What's new
  • Guest
    As per our long standing policy of not permitting medical advice on the forum - all threads concerning the Coronavirus will be locked.
    For more info on the coronavirus please see the link below:
    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/summary.html

18 different British Gillette Aristocrat and Popular sets - a partial historic overview and my collector’s journey (pics galore)

Northstonehill

Contributor
CE3E5F65-A128-4955-A96A-D85A35C6BE6E.jpeg

In March 2018 I acquired a gorgeous British made Gillette Aristocrat razor from a fellow B&B’er. I loved it from the get-go, for it’s amazing build quality, stunning barberpole looks, and of course for the absolutely stellar and smooth shaves it provides. So not unexpectedly it also provided me with a serious itch for more.

Since then I’ve spent too many hours learning about the strange details of the various razor generations and sets. And I have hunted the BST, various bays, Facebook and all other places I could think of. On top, I’ve proactively reached out to people I know here and elsewhere to collect set parts (razors, cases, blade holders) in an effort to build matching sets from the ground up, based on the knowledge and unique encyclopedia of Achim (www.mr-razor.com) and others here.

So I thought I’d share here with you gentlemen for referencing a bit of background on these wonderful razors and to show in one place some of the official British Aristocrat sets offered back then. But also to illustrate how much help you need if you dive deep into collecting vintages. Help from Achim/mr-razor and help from all the many razor experts and enthusiasts here on B&B, suggesting, teaching, pointing and correcting misunderstandings. And significantly for me, without the huge help of Chris Evatt and Cap Murphy for refurbishings I could not have made it within my budget. Thank you all helpers, enablers, and razor hunters ;)

For sure far from all the British made Aristocrat sets are inhere - over in the big leagues my razor collecting friend and role model Dan holds 31 different sets (and counting) so there’s still a ways for me to go!

What we know about the UK Aristocrats
Considering the British Aristocrat line’s total lifespan of 30 years it is amazing that these razors came in only 4 different models:
  • 1st generation razor: Made in the mid-late 1930s. Early ones with patent no 400.621 on baseplate, later ones with 430.030 on baseplate. Some with engravings on the handle, some not (model year variations?). Rhodium or gold plating, early versions available in silver also. Distinguishing feature: The only open comb of the 4 family generations, and with a thicker handle than the same-era Gillette Popular.
  • 2nd generation razor: Made in the late 1940s: solid bar, baseplate 430.030. Came in rhodium and possibly gold. Distinguishing feature: Two broad non-knurled bands at each end of the handle (above the TTO knob).
  • 3rd generation razor: Made in the late 1940s/early 1950s, solid bar, baseplate 430.030, rhodium or gold plating. Distinguishing feature: The heaviest razor of the generations at 82 grams, 5-10 grams heavier than the others.
  • 4th generation razor: Made in the 1950s (1953-58ish), solid bar, rhodium or gold platning. Distinguishing feature: diamond pressed baseplate.
So razor model-wise a very limited number of variations.

The plot thickens... Those confusing set combinations and numbers!
However... all 4 razor generations came in a bunch of different set combinations with various cases. We don’t even know for sure all the sets/combos made, but we know that each of them typically were coined with a number, e.g. “The #15 set”. And adding to the confusion the same set number and case design over time could include various generations of razors. And it seems in general that Gillette often mixed sets up in order to use up old stocks of particular parts.

On top of these unknowns we even lack historic first hand source information on the overall story of how it came to be that the British Gillette organization for a long period of time from the 1930s through to 1960 took a different design route than the US mother company. I guess the world was less globally standardized in the good old days.

Gillette’s UK factory at Gillette Corner, Great West Road, Isleworth, Middlesex. Inaugurated in 1937 and in operation until 2006, when Gillette moved all production to Poland (photos from 1974, Googleearth photo from 2019, drawing of building layout courtesy of mr-razor)
4445448B-078D-4761-AFE7-041BC4DEACFC.jpeg
Quote from the Aberdeen Press & Journal, 07 January 1937: “The new factory is capable of turning out one and a half million safety razor blades per day and 25,000 razors. The factory will supply fifty miles of blade edge each day, one half of which will be exported, and the other sold in Great Britain. Japan is one of the firm's best customers, supplying one of the largest markets for Gillette razors and razor blades.”

