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AutoStrop/Valet Razors: A Typology in 13 Parts

And just for kicks, here is the game changer: The Probak Razor from Autostrop. In the late 20's, Henry Gaisman patented his blade shape to fit this razor, putting the Gillette NEW in serious legal peril. Gaisman's blade patent was nearly identical to that submitted by Gillette a bit later. How could that happen? Industrial espionage? coincidence? Anyway, Gillette tried to fight Gaisman off, but they eventually had to settle, Gillette had been playing funny with the books, and Gaisman took over Gillette.
That was the so-called "Patent War". Gaisman outsmarted Gillette's executives in so many ways. This is an exaustive article from the Time Magazine for everybody interested in the dark history of wet-shaving. Prepare for a quite big wall of text:

From the Oct. 27, 1930 issue of TIME magazine: Price of Peace
"In 1895, when I, King Camp Gillette, was 40, I first thought of the safety razor." So, a decade ago, wrote the father of a great company, a great industry. The proud ring in his words was justified. His invention was no haphazard one. For years he had pondered the possibilities of finding some cheap article that would be used daily, and have a constant replacement demand. The growth of Gillette Safety Razor Co. had been fast and sure, accomplished out of earnings. Into all countries had gone packages of blades, carrying the dollar-proud face of King Camp Gillette. Last week he still had reason to be proud. Gillette Safety Razor Co. is the undisputed world leader in the industry. But also justifiably proud was another inventor, likewise a razor-maker: Henry Jaques Gaisman, founder and head of AutoStrop Safety Razor Co. Inc. Last week Mr. Gaisman brought to what seemed a triumphant conclusion the corporate battle between his company and mighty Gillette.

Since early boyhood Inventor Gaisman, a bachelor, 60, has been having brilliant ideas. More than 1,000 of them have been patented. Swivel chairs, men's belts, carburetors have benefited from his inventions. And inventors are still spurred on by the memory of the $300,000 George Eastman paid Inventor Gaisman in 1914-for his writing-on-film patent. But his most profitable inventions have been in the razor field. He has created processes for making blades, has designed blades and razors. In 1906 he founded AutoStrop Safety Razor Co. which soon became important in the industry. Its chief product was the Valet AutoStrop Razor. For years the relations between AutoStrop and Gillette were as between any two competitors. But last winter, as shavers great and small remember, Gillette prepared to market a new razor & blade. And by a strange coincidence, Probak Corp., an AutoStrop subsidiary, was ready with a blade that fitted the new Gillette razor. Thus began the greatest razor-war of all time.

Chronicle of the Battle. The Gillette-AutoStrop battle dates back really to the year 1921 when came an important milestone in the Gillette history: the expiration of most of the Gillette patents. But a few extracts from the course of events in 1930 serves to tell the story of the battle. And the gradual reversal of the position of the stocks of the two companies shows how Wall Street, always eager to forecast, reached a correct verdict.

January 9 Every wheel in the Gillette plant at South Boston stopped at noon. Razor No. 115,272,539 had just been completed. A half hour later the wheels started moving again. Razor No. 1 of the new type was made. Great secrecy marked the brief ceremony. That day Gillette closed at 102½, AutoStrop at 38⅜.

January 14. Mr. Gaisman received further patents on his new blade, assigned them to Probak Corp.

February 7. Chairman John E. Aldred of Gillette: ". . . Rumors have been circulated, mainly in stock market circles, in regard to the Gillette Co. . . . Based upon the advice of our attorneys we are pleased to assure you that the patent situation ... is being developed in a usual and orderly manner and that we anticipate no delay or difficulty." By then, Gillette was $97½, AutoStrop $45.

February 28. Boston News Bureau: "Public response to the new Gillette razor and blade has exceeded expectations by the management."

March 8. Gillette began a $10,000,000 advertising campaign.

March 18. Gillette announced: "We are not only prepared for any legal controversy, but we invite it."

April 2. Probak accepted the invitation, filed suit asking an injunction restraining Gillette from making further blades of the new type, also asked damages on blades already sold. Gillette stock was then down to $912, AutoStrop up to $51.

