Darwin impressions

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Gents, as I am infatuated with all vintage British DE’s I wanted to share another short write-up, this time on the Darwin DE razors. I have looked around but haven’t found a lot of threads here. Please anyone pitch in with further info.

The history of the Darwin razors has mostly been lost but we know that they were made at the Fitzwilliam works in Sheffield, England, during the 1920s and 1930s, possibly even into the 1940s. Darwin Ltd. began in 1926 as an offshoot of Darwin & Milner of Sheffield, UK. Paul Richard Kuehnrich established the company to manufacture razor blades and safety razors using his patented cobalt steel. The company probably ceased operations not long after 1938, however Kuehnrich sadly took his own life already in 1932 when faced with personal bankrupcy.

The razors
Most well-known are the Deluxe and the Standard, almost identical, both built from 100% cobalt steel (though I have seen argued that the Standard was built of normal steel, so I am not sure) with the same type of art deco style handle. On top Darwin offered an early model (the ‘Original’), an adjustable 2-piece version and also a more ‘normal’ looking model, the chrome plated brass Popular, as well as a bakelite version, the Miracol.

In the following I will briefly present 3 specimens of the Deluxe, the ‘Original’ and the Popular, respectively.

The ‘Original’, the Deluxe and the Popular together. I don’t know the back stories of the ‘Original’ and Deluxe, but this Popular actually used to belong to a Darwin/Fitzwilliam works employee from Sheffield.
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The Deluxe
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The Deluxe is a cobalt steel 3-piece razor. It looks like no other DE, especially when shown in it’s coffin-style case. In hand it feels heavy and sturdy, and some have commented that somehow the material feels strangely cold to hold.

Paired with a forgiving Israeli Personna it is a really efficient razor but without being overly aggressive. Still it is at the top of my personal preferred scale of efficiency.

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It is very easy to use and has several other caracteristics which to me are very interesting:
  • First of all it sings! - The blade sits tight but your hear the strokes quite loudly. In this it reminds me of the Eclipse Red Ring.
  • Secondly it has an odd but very nice balance. The cobalt steel handle is solid and quite heavy, especially towards the bottom end. This I am not used to. There no problem in keeping the head to my face, this is actually easy and the razor is very agile around the face. But then at the end of each stroke the handle end weight kindda pulls the razors away from your face in a very cool way that I have felt in no other razor. Makes it feel extremely safe to use even when you would be in a hurry.
  • Thirdly, that handle has awesome grip, it sits securely in your hand and you feel very safe that you wont drop it. You can even use the thinner grooves to plant your nails in. Someone said that it is less grippy when wet, I don’t get that. In this ‘grippyness’ it very much reminds me of its same-era British cousin with a similar carved-out edgy art deco style handle: The Shavex Zee-Kol heavy handle.

Comparison photo: Gillette Aristocrat 1st generation #15 vs. The Darwin Deluxe.
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The ‘Original’
The reason I put ‘Original’ in apostrophes is that we don’t even know what this model was officially called back in the day! The moniker Original has been coined by the Darwin community today as this is deemed to be the very first Darwin model: It is the one which is closest to the original patent drawings and the experts date it sometime in the 1920s as known Darwin commercials from 1930 does not show this model but instead all the others.

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Including this specimen only five ‘Original’ owners have been accounted for so far so it is indeed a rare beast. This specimen is in great condition, almost pristine really, gorgeous to look at and to hold. And it was found and has come to me in a wonderful double door leather case with blue linen which may or may not be original. It has not been seen with other Darwins and is unbranded so who knows. But why wouldn’t it be?

Built in 100% cobalt steel and weighing in a 66 grams this razor feels a lot heavier somehow in the hand. And the cobalt steel really shines. When comparing to my Deluxe it is in a lot nicer shape. Design-wise it’s most unique feature compared to the Deluxe is the flat baseplate.

The blade really lays flat. I tried to take a picture showing this. It actually looks a bit strange somehow and certainly very different than the Deluxe.

This razor sings too, a lot of noise during the shave. Nice. Also, same great grip on the handle, maybe a wee bit slippier, though? I think this may have to do with this one being ever so slightly lighter than the Deluxe? - As I recall the latter weighs in in the mid-seventies.

It is very manoeuverable around the face and easy to use, the head feels more lightweight than the Deluxe and the TTO’s I usually prefer. This takes a bit of getting used to and you also have to find a rather steep shave angle. Probably due to the flat baseplate? - This is no problem however, just different, and after a few strokes in the first pass I had the technique down.

The Original certainly is a mild razor and less efficient than the Deluxe. Which I actually prefer. I don’t have a coarse beard so I can easily get a great shave anyway. But not too mild, it gets the job done superbly. It is a no nonsense shaver and just totally cool to look at. That cobalt steel has a truly unique feel.

The Popular
Not much really is known about the Popular’s background and history, apart from a very brief description in Waits. Today it appears to be even rarer than the Deluxe and the Standard, and only very few seems to have survived to this day; I have counted 6 owners across all the shaving sites I have been able to locate. Why that is I don’t know but I think it has to do with the fact that it looks much more ‘plain’ like all other DE brands. Hence my theory is that many more of these were thrown in the bin along the years, whereas Deluxes and Standards with their unique look and feel instead were put in the back of a drawer to sleep for decades before being found again.

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The Popular is a chrome plated all-brass razor, 2-piece, solid bar setup. Built probably in the 1940s (but as said nobody really knows). The razor has the same old school ‘adjustability’ as the Eclipse Red Ring: You can untighten it a bit and shave with it untightened. (To me however that sounds unsafe, I’ve never tried it with my Eclipse and probably never will. More daring members here have tried it and liked it...). As a matter of fact, visually the Popular looks a helluva lot like the Eclipse. If they had come unbranded I would have thought that they were from the same company. As it stand however they are like close cousins - you get the same feel, balance etc.

The Popular further has a feature I never saw before but which is also seen on the 2-piece adjustable Darwins: When taken apart the head baseplate swiwels freely, mounted solidly on the handle. Strange. Probably has to do with the adjustability, even if I cannot figure out on first sight what good that does.

Fun fact: Seller of this particular one told me that it actually used to belong to a former Darwin company employee(!), and when this gentleman passed it was given to a grandson who then eventually sent it forward. It is in quite good shape, certainly not perfect, clearly has been loved and used a lot. The plating is worn here and there - but still not too much and the mechanics are flawless.

Cheers
 
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