My razors
My plan was initially to acquire just 4 rhodium razors, one from each generation. But as you can see I have strayed a wee bit from that decision, mainly because I fell in love with the case designs also.

And by the way I have added inhere my 3 Populars. The Gillette Populars were made during the 1930s by the UK Gillette organization alongside the 1st generation Aristocrats. And as they were basically slim handled versions of these I find they deserve to be in here.

Lastly - a huge disclaimer on all Gillette/Aristocrat info listed above/below: There are quite a few MUCH more knowledgable experts on British Aristocrats who will be reading this, so I really hope they will pitch in to comment and to correct any mistakes I have made. I’ve done this write-up to the best of my current knowledge but I am sure that errors have been made and that much more info can be added on top. Thanks upfront guys!

But enough said already, here goes. I hope you enjoy the photos and the razor backstories, some of which I have shared partly in various earlier threads. Except where refurbishments are noted, all razors and cases are in original condition.

1938 Gillette Aristocrat 1st generation #15 OC set, rhodium
31811012-FF0D-409F-9104-AA2F4BDB00E3.jpeg

Acquired as a full set from a B&B member here. Marked 430.030 on the baseplate indicating that this is a late 1930s production, as mentioned the earlier years have patent no 400.621 on the baseplate. This is the 1st generation razor that I love to use regularly.

I waited long to try these gorgeous open combs as I feared they would be too aggressive for me. They are not! They are wonderful and smooth, even if they have a reputation of being very individual shavers. Probably due to time and individual level of use each specimen shaves a bit different, some milder and others more aggressively. All mine are mild shavers though, my favorite OC. The beautiful thick teeth make them shave like a solid bar razor. To me quite frankly the best looking razor model ever made by any company, bar none, and one of the finest shavers also.

1938 Gillette Aristocrat 1st generation #15 OC French Set Importé D’Angleterre, rhodium
3857CAE8-4A26-4911-B5A6-E83B67913CB2.jpeg

The French market version of the above set is quite unique, with the special print in the case lid and similar engraving on the razor handle. The UK Gillette business in the 1930s offered quite a few of these specially branded French market versions, other examples are Techs, the RFB #77, and the Populars as well (as seen below).

The set in the picture was acquired as a full original set from a seller in Spain, and even came with the nice small partly French language manual. Marked 400.621 on the baseplate indicating that it is a earlier/mid-1930s production year.

1938 Gillette Aristocrat 1st generation #15 OC set, rhodium
E54B9149-35C4-4CA5-8AAD-FA29D67409FA.jpeg
This set combination supposedly was made for the Australian market with the bright red cloth interior of the case. Visually the razor is similar to my other #15 OC with no engravings on the handle and with 430.030 on the baseplate. I found this wonderful set recently in Belgium and of course couldn’t pass on it.

1938 Gillette Aristocrat 1st generation #19 OC set, gold
1B103ED7-CC6E-464F-832B-53D041B7996B.jpeg

Now, I am a nickel/rhodium guy at heart but there is something about those goldies. Like their US near-cousins very classy looking. Only problem however: As the story goes, Colonial Great Britain had easy access to large rhodium deposites in Africa, so for cost reasons the UK Gillette organization mainly preferred this metal over gold. As a consequence gold clad British Aristocrats were produced in much smaller numbers, resulting in them being equally harder to track down today.

This razor and case I acquired from a most generous B&B’er, when I put up a longshot buy-post in our BST section. The razor is identical to its rhodium sisters but the case is different: It seems to be the same type and size of metal case as the other 1st generation cases but here it comes with a brown pigskin clad exterior. And holding 2 separate gold plated bladebanks inside rather than the built-in flip version seen in the nickel cases.

This razor specimen is absolutely pristine but the case came to me battered, most notably with the leather exterior all cracked and dried up, hence I had to try my best to do significant repairs to the leather. Believe me, this angle shows its best side. Also, the blade banks were missing so I had to find two period correct banks with a friend B&B member in France and have them replated by Chris Evatt to match the great condition of the razor.

