The History of the Gillette Adjustable Series
When Gillette released the Super Speed trio in the 1950's it was the beginning of a journey to creating a custom blade exposure to fit each individual hair and skin type comfortably. They wanted to develop a safety razor that would incorporate all three micrometer settings so every man and woman would enjoy a smooth Gillette shave, with Gillette blades of course.
First came the Toggle. There are multiple Toggle models with various mechanical changes, packaging, and dating systems. The earliest were date code A3 or serial numbered. They featured a smaller toggle part, almost a miniature.
The clicker protrudes with as a black square piece and has full mechanical stops. The inside of the head is the same as a Super Speed safety with no forks like later models. Originally sold for $7.50-$14.50 and came in Nickel and Gold.
Early Toggles were primarily sold in test markets, only a few thousand were made and sold. These razors are very rare and very valuable especially if they contain original packaging. Through the test markets Gillette learned people loved the adjustability and convenience of loading blades, however the Toggle was a finicky razor with trouble mechanically and consumers made it clear the price was a bit out of range.
In the search for a more budget friendly adjustable razor Gillette designed the AQOSS. Now referred to as the "Bottom Dial Fatboy" Gillette created six different versions to be sold on test markets. The location of the dial, weight of handle, handle material, number of adjustable settings, and price were being tested. Through this research Gillette learned consumers did not like the dial at the bottom of the handle. It was thought to be too clumsy, so the decision was made to put it at the neck, keep the $2.49 price point, and this brought us to the less rare, but still scare Red Dot Fatboy we know today!
The similarities between the Red Dot Fatboy and later Toggles are striking. Unlike the later $1.95 Fatboy the Red Dot features forks in the blade tray, the same dial, and an enclosed clicker just like the Toggle. A company note shows proof the Red Dot was a test market razor to test the $2.49 vs $1.95 price point. The research was clear and the $1.95 Fatboy Adjustable Safety Razor was born. It was hugely successful, and is still enjoyed by tens of thousands of shavers today.
Gillette continued their long history of releasing the same razor with an upgraded finish and packaging as a special Christmas, Father's Day, or luxury set. We see evidence of this in the Executive Fatboy with its upgraded packaging, geometric knurling, and 24K Gold finish; later we also see this in the Slim Adjustable Aristocrat.
During 1958 Gillette released the more commonly seen Gillette Quick Release Adjustable (Toggle) for $10.00, it was available in D4 and F4 (for Christmas). Even during the enormous success of the $1.95 Fatboy Gillette was already improving and developing a new razor handle that could be made for less and allow consumers to have a better shave, and use more Gillette blades.
The Gillette Slim featured a slimmer head profile for shaving under the nose better, and a slimmer handle. Today we love the classic heft of the Fatboy, but Gillette considered it clunky and desired the slim profile of their classic Super Speed safety razor. The Slim Adjustable was made cheaper, more durable, and was able to be made in larger quantities than any adjustable razor before. We find Slim Adjustable have less mechanical troubles, less clicker erosion, and are better shavers than its older counterparts.
The final adjustable debuted in 1968. The Gillette Super Adjustable was manufactured with two different handle lengths (109mm or 84mm), with nickel plating, gold plating, and later black plastic. Aluminum and plastic replaced brass for a cheaper razor. We find these razors are more difficult to restore as they were not made with durable, quality materials. The Gillette safety razor "upgrades" continued until the safety razor blade was replaced entirely by the more profitable cartridge razor and the rest is history.
The Gillette Adjustable Buying Guide
So now you know the history, but how can you take advantage of the superior shaves, save money, and score the full value of these vintage adjustables? What do you need to look out for when purchasing? How much can you expect to pay?
When shopping for a vintage adjustable safety razor to use you have several options of places to buy. Flea markets, antique stores, and by word of mouth will be the cheapest. Keep in mind these razors need to be sanitized and mechanically sound before your first shave or you may be at risk. If you aren't sure what to look for we have further videos showing correct blade gap, twist to open, adjustability, and opening functionality.
Online there are several different options to purchase with greater variety, but also greater risk. Without the possibility of seeing the razor, in person inspection, or feeling how it functions you may need to seek repairs and sanitation before your first shave. If the listing is accurate and the lister informed you want to be sure the razor:
- Smooth twist to open motion
- Adjustment dial turns from 1-9
- A click can be heard as the dial moves from 1-9
- Blade tray lifts and lowers smoothly and is not stuck
- Blade gap is symmetrical and even on both sides
- Twist to open knob should not be loose or open the doors with push/plunge action
Many of the above issues can be repaired through our Tune Up service, however it is best to not incur unexpected costs with replacement parts, sanitation, and service when the razor is advertised as 'Shave Ready'.
When shopping for an everyday shaver, aesthetic condition is secondary to its mechanical functionality. Many razors in found condition are covered in soap scum, vintage hair, and years of tarnish. After cleaning and polishing some may reveal beautiful original plating, but most have 'brassing' to some degree. Brassing can be difficult to spot on gold razors, but on nickel razors it looks like a yellow being revealed from under the silver. Brassed safety razors are safe to shave with if they are free of rust, and do require more care as brass oxidizes faster than nickel, rhodium, or gold.
If you decided to upgrade the condition of the razor the Revamp Service is a great option. Razors with brassing must be chemically stripped, resurfaced, and then replated. Unfortunately, plating cannot be applied to only afflicted areas with a paint brush. We wish it were that simple, however quality and durability are rarely easy achieved, but always worth the effort!
The question of collectability, value, and how replating effects it is simple. A collector is interested only in the rare, scare, and New Old Stock/Excellent condition sets only. If the razor does not have original packaging or condition is less than Excellent the value will be improved by upgrading the finish with the Revamp service.
Supply and demand greatly effects the value of Gillette Adjustable Safety Razors. We would all love to own a Bottom Dial or Red Dot, but unfortunately so few were made they are in considerable demand today. We know a few specifics for manufacturing figures, but much was lost over the years. Of course there is a possibility one day a box/ storage unit of a large number of rare adjustables will be found, but until then we are at the mercy of estate sales, collections, and traditional sales channels.
We always have Gillette Fatboys, Gillette Slim Adjustables, and Gillette Super Adjustables in-stock. They can be purchased as a Made to Order item and will be shipped in 1-2 weeks. The more rare models of Gillette Adjustables become available occasionally. If you are looking to purchase a specific model or set please e-mail us or add yourself to our wishlist.