Storeroom Stories: Wilkinson Sword Razor Co., 7-day Empire Shaving Kit

The Shaving Kit at the Charleston Museum

The Shaving Kit at the Charleston Museum

By Meagan Pickens

One item in the Charleston Museum’s storeroom that will give facial hair enthusiasts and lovers of quality material usage some satisfaction is the Wilkinson Sword Razor 7-day Empire Shaving Kit. While it may not seem like much, this shaving kit says a lot about the evolution of shaving history and the way that shaving is done today versus in previous generations. Beyond this, the shaving kit raises questions that it seems the razor industry battles to overcome all too often – is this just a gimmick? With a company history that is as brilliant as the case that the company chose to conceal this product in, you will want to stick around to read about this nearly century’s old artifact and maybe even come to Charleston to get to see the shaving kit in person.

Wilkinson Sword Company?

For those that are reading that are American, or at least not from the United Kingdom, you probably read the title and asked yourself – why on Earth is this shaving kit from a company known as Wilkinson Sword Company. The answer is both interesting and worthwhile.

Included Instructions

Included Instructions

Wilkinson Sword Company was originally founded in London in 1772 under a different name, by a man by the name of Henry Nock, who solely produced and sold guns. In 1805, upon Nock’s death, a man by the name of Wilkinson inherited it, and worked with his son. It was at some point around this time that the company began producing swords, as well – giving the company its’ namesake, which it officially started going by in 1879, after they expanded from a shop in London to a bigger premises in Chelsea. [1] In the 1890’s the company expanded their product range, which besides things like motorcycles was the point at which razors came to be a part of the company’s goods.[2]

With the turn of the century came the American Patent of the safety blade, a contribution that King Camp Gillette – another prominent razor maker is credited with.[3] Even with this accreditation Wilkinson Sword Company still lists their first “Pall Mall Safety Razor” as being debuted to customers in 1898, and their razors became known in the United Kingdom for this advance.[4] The 7-Day Empire Shaving Kit at the Charleston Museum boasts this feature, and is interesting because it is a fairly early model of this advance.

While Wilkinson Sword Company sold swords for many more years, the company’s main focus is now on their razors, of which they have all types. Today, their focus isn’t as much on safety razors, but on disposable razors – both for men and women.

Razor Case

Razor Case

About the Shaving Kit

The Shaving Kit at the Charleston Museum sports a chrome case that has a pattern that speaks specifically to the time of its production. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Art Deco style spoke to ideas about what it meant to be modern and what it meant to be chic. The case embodies both of these things with its sleek and shiny design.[5]

This beautiful Art Deco case is covered with blue velveteen material on the inside. Also inside are seven blades, each labeled with a day of the week, stored in a black plastic tray. The metal razor is also included, with a turning knob at the bottom of the handle. Besides this, a leather strop is included. With these items, two sets of instructions are included, one for using the razor itself and one for “stropping.”


Leather Strop

Leather Strop

What in the World is Stropping?

Stropping may seem like an elusive term to those that are not used to working long term with blades, be it knives or razors. First and foremost, stropping serves to align the edge of the blade and is done by swiping the edge on the piece of the leather. Stropping normally is done on the plain leather, however loading the leather with an abrasive compound such as diamond paste or chromium oxide powder will make a fine sharpener. Still, if too abrasive of a compound is being used on the strop, then it is not stropping (just realigning the edge), but removing the metal, which is sharpening. Here, one should note that while this procedure makes the edge of a blade feel sharper, it is not a procedure to actually sharpen the blade.[6]

Stropping is done in the opposite way of steeling, where the edge of the blade is dragged backwards, not pushed forward, although the intended result is the same. Stropping is also a very necessary and effective step after any sharpening because it removes weak very small pieces of metal, burr, straightens the edge making it more refined. Shaving enthusiasts and knife experts recommend stropping to extend the life of any blade.[7]

Wilkinson Sword Company Disposable Razor.

Wilkinson Sword Company Disposable Razor.

A World of Gimmicks – Why This Shaving Kit is Only Sort of a Gimmick in the Shaving Industry

The most prominent question that most likely comes to mind when looking at this item is regarding the need for seven different razor blades for the seven days of the week. To a lot of people this might seem unnecessary, or even like a gimmick. The answer to this is complicated, since the question is much larger than whether this particular model is a gimmick or not.

Safety razors, in the world of shaving, are considered high quality items. They are often noted to be used by barbers, and enthusiasts really support the benefits of shaving with a safety razor.[8] Because the consumer only has to buy one blade or razor that can continuously be sharpened when dull, it is seen as more cost effective than the disposable razors that many men use today, which can become nearly useless after as few as just one shave.[9] So, when comparing the Empire 7-Day Model to the way that many men choose to shave today – it does not seem to be a gimmick.

Gillette Tuckaway Safety Razor C. 1920s

Gillette Tuckaway Safety Razor C. 1920s

Still, there is a catch. Because the models of safety razors that are contemporary to the Empire 7-Day Model do not have seven blades, the question of the gimmick still lingers.[10] This appears to be one of the rare few models that presents itself in this way – making the seven blades seem like an advantage for men. But then you have seven blades to strop, which raises other questions. When would someone strop all seven of the blades – after use each day, or all seven on one day for the coming week? It is really advantageous to have seven blades, other than the fact that you have replacements for when one of the blades finally goes bad?

Because there is little information suggesting what would be the “correct” way to use and strop that many blades, it does begin to appear to be like a gimmick or at least a little too extravagant for its practical purpose. In the end, it seems that the real answer to this question is in the eye of the beholder. In this case, the best way to decide might be to see the product in person – which is very easy to do – by visiting the Charleston Museum and viewing the Wilkinson Sword Company 7-Day Empire Shaving Kit.


[1] “Collectibles and Memorabilia.” Wilkinson Sword 7 Day Safety Razor (Barber Shop) at A Time Remembered. 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015.

[2] Cet, Mirco De. The Complete Encyclopedia of Classic Motorcycles. Edited by Quentin Daniel. Rebo International, 2005.

[3] “First Disposable Razor Blade (1901).” First Safety Razor Was Invented at Boston in 1901. 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015.

[4] “Collectibles and Memorabilia.” Wilkinson Sword 7 Day Safety Razor (Barber Shop) at A Time Remembered. 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015.

[5] “Museum Storeroom Card.” Charleston Museum. 360 Meeting Street, Charleston SC, 29403. November 19, 2015.

[6] “Knife Steeling And Stropping: What They Really Do.” Knife Steeling And Stropping: What They Really Do. September 1, 2011. Accessed December 14, 2015.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Shave Like A Barber With The Double Edge (DE) Safety Razor.” The Men’s Room. September 24, 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015.

[9] “Safety Razors vs. Disposable Razors: How to Shave Like a True Gent.” Worthy and Spruce. 2014. Accessed December 14, 2015.

[10] “1921 Gillette New Improved Tuckaway Safety Razor.” Razor Emporium. Accessed December 14, 2015.

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