Oh, those cases...
F0633722-6190-4123-9B91-BADFF30A7D12.jpeg

The cases of the British Aristocrats are hand crafted wonders in themselves, with their superbly detailed logo enscriptions and bright colored interiors. As the Aristocrats series progressed it is clear to see how much time and effort was continuously put into the intricate case designs.

The first 2 generations mainly came in nickel plated metal cases, then somewhere during the 3rd generation run (in the early 1950s) various leather(ette?) clad cases took over. In the first generation guise most set cases had an intriguing built-in blade holder, where later cases instead would hold one or two separate bladebanks. Then later again (in the 3rd and 4th generations sets) the sets simply included a generic disposable plastic blade dispenser or at best a plated metal cover for the disposable dispenser. I guess an example of the growing Gillette mindset to focus on using disposable generic parts rather than complicated craftsmanship?

... continued ...
 
Last edited:

Northstonehill

Contributor
...continued...

Advertisements for the 2nd generation Aristocrats (source: mr-razor)

D3F5EE6A-3712-4064-9AF6-04454AFCA300.jpeg

1948 Gillette Aristocrat 2nd generation #15 sets, rhodium
For my personal tastes the second generation Aristocrat provides the slightly lesser shave of the four generations - more blade feel and less smooth feeling to me. It is still very acceptable though by general standards, and gorgeous it is for sure.

A number of different interior case colors/clothings were made under the #15 set moniker, seemingly varying by geographical market. So far I have caught 3 of them but at least a fourth one exists with bright blue cloth interior.

295A4C82-6BC3-4062-8812-C8B8696A13FE.jpeg 34AFAA4F-937A-44BB-A2BB-C0CB333F8988.jpeg

These leather (or leatherette) case interiors in dark blue or maroon seem to only have been offered with this one Aristocrat set - in the nickel exterior case and holding most often 2nd generation razors. The dark blue set came from the murky waters of the UK bay, and the maroon set arrived just a few weeks ago courtesy of my good B&B buddy Thomas in St. Louis. Theory is that this color combo set was made for the Australian market.

C72E5157-B4F9-40B5-BFFD-127BAC6E0876.jpeg

This red cloth interior case came to me from one of the most knowledgable B&B’ers on British Aristcrats (@tonich) holding a 3rd generation 82 grams razor, together constituting a correct matched #15 set. But I decided to instead pair this case with a 2nd generation razor to create an equally correct #15 solid bar set. Confused? - We all are, haha, the strange and wonderfully mysterious world of the British Aristocrats.

Was the 2nd generation razor ever made in gold? - Well the jury’s out on that one as far as I have been able to tell. But I did find one single mention and picture online of what seemed to be a battered old goldie 2nd generation razor. Maybe someone has more info?

1948 Gillette Aristocrat 3rd generation #22 set, rhodium
B413A0CF-C43F-46A2-BA91-E374AE165349.jpeg

I find the 3rd generation 430.030 flat baseplate razor the most efficient of the four generations, maybe because of its slighty heavier weight of 82 grams. And many enthusiasts find it the best of the lot with superior balance. As regards the case this is a design used for other sets too.

This case I got with a set from Sweden, but now paired with the 3rd generation razor from Andon/@tonich. Great condition razor, I use it at least once a week. The Swedish set came from the family of a lady who worked many years at the Gillette warehouse in Stockholm, where she collected a drawer of razors and sets that her family later resold. Incidentally, my advice to all you guys buying vintages is to always remember to ask your sellers if they have any backstories to their razors, sometimes quite fascinating stories like this surface!

1948 Gillette Aristocrat 3rd generation #16 set, rhodium
D667B445-C1D0-45FC-A187-874B6A7BC98F.jpeg

Another 3rd generation razor, this time coupled with a different size nickel plated metal case and with a cream blade dispenser, together constituting a full matching #16 set. This particular case design was never seen again, with burgundy cloth and plastic inlet, and the case with one-off overall size measurements. Quite ‘modern’ looking interior actually compared to the other Gillette case designs of the period.

This set recently reeled in from the windy coast of Brittany, France. It is amazing how these razors hold up against time, many are as perfect as the day they left the factory 70 years ago.

... continued ...
 
