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

This thread was accidentally deleted so I repost in an updated version. Hope you like it.

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In March 2018 I acquired a gorgeous British made Gillette Aristocrat razor on the BST of another forum. 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’s, 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 32 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 basically only 4 different models:

(A) 1st generation razor: Made in the mid-late 1930s. The razor didn’t really change during production except that early ones (1936) had non-winged centerbars (this early model sometimes called the “Pre-#15”) and were silver plated. Later (1938) the centerbar was changed and the razor was rhodium plated (a gold razor in the #19 set, though). Early 1st generations had patent no 400.621 on the baseplate, later ones with 430.030 on the baseplate. Some with engravings on the handle, some not (model year variations?). Distinguishing feature: The only open comb of the 4 family generations, and with a thicker handle than the same-era Gillette Popular.

(B) 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).

(C) 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.

(D) 4th generation razor: Made in the 1950s (1953-58ish), solid bar, rhodium or gold plating. Distinguishing feature: diamond pressed baseplate; actually the same head as on the same-era Gillette Rockets.

So razor model-wise a very limited number of variations.

The plot thickens... Those confusing set combinations and numbers!
To put it short: The often mentioned #’s only refer to full sets, i.e. a razor coupled with a certain case. So without a case the razor has no #, but can only be called by its generation.

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
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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, haha - mainly because I fell in love with the case designs also.

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.

Gillette Aristocrat 1st generation sets

I waited long to try these gorgeous open comb 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.

The 1936 Pre-#15 sets with non-winged centerbar and silver plating
I show these very first production runs in three guises: (1) The ‘British’ standard version, (2) the special French version made for the French market. This version is quite unique with the special ‘Importé D’Angleterre imprint 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).

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And then there is this fascinating bespoke version: 1936 Gillette Aristocrat 1st gen #15 set, silver razor in all sterling silver bespoke case, made 1936 by W.J. Myatt & Co., Birmingham, UK (“pre-#15” set, non-winged):

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This remarkable set contains a 1936 pre-#15 1st gen Aristocrat razor in all-silver plating. But even more importantly the razor comes housed in a unique bespoke all sterling silver case with markings stating that it was made in Birmingham 1936 by company W.J. Myatt & Co. Even the blade holder is sterling silver plated(!). On the outside the case is truly remarkable and detailed, while the insides are a bit more plain with simple all-brown clothing. It would be safe to assume that the razor was originally delivered to its proud owner in this very case.

1938 Gillette Aristocrat 1st generation #15 OC
Here shown in 3 versions all holding the winged rhodium plated razor: the British version with all-block letter imprint, another with diamond logo imprint, and then a French version, Importé D’Angleterre.

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The first set in the picture was acquired one of the European bays. The second set was aquired in Germany and came with a German language manual. The French set came 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
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.

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1938 Gillette Aristocrat 1st generation #3 Traveler set rhodium
This traveler set came to me battered and the case needed a lot of TLC. Came out allright though.

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1938 Gillette Aristocrat 1st generation #19 OC set, gold
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.

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This razor and case I acquired from a most generous forum member of B&&B, when I put up a longshot buy-post in the 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.

1938 Gillette Aristocrat 1st generation #20 OC set, rhodium
Rhodium razor in brown pigskin case. A friend found this for me in Australia and I jumped at it of course. There is some discussion whether the blade holders are original or that it should have rather contained the lidded versions like the #19 set. However other sets have been seen too with these blade holders so probably a matched set.

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Oh, those cases...
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.

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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?


Gillette Aristocrat 2nd generation sets
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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.

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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. courtesy of a friend in the US. Theory is that this color combo set was made for the Australian market.

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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.

A rare bird
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This is a very rare version of the #15 set. It holds a standard 2nd generation rhodium razor but inside a very special dark brown leather clad case in pigskin, holding two nickel plated blade holders inside.

The same case design was seen in the #19 and #20 sets with different color schemes, but no one really knows where this particular set combination originally came from. Only few specimens surface once in a blue moon, and I have seen some suggest it was sold in Australia in around 1948-1950.

The pic shows the set when I received it. It was in the same sad condition as most other GIllette #15/#19/#20 pigskin clad sets we see today. The leather exterior of these sets was very thin and most have invariably dried up and cracked over the many decades gone by since. This set even arrived buck naked, with someone having removed all traces of the outer leather, and it was pretty banged up in general. But more is to follow as this case is currently undergoing a full restauration!

Now - 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?

