Razor’s Edge

By Lily Kaar

This week’s object is a straight razor, also sometimes called a cut-throat razor. I was very excited to find a razor in the collection, as I had never seen one outside of Rube Goldberg drawings before.

This particular razor was made by “Theo A. Koch,” a manufacturer out of Chicago in the 1910s. The handle is ivory or bone, held together with two pins, and the blade is a full hollow-ground razor with a square point, which was popular in the United States. Engraved on the tang of the blade is the word “Marcella,” likely the manufacturer’s name for the particular model of razor. The blade retains a highly polished finish; mirror-finishes were expensive, and often applied only to one side.

Razor

Razor Diagram

While people were shaving with straight-edged blades for centuries, the direct development of the modern straight razor started in the 17th century; the earliest known folding razor was manufactured in Sheffield in 1680. At the time, most razors were wedge ground—the blade had a continuous taper from the dull edge to the cutting edge, which sacrifices flexibility and sharpness in return for strength. By 1740, Sheffield’s Benjamin Huntsman was producing folding straight razors of superior quality. The hollow grind—a grind that left the blade concave when viewed from the end and provided a sharper cutting edge—had been introduced to razors, and Huntsman was producing higher-quality crucible steel. The inventor of the crucible steel process, Huntsman actually spent several years exporting his entire output to France, as local cutlers and razor manufacturers refused to use it. It wasn’t until the 1770s and later that the steel was incorporated into English manufacturing, due to competition from imported French cutlery.

Overall, the design of straight razors would change very little. The handles, or ‘scales’, gained a curve in the mid-1800s, which was also when the extended tang of the razor, or ‘monkey tail’, began to feature more prominently. “Sheffield silver steel,” known for its high-gloss finish, began to replace Huntsman-style cast steel in the 1830s. By the latter half of the 19th century, manufacturers had begun to produce a greater variety of razors, varying the blade width, degree of edge grind, and point style. Razors with a square point were generally popular in America, razors with a rounded point were generally popular in Europe, and different manufacturers might create variations on slightly rounded corners in order to provide a non-square point capable of finesse. Throughout the century, manufacturers decorated razors with more embellishment than simple maker’s marks, including brand slogans, acid etching, and even gold leaf.

Razor Blades

Unfortunately, the introduction of the safety razor in 1880 and its combination with the disposable razor blade by King C. Gillette in 1903 made a sizable dent in the market for straight razors, and by the mid-20th century, straight razors had mostly been obscured by the disposable razor market. Straight razors are still produced today by specialty companies, although it may cost over $100 for razor and strop together. A modern alternative is the “shavette”, a straight razor that takes specialty disposable blades and as such does not require skillful honing and stropping to maintain the edge.

Interestingly, there was a boom in interest in straight razors following the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall, due to its shaving scene, with modern manufacturers noting anywhere from 50% to 400% sales increases. While I was unable to find if this boom continues today, the trend for nostalgia certainly influences the continued sales of straight razors.

Sources:

E.B. “James Bond and male grooming: Getting stroppy.” Economist.com. The Economist magazine. 08 Nov 2012. Web. 12 Aug 2015.

“Razor : shaving implement.” Britannica.com. Encyclopaedia Britannica. N.d. Web. 12 Aug 2015.

“Razor Emporium Presents Razor Archive: Gillette Collector’s Reference.” Razor Archive. Razor Emporium, LLC. 2009. Web. 12 Aug 2015.

“Straight Razor History.” The Invisible Edge. The Invisible Edge Ltd. N.d. Web. 12 Aug 2015.

Etiquette for a Victorian Lady

By Jillian Heller

This week, a rather small book caught our attention in a big way. True Politeness: A Hand-book of Etiquette for Ladies By an American Lady provided for a very interesting read. It is bound with greenish embossed cloth over a paper cover, etched with gilt decoration, illustrating two ladies in greeting. Publishers Leavitt and Allen issued this text in 1847. The contents of this book taught young women proper public behavior in the world of Victorian America.