Last edited:

Northstonehill

Contributor
...continued...

1949 Gillette Aristocrat 3rd generation #21 set, gold
77486215-B433-4172-8B72-F4F540DBE65D.jpeg

I am told by the experts that this set combination was only made for the Argentinian/South American market, sporting a gold plated 3rd generation 82 grams razor in a brown leathered case with golden accents, and paired with a gold plated blade holder. Probably that’s why they are very rarely seen nowadays.

So this set I had to build from scratch. The gold razor came alone from a fellow B&B’er in Argentina, well-loved beat-up usergrade and had to go directly to Chris and Cap for a full mechanical and 24K plating refurbishment. As always these gentlemen did a fantastic job and now it is almost like new, even if of course still showing a few marks of the years and the 1,000s of past shaves gone by. But that to me is the very charm of vintage razoring. The case I got from another mismatched set acquired in California, discovered for me by yet another kind B&B member, and the blade holder I found in the UK needing a replate also.

The razor is inbound from Cap Murphy as we speak, therefore I show the case in a separate picture.
AB5E6C9C-67E2-46A5-B292-DCA79B57EF33.jpeg

1950s Gillette Aristocrat 3rd generation #21(?) set, rhodium
72C8501B-9B14-49A2-933E-075A5253F714.jpeg

This may not be a matched set as mr-razor only shows this particular case paired with a 2nd generation razor (then being an officially matched 1948 #21 set). Still, I keep seeing this particular combo pop up all the time, even in NOS condition. And as mentioned it seems a generally stated fact about the British Aristocrats that the various razors and cases came in many strange combinations, some proven today by surviving same-era Gillette advertisments like the ones shown in this post - and some not (...yet?).

I got this razor, blade holder and case all together from a seller in Spain. Razor and blade bank are in amazing perfect shape as is the case on the outside. As we speak this razor however is leaving for a new home with one of my work colleagues, a recent and now completely infatuated DE convert.

Advertisements for the 4th generation Aristocrats (source: mr-razor):
8B44F3F9-6EDE-4982-A2DC-875C0A25E828.jpeg

1950s Gillette Aristocrat 4th generation #66 set, rhodium
12C3197D-29E3-4A33-AEB2-DFADCEA9A72E.jpeg

Matched razor and case acquired as-is in Sweden. The period correct(?) British made blade dispenser I happened upon in the UK. Great condition set. To me the 4th generation Aristocrat is the smoothest and most preferred daily shaver of the bunch. For me the absolute ideal everyday driver, perfect level of blade feel (= borderline none), perfect efficiency, perfect balance, perfect everything.

1950s Gillette Aristocrat 4th generation Deluxe set, “gold #66”
A1E195E7-A600-4FED-9CE4-0AC2DB74F306.jpeg

Full set acquired as-is from a seller in the UK. Not necessarily a matched set as mr-razor shows the Deluxe set with another case and only shows this case with a gold Flare Tip Rocket. However the case and razor is same time period and matched as regards the gold look, and the set even came supplied with the designated special golden blade dispenser cover.

So it could be original but it could also simply have been put together by the original owner, in this case a quite plausible explanation: Because this full set originates from my seller’s grandad who worked a lifetime as a plating manager at the Gillette works (pictured above) in Isleworth, Brentford, Middlesex! A wonderful backstory to add to this razor.

1950s Gillette Aristocrat 4th generation #66 set, aluminum version (one-off version)
6BF31F11-C2D1-40E3-848D-71893EA47B55.jpeg

This razor also came to me from the family of the former Gillette plating manager in the UK. It is very interesting as it comes with a TTO knob sporting the same width as the handle, exactly like a Rocket Parat to an ordinary Rocket. Never seen before, as far as I have been able to tell. Either a one-off made specifically for the original owner at the plant, or more likely simply a production mishap that the guy caught in Quality Control before it left the factory?

It seems the #58 alu Rocket has the same handle-knob width so maybe a raw #58 knob was tossed in the Aristocrat heap before the barberpole knurling was machined out? - Or maybe plant management quietly accepted that the production line folks sometimes used the machinery for privat purposes; I know this to have been often the case at factories here in Denmark back in the day.

