Now that you have some idea of what kind of razor you want, whether Western or Japanese, it's time to make a choice between a new razor or a vintage one. The secondary market is full of sellers offering vintage razors at what are mostly reasonable prices, but is there a benefit to owning a vintage razor or are you just taking a risk for very little reward? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is dependent. You see, some vintage razors are decent and can deliver a great shave, while others are merely ok when compared to a brand new razor. Certain vintage razors use interesting or rare steels that have gone out of production, such as true Sheffield Steel or Sheffield Silver Steel. These razors are highly prized and generally difficult to find, but not impossible. Obviously, with these types of razors there is a definite benefit to buying vintage in that you get to use some legendarily good steels. Another advantage in buying vintage stems from the handle scales as past models of straight razors used rare or very ornate materials. True mother of pearl, tortoise shell and even bone were common in the past and represent a certain lost level of luxury in shaving. So yeah, vintage razors can be pretty cool and some can even give a very nice shave (provided they have been sharpened and inspected by a professional hone meister).
Having said this, in general a modern razor uses better steel and has better quality assurance than the average vintage razor. Back in the day, specialty steels were used to compensate for our inability to make steels that could perform under the pressures of shaving. For example, Silver Steel came about in order to increase polish-ability and durability in a blade. We no longer have this problem. With the advances in metallurgy and the ability to work in powdered steels, modern razors have an edge over vintage for the simple fact that we can now tailor make our steels better than ever. For example, O1 tool steel is an amazing steel that balances hardness and rust resistance offering a truly fabulous shave, though O1 steel is also not used in any vintage razor. At Kent of Inglewood O1 can be found in the razors by Portland Razor Co., and also the Bison Made Max Sprechter.
The main difference between vintage and modern razors is the longevity of the razor itself. Older razors have been used, which means they have been sharpened and resharpened multiple times. What this does is wear down the blade making it smaller and smaller with each sharpening. While this may not seem like a big deal, in actuality a razor has a limited life span, one that is dictated by the size of the blade in comparison to the width of the spin. If a razor gets to small, it becomes unusable. From this it is safe to say that you will get more life out of a new razor than a vintage one.
Vintage razors are undeniably cool pieces of history that are worth protecting. If you can find one that is in good shape and looks great than by all means go for it. Though there are risks involved it is possible to find nice razors at ok prices. With this in mind, if you want to avoid any risk and buy a razor that will last your life time (unless you drop it) than modern is the way to go.
ED Note: We hope that we’ve given you a good starting point for deciding what you want in a razor. If you missed the first half of Chris’s guide to buying a straight razor, where he weighs the benefits of Western and Japanese style straights, you can read it here. Photograph by Avery.