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The handbook gives advice on daily matters for specifically middle to upper class women. The goal is to teach its readers how to not only be a woman, but also a lady. The book does so by giving guidance on matters such as social conversation, proper dress, the dinner table and more. The book is filled with consecutively numbered advice points separated by chapter. Some examples include:

VIII “Bow with slow and measured dignity; never hastily”

XXVI “The plainest dress is always the most genteel, and a lady that dresses plainly will never be dress unfashionably. Next to plainness, in every well-dressed lady, is neatness of dress and taste in the selection of colors”

LII “ Double-entendre is detestable in a woman, especially when perpetrated in the presence of men; no man of taste can respect a woman who is guilty of it: though it may create a laugh, it will inevitable excite also disgust in the minds of all whose good opinions are worth acquiring. Therefore, not only avoid all indelicate expressions, but appear not to understand any that may be uttered in your presence.

LXII “Never laugh at your own remarks; it may be very agreeable excitation, but invariable spoils what you are saying”

LXXIX “Visits after a part or dinner should be paid within a week”

CXLV “The hostess should never send away her plate until all the guests have finished”

CLVIII “Newly married persons should abstain in public from every mark of affection too conspicuous, and every exclusive attention”

CLXXXV “You should never take the arms of two gentlemen, one being upon either side

These instructions focus on embodying good manners. At this time, Exemplifying the best of manners and keeping a ladylike appearance increases your marriageability. In the 1800s, being the perfect lady and wife was a woman’s main goal. In fact, this was very characteristic of Victorian America.

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American Victorianism is the time period in which Great Britain’s lifestyles were greatly mirrored in the United States. The name derives from Queen Victoria, who reigned in Great Britain from 1837 to 1901, which reflects the length of this era. New England and the Deep South particularly demonstrated Victorian values during this time. One ideal that Great Britain and the United States shared was the role of women in society and their place in the household. The “culture of domesticity” in Great Britain during the 19th century transcended to America. It was designed for the wives and daughters of white, protestant, and middle to upper class men. The cult of domesticity was a social system that structured a woman’s place in society. These principles limited women to strictly domestic duties. The Victorian way was for the man and woman to have very separate spheres of influence. The man’s included work and politics, while the woman was restricted to the sphere of home and family. The Victorian value focused on the woman being the center of the family and “light of the home.”

Interestingly, it was often encouraged on the man to marry someone more sensible than romantic. The practical choice for the man would be choosing someone who is the utmost lady, and therefore would make the best wife. A great wife would be one that could properly mange his family and household affairs and raise their daughters as ladies and sons as gentlemen. When following the manners that our handbook of etiquette outlined, a woman could achieve this respectable status of being lady that men and the overall society desired.

Victorians felt that a lady should be quiet in her ways, natural and humble in her language, and watchful not to hurt anyone’s feelings. From childhood, Victorian girls were taught how to achieve this archetype and behaved under the strictest etiquette as shown in our handbook of true politeness to do so. These typical characteristics can be clearly seen here:

XIX “On meeting a friend in any public place, do not boisterously salute, or proclaim her name aloud”

XLX “It is better to say too little than too much in company; let your conversation be consistent with your sex and age”

XLIV “Cultivate a soft tone of voice and a courteous mode of expression”

XCVIII “When a gentleman who has been properly introduced requests the honor of dancing with you, you will not refuse unless you have a previous engagement”

LI “ Do not appear abstracted while another person is speaking; and never interrupt another by intruding a remark of your own

LIV “Rather be silent than talk nonsense”

CLXXXVIII “The most obvious mark of good breeding and good taste is sensitive regard for the feelings of others”

Following these etiquette guidelines would result in achieving the Victorian Ideal, a woman of weak, submissive, angelic, and polite behavior. However, as the 20th century approached, these restricting standards gradually evaporated. The 1900s became a booming century for women, demanding change and fighting for more rights. Although we have departed from the strict ideals pushed on women in the Victorian era, it is still expected of women today to hold up some form of ladylike appearances and behavior, compared to men.

