONES)
Rosenthal is a mild-mannered publishing executive from West Chester Township. But he becomes a man obsessed when he talks about his shaving memorabilia and this weekend's International Shaving Collectibles Meeting.
"When my wife hears somebody ask me about razors, she tells them, 'You did it now.' "
The same goes when he describes Saturday's meeting at the Wingate Inn and Meridian Conference Center. Organized by Rosenthal, the meeting featuring lectures, swapping and selling sessions, networking opportunities and small-scale exhibitions, and is said to be the first of its kind in the United States.
Rosenthal realizes he and his fellow collectors could be seen by the layman as a bunch of oddballs. He's seen the look on people's faces that says "this guy belongs on David Letterman's late show kooky guest list."
"I started collecting in 1994," Rosenthal said, "after buying a safety razor from 1939 at a flea market. When I brought it home, my wife said those immortal words: 'You ought to collect them.' "
Rosenthal took wife Katie's words to heart. And his collection is slowly taking over their home.
Picture 500 gleaming safety razors in brass, silver and nickel, highly decorative razor blade tins, ranks of soft shaving brushes standing at attention on their bone and Bakelite handles.
Most of the items are from the turn of the century. A healthy chunk, dripping in art deco touches and a rainbow of colors, comes from the 1930s.
The Rosenthal collection occupies four display cabinets. Pressed to give a value, he picked $10,000. But, to him, the items are priceless. He's not a seller. He's a collector.
And he's not alone.
"I used to think I was the only madman interested in these things. Now I know better," said Renzo Jardella from Richmond, England. His collection, the largest in northern Europe, contains 4,000 items.
Collectors of shaving memorabilia place their colleagues at 1,000 worldwide.
Their passion, said Withamsville-based Frank Farmer Loomis IV, author of Secrets to Affordable Antiques and host of WVXU-FM's Keep Antiquing!, is a direct outgrowth "of what has been going on for 80 years with people collecting barber chairs and shaving mugs.
"But the smaller items, razors, blades and bottles are easier to collect."
Amassing assemblages of blades from the 1890s in their original tins and razors from the '30s with gracefully curved handles is a relatively new hobby. Shaving memento collectors don't have a highfalutin Greek-sounding name as do stamp collectors (philatelists) and coin collectors (numismatists).
Rosenthal prefers to be called "a collector of barberiana. But not a barbarian."
Jardella finances his hobby by restoring antique jewelry. He's attending Saturday's event to meet his fellow collectors.
He understands why someone might see his hobby as quirky.
"Most people look at a safety razor and see something you use to get a close shave," Jardella said. "But collectors see the mechanical intricacies and the beauty in these pieces."
Collectors also see the value.
A rare, scoop-shaped safety razor made in Cincinnati in 1928 by the A-C Specialty Co. "could be worth $400, with its cardboard box," said Robert Waits, author of three works on shaving collectibles.
For decades, Waits has been cataloging patent numbers of safety razors. Working from his Sunnyvale, Calif., home, he has written Safety Razor Reference Guide (published in 1990), its 1992 supplement and his work in progress, Safety Razor Compendium.
His research helps collectors determine how many copies of a certain model were made. Rarity determines price.
"There is no Holy Grail of collectible safety razors," Waits noted.
Baseball card collectors have the 1909 Honus Wagner card. Fifty-plus copies of the Mona Lisa of baseball cards exist. Two are known to be in mint condition and are valued in excess of $1 million.
Stamp collectors want to lay their tweezers on the inverted Jenny, the 24-cent 1918 stamp with the upside-down airplane in the center. Only 100 of 2 million stamps were inverted. The going rate: $170,000 for one mint-condition stamp.
Coin collectors long to sort their pocket change and pick out a 1787 Brasher Doubloon. Only seven exist. The last time one went on the auction block - 1981 - it sold for $625,000.
Nothing in the world of barberiana approaches those amounts. Rosenthal can point to rare razors he purchased for $30.
"This is a much more affordable hobby," he said. "And easy to get started."
For budding barberianaians, he recommended finding a copy of Don Perkins' Safety Razors,A Price Guide.
"That's our bible. It's out of print but readily available on eBay."
Next stop, a flea market.
"Buy what you like," Rosenthal said.
"Pretty soon you'll have a collection."
Just be sure to stock up on Band-Aids.
If you go