Hands Behind the Art: Sam Sylver
You might have noticed the line of “Vintage Straight Razors” that we’ve been carrying on our site in recent months. We are so excited about this venture. What better way to respect the craft than to restore and reuse these vintage instruments? Beyond the exceptional shave, many wet shave enthusiasts are sold on the economic and environmental benefits of this gig. It all comes together when you get a restored edge – won’t break the bank and you can reduce waste! There is also the mystique of passing down an ages-old practice and continuing the journey of each of these pieces.
Grabbing a vintage blade makes you a part of the on-going story. But how does it wind up in our hands, you might be asking. We thought we would introduce you to Sam Sylver, straight razor aficionado. Sam is the eyes and hands behind our vintage razors. So we sat down to pick his brain.
WCS: How did you get into the straight razor biz?
Sam: It all started several years ago when I got a DE razor for a Christmas present. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I didn't really know anything prior to that. I was always curious about the "old school" way of shaving, with straight razors, etc, but I never really got into it or looked up anything about it online. (It's a mystery why I didn't.) But after getting the DE as a gift, I started doing research -- but mainly for soap. The more I read about things the more involved I became. I discovered that straight razors were still out there and being used, but the majority of them had to be restored or honed before use. So I researched more about that and stumbled across Reddit which had a couple of sub-reddits about wet shaving/straight razors. At that point I was reading about restoring razors and just thought to myself "hmm I could do that, I have most of the equipment that's needed and the applicable skills". . . I looked on eBay for a lot of razors and purchased it. The rest is history.
WCS: So you are a wet shaver yourself?
Sam: I am very much a wet shaver myself, I use a wide range of razors depending on my mood of the day. I would have to say a Heljestrand MK32 13/16 is my best shaver along with a Genco 7/8 full hollow. I do use a Supply injector razor for head shaving. I have a wide variety of soaps and brushes that I use. My brushes are mainly restored vintage brushes with Virginia Sheng silvertip knots. Soap -- well, I have many of them - from Barrister and Mann to Mike's Natural to Stirling - that's the beauty of this particular "hobby”, there’s so many choices out there as compared to several years ago.
The wet shaving community overall is a great group of people and that it's growing quite a bit every day and I'm really happy to see that. The reason being is that my formal education from college is environmental, health and safety. My capstone project was on reducing waste overall and as we all know the majority of people all over the world shave, and the modern equipment that people shave with (cartridges, 'disposable razors', canned shaving gel/foam, etc) is extremely wasteful financially and environmentally. So this whole thing is special to me - that people are transitioning to something that is inherently less wasteful and more considerate of the resources that's being used overall. So I think this is an extremely important aspect of wet shaving that many people don't quite hit up on besides the quest for the best shaving experience.
WCS: Where do you find the razors?
Sam: I find most of my razors on eBay but have many contacts all over the world who come to me when they find unique pieces or simply have a large qty that I can purchase at a time. I have a friend whose grandfather accumulated at least 5,000 different straight razors. Another friend in Sweden who finds me NOS (new old stock) straight razors and scales from the now defunct Heljestrand or Klas Tornblom, along with other companies. Sweden is a small country so many people had their grandfather/great-grandfathers who worked there so they have an eclectic assortment sitting in their garage waiting for someone to discover them. I do also search other auctions/estate sales for razors as well.
WCS: Would you say that most straight razors are restorable? Valuable?
Sam: I do believe that about 80% of SR's out there are restorable - however there's several degrees that this can happen. Some SR's are perfectly fine, just needs some polishing all the way up to razors that are rusted and have heavy pitting after it's been cleaned up. The important part is that the edge is not damaged, the heavily rusted ones that are deemed worthwhile to be restored are usually the rarer pieces and or larger ones. Broken blades are unusable, unfortunately. Scales can be replaced but not the blades.
Value is a very subjective thing, there's two categories, basically - User grade and Collector's grade. It's relatively easy to separate the two, but of course, there's the argument that the collector's grade can be user grade and vice versa. It all depends on the individual at the end. There are collectors who will absolutely use their razors; there's some who won't and have a bunch of less desirable (mostly because these razors are mass produced or are newer) to use. There's an overlap for certain. For example there's the Filarmonica razors from Spain which are desired because they shave very well, so some people will collect those to use. Determining the value outside of the user/collector grades is basically focused on the size of the razor more than anything. This type of thing comes from experience over time, there's no set guide.
So, check out our vintage razors and see what gem you can add to your shaving den. If it doesn’t hold the edge send it back and we’ll re-hone it. What a great way to get a tried-and-true blade to up your shaving game.