The case I acquired cheap in Spain off of a mismatched set with a Rocket Monobloc. For fun I am calling this a ‘potentially matched’ set using primitive Northstonehill logics as one could assume the two #66 versions could at some point have been offered with the same case? Mr-razor though only has the aluminum version razor paired with another style case, so others I am sure can pitch opinions in here.

1950s Gillette Aristocrat 4th generation nickel (#70), razor only
599214EE-3DF1-46E2-A520-077DB7CA0043.jpeg

This wonderful condition razor was my first British Aristocrat and still is my most often used razor today. I love it to bits, in my den it shares the #1 shaver spot with my Hybrid Techs. It came caseless from a fellow B&B’er through the BST. Since it is nickel plated it must originate from a #70 set, as this was the only Brit Aristo made in nickel. I am still searching for a matched case for it.

To avoid it being caselessly lonely it is paired here with my gorgeous Gillette branded VW Van, built in the 1960s by Danish die cast toy car maker TEKNO and refurbished for me by an 80+ year old Danish gentleman.

... continued ...
 
Last edited:

Northstonehill

Contributor
...continued...

1930s Gillette advertisements for Populars and Aristocrats

C1BD8328-4064-4AB7-8A5E-052AAE5F6050.jpeg

1938 Gillette Popular #47 set, nickel
6A8427B1-0147-49D3-AEDA-B50E461E2155.jpeg

I find the Populars slightly less smooth shavers compared to the Aristocrats, but very nimble and easy to use around the face. Very much like New RFB’s. They are very pretty with their slim handles and they have those quirky ‘floppy doors’: If you hold the razor upright and untightens/opens it, the doors don’t actually open by themselves; you have to manually flip them open or flip the razor upside-down to let gravity open them.

This set I acquired as a full set from one of the great UK collectors, also a member here on B&B. Being the 1938 version the handle has the more mundane Rocket style knurling rather than the 1939 version’s more fashionable barberpole pattern. This is the best original condition set of all in my den.

Another early design difference (1st generation): Top of the lid is different on the Aristocrat cases (right) and the Popular cases (left)
DCD5D687-4A73-486F-A768-A83106312BC6.jpeg


1939 Gillette Popular #47 set, silver
7AAD0839-5A1E-4794-926A-5F8CA6197F0B.jpeg

This razor came to me from Italy. 1939 model with the barberpole handle pattern. It is a non-original all-silver replate, alledgedly done by a local Roman craftsman. Gillette never made Populars in all-silver but initially made models with a silver handle and nickel head. This particular Popular case I got from Sweden as part of another Popular set. It is in excellent condition and even came with the razor manual translated fully into Swedish (cool!) as well as the same Gillette brush/cream advertisement that my 1938 set came with from the UK.

1940 Gillette Popular #45 set, black handle, Importe D’Angleterre
6E286015-6EA3-49A4-AB26-17E324786939.jpeg

This wonderful rare set is one of my later acquisitions, graciously passed on to me by a well-known gentleman B&B’er owning a time machine. Only missing item is a second blade holder. The set was made for the French market as it has ‘Importe D’Angleterre’ on both case and razor. The very few similar black handle sets I have seen online as well as the set shown in mr-razor has the same Frenchie engraving. The unique feature of the #45 set is the handle plated in black nickel, a plating rarely used but which we also saw on some of the 1940s Rotbarts. The head is bright nickel, and the white bakelite case I believe was only used for a few Popular sets.

The impostor!
CB4A540F-AA17-4777-822E-E3995D6AF7E8.jpeg

Couldn’t help but include this, just for kicks. The AIDA Open Style Razor is a fascinating Aristocrat 4th generation clone. Made in Japan alledgedly in the early 1960s, material is nickel plated brass. Engraved back baseplate ‘Aida’, ‘Made in Japan’, and ‘Open style’ as well as engraved bottom of TTO knob with ‘Open’ and an arrow to show the direction to twist.

The visual similarities to a 4th generation Aristocrat are stunning. Even in hand and during the shave this razor feels exactly like it’s Gillette ‘twin’, the weight is the same, 72 grams vs 73 grams for the Aristocrat. It is built like a tank and delivers a perfectly smooth shave identical to the 4th generation Crat, supersmooth and efficient.

