The Mark Cross Razor (1913)

Discussion in 'Safety Razors' started by jmudrick, Apr 9, 2017.

  1. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    The 1913 Mark Cross razor is a razor worth knowing about, both because of the fascinating history which surrounds it, and because it's a beautiful and highly competent razor which can still be enjoyed as a shaver.

    I will supplement this thread with additional historical and technical detail, but here is an introduction.

    The Mark Cross is a one piece razor, triple silver plated over what I presume is brass. It was designed to use a proprietary blade of the Christy type, a thin single edged blade, secured in the head by compression and limited in lateral movement by two "ears" which also facilitate loading and removal of the blade.

    The razor made a huge splash in New York upon its release in February 1913, driven by a well coordinated advertising campaign and an "introductory" sales price of 25 cents for a silver plated razor competing with Gillette's $5 offering. Tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands were sold in a few weeks but once sold out production never resumed, presumably because blade sales failed to offset the losses Mark Cross took on production and advertising.

    At the time of its release Mark Cross was run by Patrick Murphy who had purchased the company decades earlier upon the death of its namesake and established it in New York and London as a quality purveyor of leather and household goods.

    Patrick's son Gerald Murphy, having just graduated from Yale, had come to work at Mark Cross in 1912. He would stay six years there before moving to France and becoming a key figure of what came to be known as the Lost Generation. His work at Mark Cross would inspire two of his best known paintings, including The Razor in 1924. Gerald would later appear as Scott Fitzgerald's protagonist in Tender is the Night.

    More to follow.[​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

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  2. lightcs1776

    lightcs1776 Well-Known Member

    I love history, so your post was particularly interesting. Thanks for sharing it.

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  3. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    Three patents obtained in 1911 and 1912 pertain to the Mark Cross razor. Obtained by Leonidas Cress et al, the patents make clear that development took place in cooperation with Christy as Mr. Cress was both an executive and minority shareholder at Christy.

    Also appearing here is H. Greenbrier, who would in 1914 develop a similar design for the AC Penn Company.

    The assignment of patents to Federal Tool suggest that the Federal razor of 1912 was a prototype of the Mark Cross.


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  4. Jayaruh

    Jayaruh The Cackalacky House Pet

    Supporting Vendor
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  5. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    Advertising for the Mark Cross was restricted to New York and Boston markets.[​IMG][​IMG]

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  6. RetLEO-07

    RetLEO-07 likes his penguin deep fried, with pink sparkles

  7. RetLEO-07

    RetLEO-07 likes his penguin deep fried, with pink sparkles

    I also love history, so I'll be following along too.
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  8. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    Sales figures for the Mark Cross as reported by company representatives should be taken with dump truck loads of salt... According to William Walker New York City's entire allocation of 100,000 razors was sold out the first day. New England allocation of 900,000 razors within the first few days as well. Unfilled orders were said to total 2 million (figures which would exceed cumulative Gillette sales).

    By the spring of 1913 however, it was crickets from Mark Cross. Occasional adverts from retailers in western and southern markets appear into 1915, but it's clear the Mark Cross razor disappeared as quickly as it came.[​IMG][​IMG]

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  9. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    By their own admission the only way that Mark Cross could have continued to sell their razor at a low price was to profit from blade sales. Whether blade production continued past the introductory period for the razor is unclear, but within a year another company, AC Penn, was targeting Mark Cross owners, offering compatible blades and a new razor, the Penn Dollar Razor.

    Before forming his own company, Penn had headed the Enders division of Simmons Tool, the primary distributor of the Christy patented razor. Patent for the new Penn razor was awarded to Greenbrier who had also collaborated on patent applications for the Mark Cross.[​IMG]

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  10. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    Shaving with the Mark Cross is easy, two simple methods:

    A standard injector blade or a trimmed AC blade will fit perfectly, and compression is sufficient to prevent blade float.

    Alternatively, snap a DE blade in halfway and place one half over the other as pictured, the additional thickness from the overlap is sufficient to keep the blade secured.

    I get a great shave using either method.


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  11. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    In the 20s Mark Cross clones appeared at two major hardware retailers as the OVB and Revonoc razors. Here you see three different blade configurations offered by Hibbard (OVB) for the Christy family razors. There would be one more yet with the introduction of the Enders Speed five years later. This is why we can't have nice things.[​IMG]

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  12. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    As I expected to find, the accepted theory of the development of the Mark Cross Razor and it's relationship to Gerald Murphy's "The Razor" , as put forward by Rothschild here, is simply wrong. The Mark Cross was neither designed during Murphy's tenuresthe, nor was there a Gillette patent anywhere near 1915 which would have stymied the Mark Cross Razor.


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  13. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    (looks to me that the "1915 Gillette" pictured above is in fact a New Standard, first produced in 1921)

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  14. Bookworm

    Bookworm Well-Known Member

    If the knob has the raised dots and engraved lines, then it's even later. I have one with the handle pattern extending to the knob, which was apparently the first year's production.
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  15. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    Another interesting bit of Mark Cross history. In 1919, about the time of the release of the Penn Adjustable razor (and after Gerald Murphy's departure), William B. Walker, the Cross executive who had led the Mark Cross Razor project, submitted a patent application for what looks like a Mark Cross Adjustable. Unlike the Penn which featured an awkward lever adjustment, the Walker design incorporated an adjustment knob at the bottom of the handle, as would the Apollo Mikron and Merkur Progress decades later. Patent was issued in 1921 but Waits shows no razor based on the patent being produced.[​IMG]

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    Last edited: May 16, 2017
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  16. PLANofMAN

    PLANofMAN Paperboy

    Article Team
    That's a very cool looking razor.
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  17. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    I had a productive exchange of emails this week with American modern art historian and Murphy scholar Wanda Corn at Stanford about Gerald Murphy and "The Razor", and we believe we have the history sorted.

    What I correctly identified as a flawed origin story can be traced to a 1913 letter in the Yale archives between school aquaintances of Murphy at the time of the release of the Mark Cross Razor. In the letter his role in the razor's development is exaggerated, as school aquaintances might do. That original sin was the basis for further speculation over the years, none of which can be true given the other source documents I turned up. MY speculation would be that Gerald Murphy probably had some role in finalizing the design and/or packaging for Mark Cross.

    A few other historical loose ends to tie up then I'll send a letter to the Dallas museum where the painting resides so that the official bio can be corrected.

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  18. twhite

    twhite Peeping Tom

    First go
    Had my first shave with a Mark Cross SE razor. Thanks to @jmudrick . I found a NOS Penn blade. It fits fine but boy what a rough ride.

    I was able to do 3 full passes with not a drop of blood. I love how this little razor handles. There will be more shaves in the future with this little guy. I will need to see what I can find in a modern blade to modify.


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  19. jmudrick

    jmudrick Well-Known Member

    Or just stick an injector in there, will work without modification.

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  20. Bookworm

    Bookworm Well-Known Member

    I have to ask. What the heck kind of brush is that? I haven't seen a bush like that since my theatrical painting days in college.

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