Razor Shells

You can see why the razor shells you find on sandy beaches get their name when you see old cut-throat razors like these; they have the same proportions and gentle curve. Abalone shell has been incorporated into the grapevine decorations on the handles of these razors. The abalone is ear-shaped with a row of perforations – which would be the effect one of these cut-throats would have on my ear, if I ever attempted to use it!

In Wild Yorkshire on 7 August I wrote about my great-great grandad, Samuel Bergin Swift who designed a cut-throat razor for Napoleon III.

It seems that his son George, my great-grandad on my mum’s side, might have been equally talented. I like to think my enthusiasm for applied arts – if I can include writing and illustrating books in that category – comes from that side of the family. Yesterday, while having a cup of coffee with my mum, we were talking about Samuel Bergin’s designs and she mentioned that she has two cut-throat razors that belonged to George.

maker's nameThey have the maker’s name on the blades; ‘JOSEPH RODGERS&SONS, CUTLERS TO THEIR MAJESTIES, No.6 NORFOLK STREET’; the firm where at least four generations of my family worked. The final line of the address, ‘SHEFFIELD’ is almost entirely worn away.

A collector who has a special interest in Rodgers’ pen-knives and razors tells me:

It’s very difficult to date Rodgers razors but they look to be late Victorian or Edwardian.  The reference to THEIR MAJESTIES simply means the fact that Rodgers have been cutlers to George 4th, William 4th, Victoria and so on.

I have never seen decoration like that on a Rodgers razor before and so if you look, the pin at one end is different from the other end.  My thinking is that these razors were either bought as standard razor blades and had different handles fitted.  Or, the original handles got damaged and were taken off and replaced with these.  This would not be unusual.

The very good news is that they have been replaced with some stunning inlaid pique work using possibly pieces of mother of pearl but the majority of it is definitely abalone.  It is a much more iridescent and colourful shell than MOP.  Your relative who worked at Rodgers would have likely been able to do this work easily or he would know someone who could.  I think these handles are one of a kind.  It doesn’t make them unique in particular, it just means they are a good example of pique work.  Because pique work like this is all hand done, every item is different in some way.  The grapes were a popular symbol of art nouveau decoration which makes me think these are late Victorian.

The decoration is superb.  I forgot to mention that it looks like there is some inlaid metal in there as well.  That would be perfectly normal.  The metal and abalone compliment one another.  It could be gold or silver, it’s difficult to say without seeing it.

The handles themselves look to be an early bakelite/plastic but it’s hard to say.  They could also be buffalo horn, ebony wood or tortoiseshell.  I didn’t think so at first but them I remembered that unpolished shell does have a very dark colour to it, especially when it’s thick.  I’m sorry I cannot help you more in that handle material.  One thing you could do is hold the handle up to a bright light and if i has a browny colour, it will be shell.  Horn and ebony tend to have a grained appearance which I don’t think these have.  If you cannot see a grain and it doesn’t shine brown through a bright light, I would think they are bakelite.

Because the handles are mounted on metal, I haven’t been able to shine a light through them. Along the edges, I can’t see any signs of them being translucent.

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