May 29. Gillette answered by saying Probak's patents were invalid and void. Stock prices: Gillette $87½; AutoStrop $53⅞

July 25. Rumors that there would be a merger on a share-for-share basis. Auto-Strop, earnings up 95% over the corresponding period last year. Gillette, $68½ Auto-Strop, $53.

September 25. The case would come up in December, it was announced. Merger negotiations reported not dropped. Gillette $58¼; AutoStrop $75.

October 16. Plans for the merger announced. Gillette drops to $43!, the next day makes a new low at $38½ AutoStrop strong at $72.

Merger. Though last week's merger plan had yet to be formalized by stockholders' vote, statisticians began to compute the financial ramifications of the deal. Two facts stood out: the cessation of patent litigation is a costly peace for Gillette; Gillette has paid far more to get AutoStrop than AutoStrop is receiving.

In anticipation of the deal, perhaps expecting a share-for-share exchange, Gillette in July and August bought in a large block of its stock at an average cost of about $79 a share. This expectancy, if it existed, was shattered by subsequent events. What AutoStrop actually wanted was share-for-share, to be sure, but it wanted dividends guaranteed so that AutoStrop stockholders could get AutoStrop earnings whatever might happen to Gillette. AutoStrop agreed to take 310,000 shares of a $5 cumulative preferred stock for its growing business, which may earn $2,000,000 this year. Gillette, left with its block of stock and a big paper loss, decided to "reclassify" the block into preferred. A $20,000,000 bond issue was decided upon, to pay off loans made to buy this stock. This issue costs $1,000,000 a year in interest, would be retired should Gillette common sell over $100 again. The new, preferred stock will cost Gillette another $1,550,000 a year in dividends, is convertible into common share for share. These prior charges are partially offset by the reduction of Gillette common outstanding, but the altitude of the price Gillette is paying for patent peace is obviously impressive.

Viewed in the perspective of a long future, however, Gillette is well off indeed.

In obtaining AutoStrop it gets, besides good products and profits, several strategic plants, valuable sales machinery, smart management. More than that, Gillette avoids the costs of a long lawsuit, is totally insured against the calamity that a verdict against the company would have been. To date 14,500,000 of the new Gillette razors, 200,000,000 of the new blades have been manufactured. Should royalties have been awarded to Probak, they probably would have mounted to staggering sums this year, next year, every year that Gillette continued its present razor.

With the razor a huge success from the start, protection was vital.

Probably never answered will be the question that the situation suggests: Did shrewd Inventor Gaisman plan from the first to use the Probak blade to force Gillette to buy AutoStrop? If so, he succeeded brilliantly, with only one consideration not obtained: The greatest name in safety razordom is still King Camp Gillette, not Henry Jaques Gaisman.
 
Looks like I have a VC3 from my Grandfather. It needs some cleaning.

But... what I found that I have never seen is the other part he left me... four boxes of “10 boxes of 10 blades” from Valet. Factory sealed box with 100 blades in them. (So, each box has 10 little 10 blade boxes in it).

Thought that might be of some interest.
Wow. Well, if they're not rusty, it looks like you'll be fixed for blades for a long time.....
 
Looks like I have a VC3 from my Grandfather. It needs some cleaning.

But... what I found that I have never seen is the other part he left me... four boxes of “10 boxes of 10 blades” from Valet. Factory sealed box with 100 blades in them. (So, each box has 10 little 10 blade boxes in it).

Thought that might be of some interest.
Interesting indeed! I've never seen the large box/case. If you've more than you want, you could always sell some on ebay. They seem to be going for about $10 a pop these days for unopened stock.
 
If that handle is integral to the head and not detatchable, A1 indeed and congrats for that!