References:

True Politeness: A Hand-book of Etiquette for Ladies By an American Lady. New York: Geo. A. Leavitt, 1847. Print.

Fortin, Elaine. “Early Nineteenth Century Attitudes Toward Women and Their Roles as Represented By Literature Popular in Worcester, Massachusetts.” Teach Us History. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Aug. 2015.

Howe, Daniel Walker. “American Victorianism as a Culture.” American Quarterly 27.5 (1975): 507. JSTOR. Web.

Welter, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860.” American Quarterly 18.2 (1966): n. pag. Web.

Two Trusty Steeds

By Lily Kaar

This week’s object is actually a pair of objects: a matching set of rocking horses from the late 1800s that probably belonged to the brothers Winne and Henry Hoornbeck. Both are yellow-painted wood, with grey horsehair manes and tails, and with saddles, bridles, and ears of real leather. The crescent-shaped rockers—one tan, one blue—have scenic pictures painted on the center panel. The horse with the tan base has more intact paint, keeping a smoother finish, but the other horse has kept more of its leather pieces; not only does it still have both ears and both stirrups, it also has an intact set of reins.

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While various types of toy horses have been around for about 3,000 years, the first references to ridable ‘stick horses’ or hobby horses can be found in Greco-Roman times, one apocryphal story claiming Socrates rode one while joining his children in play. Rocking horses were only developed in the 17th century, and remained exclusive to the wealthy until the rise of the middle class. Most early horses were carved by hand, painted carefully, finished with real horsehair manes and tails, and even came with removable saddles and bridles.

Early rocking horses came on the iconic crescent-shaped rockers and were made of solid wood. Since technology at the time did not allow for the same fine level of sanding we can achieve today, most horses—including these— were covered in several layers of gesso, a thick white paste often used to prime painting canvases. Gesso was far easier to smooth and sand than the actual wood and created a much more polished surface to paint on, despite the application process being very time-consuming. Horses were finished in a variety of patterns and colors; during the Victorian period the most popular design in Britain was a dapple grey, the favorite of Queen Victoria. In America, several manufacturers decided to decorate their horses in the flamboyant style of carousel animals, trying to profit off of the popularity of fairgrounds and carnivals.

Because rocking horses were originally solid wood, they were top-heavy and prone to falling over. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that two separate solutions for this safety issue arose. Some carvers began to make their horses hollow in the belly, easing the weight imbalance and stabilizing the toy. An American carver from Cincinnati, Philip Marqua, patented an “Improvement in Hobby or Rocking-Horses” in 1878, placing the horse body on a ‘safety stand’ “leaving the horse free to swing with an easy rocking motion without any fears of upsetting, injury to floors or carpets, and without noise or racket.” Many high-end manufacturers today sell exclusively safety stand rocking horses, leaving the extra-large dramatically curved bow rockers in the past.

Today, most rocking horses are mass-produced, often stuffed or otherwise simplified in detail. For those who want a traditional rocking horse—painted realistically, hand-carved and all—skilled enthusiasts have kept the art alive through the 20th century. Just be prepared for the price tag; these beautiful beasts can easily fetch anywhere from $2,000 to $25,000.

References:

Ahbel-Rappe, Sara, and Rachana Kamtekar, eds. A Companion to Socrates. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2009. Print.

D’Aulaire, Emily, and Per Ola. “Happy Trails.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian mag. Dec. 2002. Web. 29 July 2015.

History of Rocking Horses.” Stevenson Brothers. Stevenson Brothers Rocking Horses, 2015. Web. 29 July 2015.

Improvement in hobby-horses.” US Patent 208,531. Google Patents: 1 Oct. 1878. Web. 30 July 2015.