The Illusive History of the Shaving Brush
The shaving brush is at the heart of a classic shaving. Along with the safety razor and a great shaving cream or soap, the shaving brush is an indispensable tool in wet shaving. It is used to whip and apply a lather, exfoliate the skin, and raise the hairs in preparation for a shave. But when did they first come on the scene?
While its origins are lost to the mists of time, there is some deduction that can occur as to when, where, and why the shaving brush developed.
The Shaving Brush Timeline:
1649-50 – One of the earliest possibilities is the mid 1600s. Dutch Golden-age painter, Isaack Koedijck, appears to have given us visual evidence of a suspiciously shaving brush-type tool in the background of his painting “Barber surgeon tending a peasant’s foot”. But, there is little evidence that the tool in question was used for producing a lather & shaving. However, whether it was used in this fashion at the time or not, it could be a clear predecessor to today’s modern shaving brush. (Check out the red circle on the left side of the painting).
Isaac Koedijck, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
1750 – Other sources point to time nearly 100 years later as the birth of the little brush. English writer, William Pulleyn, published in 1830 that French barbers were lathering by hand before 1756 when “about that time they brought in the brush”. Other catalogs and letters seem to corroborate this date. One catalog offered “shaving equipages, holding razors, scissars [sic], penknives, combs, hones, oil bottle, brush, and soap box” from 1761. So whether the shaving brush began then and there or not, there was a rising interest in it.
1800s – By the beginning of the 19th century, the shaving brush was a common utensil in England. Perhaps the oldest maker of shaving brushes still in operation today is Plisson, who have been making shaving brushes since 1805. Kent has a storied brush-making history as well, reaching back to 1777, but they didn’t begin making shaving brushes until 1850. Badger hair brushes arrived on the scene by 1867 in England where tying such knots was a surprisingly lucrative job for women who were judged to be the only ones with the skill to do it properly.
1900s – The shaving brush continued its popularity. In the US, boar bristles became popular, but when WWI made trade with Germany verboden, they began to source them from China. However, the lack of good quality boar hair led some to consider horse hair. Those low-priced horse hair shaving brushes had their day in the sun until a 1920s anthrax scare removed them from the market for many years. The coming years saw the shaving brush enter a period of decline. Canned foams and gels, electric razors, and haste led to the near-death of the brush-and-bowl.
Modern resurgence – Growing interest in a return to wet shaving has been a boon for the shaving brush. It has been resurrected and can be found now in all sorts of colors, shapes, hair grades (natural/synthetic), and more.
West Coast Shaving carries a variety of shaving brushes to meet your lathering needs. Check out our selection and let us know the history of your shaving brush in the comments below.