Look for the A2 next. Harder to find. Lugged neck on the handle.
Seems you've been AOL for awhile, but I'll thank you anyway for a great primer on the Auto-Strop line!
If you come back, please write a detailed chronology on the history of the proprietary alignment-pin placement. It seems to me the changing of pin placement followed an evolutionary pattern, as if the manufacturer was responding to competitor's blades as they were being introduced. Or am I wrong? Might the pin placement have been random, ever changing, as a way of frustrating any attempt to produce compatible third-party blades? Eastmor's blades shown. Note the elaborate cut-outs.
 

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Seems you've been AOL for awhile, but I'll thank you anyway for a great primer on the Auto-Strop line!
If you come back, please write a detailed chronology on the history of the proprietary alignment-pin placement. It seems to me the changing of pin placement followed an evolutionary pattern, as if the manufacturer was responding to competitor's blades as they were being introduced. Or am I wrong? Might the pin placement have been random, ever changing, as a way of frustrating any attempt to produce compatible third-party blades? Eastmor's blades shown. Note the elaborate cut-outs.
There's a discussion of the various pin patterns in Waits, iirc, and also on some of the other wetshaving forums - probably here too. Eastmor was just one of the outfits that offered alternatives to proprietary blades (they offered a version of Durham Duplex blades and GEM SE blades as well); I seem to recall seeing other examples of 3rd-party Valet blades but can't recall the manufacturers' names at the moment.
 
Just ran across this outstanding post. I’ve considered getting one of these razors or two (+++), but hesitated due to lack of understanding. This fills in the many gaps in my knowledge.
 
Just joined the forum and found this thread. It looks like the razor I bought yesterday was a VC4! Even though it came with some original blades, I think I'll buy some of the Feather blades.
 
Just joined the forum and found this thread. It looks like the razor I bought yesterday was a VC4! Even though it came with some original blades, I think I'll buy some of the Feather blades.
That's what most everyone does with them that uses them, I believe...
The original blades were meant to be stropped, but most surviving kits no longer have a useful strop, if any.
A good surviving strop can sometimes be nursed back to health with strop balm and a flattening regimen, but it will always be more fragile than a modern strop.
New-old-stock original blades can be found on ebay, but like all vintage blades, they are likely to have performance issues from age. But at least they can be stropped!
I wonder if any members get good performance with original blades and stropping?
At least the razors perform as intended with the modern disposable blades.
You can just view all the stropping appendages like a vestigial tail!
 
The original blades were meant to be stropped, but most surviving kits no longer have a useful strop, if any.
A good surviving strop can sometimes be nursed back to health with strop balm and a flattening regimen, but it will always be more fragile than a modern strop.
Mine did come with a strop, and it seems to be in quite good condition. Since I have the vintage blades, I'll definitely give them a try, but I'm not holding my breath for any kind of spectacular shave.
 
I found this Valet Auto Strop folding razor in a box of Alaskan/Greenland/Iceland artifacts from the early Cold War. It is a folding keychain field razor, it closes freely, but stays closed firmly, well built for what it is:

Valet Auto Strop Razor 09
Utility Knife
New York, London, Toronto.

Through-cut VALET Blade is has broken corner, slight rust, body is brass, blade frame is shiny, but not ferrous (non-magnetic). Blade show VERY light rust for it's age and condition, probably high alloy steel, very magnetic.

Was this military issue for secret bases?

IMG_3793.JPG IMG_3794.JPG
 
These are utitlity knives, more producers made those. The idea was that you can extend the life of your SE or DE blade this way: too blunt for shaving doesn't mean you can't cut rope or use it as a boxcutter. So you put it in a holder like this.
Another instrument made to use old DE blades were pencilsharpeners.
 
I found this Valet Auto Strop folding razor in a box of Alaskan/Greenland/Iceland artifacts from the early Cold War. It is a folding keychain field razor, it closes freely, but stays closed firmly, well built for what it is:

Valet Auto Strop Razor 09
Utility Knife
New York, London, Toronto.

Through-cut VALET Blade is has broken corner, slight rust, body is brass, blade frame is shiny, but not ferrous (non-magnetic). Blade show VERY light rust for it's age and condition, probably high alloy steel, very magnetic.