Gillette Aristocrat 3rd generation sets

1948 Gillette Aristocrat 3rd generation #22 set, rhodium
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.

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This case I got with a set from Sweden, but now paired with the 3rd generation razor from @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!
 
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1948 Gillette Aristocrat 3rd generation #15 set, rhodium
Another #15 set but this time holding a 3rd generation razor, and accompanied by a blue cloth interior case. I caught this great condition set on the British bay.

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1948 Gillette Aristocrat 3rd generation #16 set, rhodium
Another 3rd generation razor, but 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. It is amazing how these razors hold up against time, many are as perfect as the day they left the factory 70 years ago.

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1949 Gillette Aristocrat 3rd generation #21 set, gold
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.

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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, and the blade holder I found in the UK needing a replate also.

1950s Gillette Aristocrat 3rd generation #21(?) set, rhodium
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?).

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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.

1950s French Aristocrat set, 3rd generation razor, case made in France
This was a set made only for the French market, in a unique case made in France. It has never been officially ‘matched’ but keeps popping up every once in a while in France.


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Gillette Aristocrat 4th generation sets

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1950s Gillette Aristocrat 4th generation #66 set, rhodium
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Matched razor and case acquired as-is in Sweden. The almost 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”
Full set acquired as-is from a seller in the UK. Not necessarily a matched set as mr-razFull 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.

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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)
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?

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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)
In 1958 the British Gillette organization introduced one last numbered set into their by then 30+ year old Aristocrat line. They simply took the rhodium plated 4th generation razor sold at the time in the #66 set, nickel plated it and presented it in a new case. For the latter they used the same ground model as the #66 case but gave it new colors outside and in along with a new logo on the inside top of the lid. But the most remarkable design addition was the outside top of the case where a beautiful silver colored fleur-de-lis type pattern was added. Quite unique and never seen again.

The #70 set, and the case especially, has turned out nowadays to be pretty hard to come by, as it was only offered for a couple of years whereas the #66 set was sold at least from 1953 to the end of the decade.

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My #70 razor was the first British Aristocrat I ever got and I love it to bits. I use it at least once a week as it is my absolute favourite shaver of the 100+ razors I’ve tried, only matched by the Gillette Hybrid Tech. Perfect weight, perfect handle length, perfect balance and very mild, almost no blade feel and incredibly smooth with a sharp Feather blade. The model design is basically identical to the #58 and even the Rocket HD, but of course with the added detail of the gorgeous barberpole handle pattern.

Since getting the razor I have been searching high and low for a case for it, but I only succeeded a couple of months ago where a fine condition specimen surfaced on the bay, sold out of Minnesota. Only downside to it is that the top is slightly damaged, whereas it is otherwise in solid condition and presents very well.

The impostor!

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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.

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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 collectors here.

As said, comments and corrections most welcome.

Happy shaves, all!

See also my separate thread on another gorgeous and fascinating vintage British Gillette model line – the 1930s Gillette Populars which were close cousins to the 1st generation Aristocrats.
 
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WOW! Peter, thanks very much for your efforts in sharing this brilliant collection with us all! I’ve enjoyed reading these stories, and equally enjoyed the great photographs. It’s a collection you can be proud of, and a wonderful presentation of these great razors!

Thanks again and so well done!

Al.
 
Probably the most enjoyable read since I joined this forum.
Thank you so much!

P.S. Weird fact: I normally finish my Guinness on the sofa, checking the forum, after I completed my shave. Like now.
20 min earlier I was in my bathroom, struggling to identify my newly acquired Aristocrat... an instant thought crossed my mind that I should probably contact you. Opened Tapatalk, and here’s your post.... I have my answer now. [emoji4]

Keep that gorgeous collection growing and delight us with more of these posts!


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk Pro
 
Thank you so much Black-Tie for those kind words 🙏🙏🙏

I built the thread to give back to all you gentlemen in this kind community. I have had incredible help and support along the way also from much more knowledgable members who have gone out of their way to share their deep insights on these fabulous razors.

I am very curious to know which Aristocrat you have, and a picture would be much welcomed :D
 
Great post, I have to come back to this :drool:

Thanks again, sir! - Would you delight us with more pictures of your wonderful super-super rare Anglo-American shown in your Avatar? - This is the absolute grail razor for any British Aristocrat nut. I have hunted this forever but they NEVER come up :drool:

Supposedly made around 1947 (as shown here in mr-razor) as a Gillette post-WWII first try to get a luxury razor into the market, and made out of combined US and British Aristocrat parts. Notice the handle identical to a 1946/47 US Aristo and the head from a 1st generation Brit. Love it :001_tt1:

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