-

Well, gentlemen, thanks for reading this longwinded tale. I hope you enjoyed looking through these family portraits and reading about their origins and history. I’ve had immense fun assembling them all, and not least with all my interactions with kind sellers, Aristocrat aficionados and kind B&B members here.

As said, comments and corrections most welcome.

Happy shaves, all!
:badger:


5C726213-8F50-470C-8A70-0953EB140BA8.jpeg
 
Last edited:

malocchio

Contributor
Fantastic post that took a lot of effort....I would only like to add that perhaps the black handled version was done during the war ?..... I have both a #15 and #16 British Aristocrat , one is OC the other CC, when shaving I cannot feel the difference, nor is there a difference in the final result. Superb craftsmanship !
 

Nobeard

Contributor
This is an incredible posting. Very informative.
I have a small collection of English Aristocrats and am always looking for more information regarding the different models

Thank you for the effort this must have taken
 
Than
...continued...

1930s Gillette advertisements for Populars and Aristocrats

View attachment 1050622

1938 Gillette Popular #47 set, nickel
View attachment 1050625

I find the Populars slightly less smooth shavers compared to the Aristocrats, but very nimble and easy to use around the face. Very much like New RFB’s. They are very pretty with their slim handles and they have those quirky ‘floppy doors’: If you hold the razor upright and untightens/opens it, the doors don’t actually open by themselves; you have to manually flip them open or flip the razor upside-down to let gravity open them.

This set I acquired as a full set from one of the great UK collectors, also a member here on B&B. Being the 1938 version the handle has the more mundane Rocket style knurling rather than the 1939 version’s more fashionable barberpole pattern. This is the best original condition set of all in my den.

Another early design difference (1st generation): Top of the lid is different on the Aristocrat cases (right) and the Popular cases (left)
View attachment 1050619


1939 Gillette Popular #47 set, silver
View attachment 1050620

This razor came to me from Italy. 1939 model with the barberpole handle pattern. It is a non-original all-silver replate, alledgedly done by a local Roman craftsman. Gillette never made Populars in all-silver but initially made models with a silver handle and nickel head. This particular Popular case I got from Sweden as part of another Popular set. It is in excellent condition and even came with the razor manual translated fully into Swedish (cool!) as well as the same Gillette brush/cream advertisement that my 1938 set came with from the UK.

1940 Gillette Popular #45 set, black handle, Importe D’Angleterre
View attachment 1050621

This wonderful rare set is one of my later acquisitions, graciously passed on to me by a well-known gentleman B&B’er owning a time machine. Only missing item is a second blade holder. The set was made for the French market as it has ‘Importe D’Angleterre’ on both case and razor. The very few similar black handle sets I have seen online as well as the set shown in mr-razor has the same Frenchie engraving. The unique feature of the #45 set is the handle plated in black nickel, a plating rarely used but which we also saw on some of the 1940s Rotbarts. The head is bright nickel, and the white bakelite case I believe was only used for a few Popular sets.

The impostor!
View attachment 1050623

Couldn’t help but include this, just for kicks. The AIDA Open Style Razor is a fascinating Aristocrat 4th generation clone. Made in Japan alledgedly in the early 1960s, material is nickel plated brass. Engraved back baseplate ‘Aida’, ‘Made in Japan’, and ‘Open style’ as well as engraved bottom of TTO knob with ‘Open’ and an arrow to show the direction to twist.

The visual similarities to a 4th generation Aristocrat are stunning. Even in hand and during the shave this razor feels exactly like it’s Gillette ‘twin’, the weight is the same, 72 grams vs 73 grams for the Aristocrat. It is built like a tank and delivers a perfectly smooth shave identical to the 4th generation Crat, supersmooth and efficient.

-

Well, gentlemen, thanks for reading this longwinded tale. I hope you enjoyed looking through these family portraits and reading about their origins and history. I’ve had immense fun assembling them all, and not least with all my interactions with kind sellers, Aristocrat aficionados and kind B&B members here.

As said, comments and corrections most welcome.

Happy shaves, all!
:badger:


View attachment 1050624
Thank you for the history and the beautiful pics.
 
Top