Was this military issue for secret bases?

View attachment 1016845 View attachment 1016846
They are fairly common, you'll find them for sale on ebay if you want poke around there. Their function was to be able to use the valet blades as a box cutter or cigar end cutter which is why it has the large hole in the handle.
 
These are utitlity knives, more producers made those. The idea was that you can extend the life of your SE or DE blade this way: too blunt for shaving doesn't mean you can't cut rope or use it as a boxcutter. So you put it in a holder like this.
Another instrument made to use old DE blades were pencilsharpeners.
They were also designed to be used as a cigar cutter that is why they have that big hole in the handle.
 
After doing some research I've come up with some definitive dates for these razors. I'll post the adverts at some point backing up these dates. The accepted dates are fairly close.

Auto strop razors 1906 - 1960

A Models 1906 - 1915
US 1906 - 1913
Canada / UK 1906 - 1915

A1 1906 - 1913
A2 1913 - 1915 UK / Canada only
A3 1910 - ??

B models 1914 - 1928
B1 1914 - 1918
B2 1918 - 1921
B3 1921 - 1922
VB1 1921 - 1928

C models 1922 - 1960
note Autostrop merges with Gillette in 1930
VC1 - 1922 - 1938 / 39??
VB2 1928 - 1939 First instance sold as the million dollar razor.
VB2 1939 - 1941 Australia only.
VC2 1939 - 1940
VC3 1940 - 1960 first billed as new streamline runner guard aka safety bar

Here is a picture from a catalog of the one I am calling an A3. I've never seen this razor sold or documented elsewhere before. The razor is in set 150 - 152.
catalog1910b.jpg
 
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After doing some research I've come up with some definitive dates for these razors. I'll post the adverts at some point backing up these dates. The accepted dates are fairly close.

Auto strop razors 1906 - 1960

A Models 1906 - 1915
US 1906 - 1913
Canada / UK 1906 - 1915

A1 1906 - 1913
A2 1913 - 1915 UK / Canada only
A3 1910 - ??

B models 1914 - 1928
B1 1914 - 1918
B2 1918 - 1921
B3 1921 - 1922
VB1 1921 - 1928

C models 1922 - 1960
note Autostrop merges with Gillette in 1930
VC1 - 1922 - 1938 / 39??
VB2 1928 - 1939 First instance sold as the million dollar razor.
VB2 1939 - 1941 Australia only.
VC2 1939 - 1940
VC3 1940 - 1960 first billed as new streamline runner guard aka safety bar

Here is a picture from a catalog of the one I am calling an A3. I've never seen this razor sold or documented elsewhere before. The razor is in set 150 - 152.
View attachment 1040164
Thanks @BBS-1 for posting this! I have several AutoStrop and Valet razors and accurately dating them is always very difficult.
 
Thanks @BBS-1 for posting this! I have several AutoStrop and Valet razors and accurately dating them is always very difficult.
I screwed up on the labeling of razors, to be consistent here is the corrected razor labels from the B models up.

B models 1914 - 1928
B1 1914 - 1918
B2 1918 - 1921
VB1 1921 - 1922
VB2 1921 - 1928

C models 1922 - 1960
note Autostrop merges with Gillette in 1930
VC1 1922 - 1938 / 39??
VC2 1928 - 1939 First instance sold as the million dollar razor.
VC2 1939 - 1941 Australia only.
VC3 1939 - 1940
VC4 1940 - 1960 first billed as new streamline runner guard aka safety bar
 
Is this a B1? it seems to share different characteristics of a couple different models. Thanks in advance.
View attachment 836433 View attachment 836434 View attachment 836434 View attachment 836435
That razor is not documented in the original post. It is an Australian B model that I know for sure was made at least in 1926 and 1927. They also made a C model with the same Valet marking on the blade door. They are unique in that they are the only ones with that marking on the blade door than can take a regular Gem blade unlike the VB2 and VC2. Far as I know this razor and the C variant in the ad were never sold outside of Australia.
1926AUSad.jpg
 

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