Simpson Brushes History

Once again I’m referring to a thread from a shaving forum started by Gary Young, a member of the family that owned Simpson Brushes. It captures a great deal of the history of their iconic brush company – and the thread itself is a wealth of further information!

Thought this a good first historical thread for Simpson Brushes…

I get asked quite a lot about ‘our old factory’ in Southampton – we never were based in Southampton! I guess this was a ‘cyber rumour’ started a while ago which is still doing the rounds. So I hope you guys will read this timeline and now take this as ‘Gospel’ and the only true record regarding our ownership up until 1990 when David Carter acquired the business.

1st Factory opened at Macaulay Road, London E6, just off the Barking Road (not far from the home of West Ham United Football Club). Simpson branded brushes made and sold for the first time and our old family brand name ‘Bajer’ still being made and sold. Brushes made from ivory, bone, horn and vulcanite.

The business grew out of its original location and moved to new premises at 53 High Street, Clapham, London SW4. ‘Bajer’ branded brushes still being made alongside ‘Simpson’ branded brushes with newer brands ‘Simie’, ‘Alexsim’, ‘Simbal’ and the stand alone ‘Wee Scot’ being added, although Wee Scot brushes had been made since 1919.

‘Bajer’, ‘Simie’, ‘Alexsim’, ‘Simbal’ and ‘Wee Scot’ brand names dropped with ‘Simpson’ being the sole brand name used by the family from now on.

Due to World War II, Great Uncle Alex moved large quantities of stock (ivory, horn, hair, silver and gold) out of London to one of my grandfather’s houses in Warfield, Nr Ascot, Berkshire (UK).

Clapham Factory hit by German bombs which wrecked the whole building.

Agreement made between Coates Brushes Ltd and Great Uncle Alex for Simpson to move lock, stock and barrel to Nimmer Mill to share the factory. Simpson had been the sole maker of Coates branded brushes since they first appeared on the market so it was an easy arrangement. Also Coates were struggling and part of the agreement was for Simpson to buy out Coates within 1 year of moving to Nimmer, Somerset.

Simpson take over complete ownership of Coates Brushes Ltd.

My Great Uncle Alex passed away on 4th November. Sole ownership passed over to my Grandfather, Tom.

My father, Jim, took on the role of General Manager of both Simpson and Coates Brushes. My mum, Cherry, took on the role of Office Manager for both companies.

First full brush made by me under the supervision of both my Grandfather and Dad.

My grandfather, Tom passed away suddenly, 23rd December. Ownership passed to my parents.

Family ownership ceased – both companies acquired by David Carter.

Well that is the basic timeline for the business during the family’s ownership. I am sure there is plenty there that you have not known about previously – especially the other brands that were ours!


Badger Hair Grades

OK, so now let’s get controversial …

There is often heated discussion around the naming and grading of hair used in badger shaving brushes. While by no means definitive, the description of the traditional gradings used by Simpsons, posted in a thread here by Gary Young, from the family who used to own the business is a worthwhile starting point –

Now I know that there are various grades of hair ‘sold’ these days so I have categorised into the 3 grades that I know and have worked with – Pure, Best & Super. These 3 grades should give you a good idea on the characteristics expected and should give you a good starting point to compare to the more ‘exotic’ grades available nowadays….

Pure badger hair is the commonest grade of hair. Around about 60% of the hair obtainable from a single badger is graded as ‘Pure’.

Location on Badger: Usually from the underbelly area.

Normal Colour Range: Black to a Dark Brown/Tan, Dark Grey.

Characteristics: Thick filament with less lateral flex than higher grade hair and less tapering along the filament.

Face ‘Feel’: Scratchy/Scrubby – normally thought of as the best hair for exfoliating. Normally brushes made from Pure grade have low density knots (less hair per knot) but still have low flexibility due to the stiffness of the filaments.

Soap or Cream?: Usually good for hard soaps due to the coarseness of the filament ends.

Ageing characteristics: Pure hair tends to ‘bleach’ quicker than higher grade hair giving it a look more akin to a Boar after prolonged exposure to sunshine. The filament ends will soften over time but do tend to keep their scratchy feel – more so than Best grade.

Best badger hair is a ‘mid-range’ hair grade. Around about 25% of the hair obtainable from a single badger is graded as ‘Best’.

Location on Badger:Usually from the belly area.

Normal Colour Range: Grey to Light Brown/Tan with more significant colour difference between bands.

Characteristics: More tapering filaments than Pure grade with softer tips. Better lateral flex along the filament than Pure due to the tapering nature of the hair.

Face ‘Feel’: Less scratchy than Pure grade but still has a scrubby feel. Mid to high density knots (mid level of hair per knot) with better flexibility than Pure due to the tapering filaments.

Soap or Cream?: Good for both soap and cream. Due to the fact that it holds water better than Pure it is ideal for creams that require more water to create lather.

Ageing characteristics: Tends to hold its colour better than Pure grade but the filament tips can grey more over time creating a look of a ‘two band’ brush.

Super badger hair is a fine grade of badger hair. Around about 10% of the hair obtainable from a single badger is graded as ‘Super’.

Location on Badger: Usually from the neck/mane area.

Normal Colour Range: Dark Grey/Black central band with silver/white filament ends.

Characteristics: Even finer tapered filaments than Best grade. Extremely pliable filaments – more lateral flex than Best grade.

Face ‘Feel’: Soft feel to the face, no scratch, Can feel firmer than Best grade due to the high density knot (high level of hair per knot) that can be made because of the finer filaments. Can be described as a more ‘velvet’ feel than best.

Soap or Cream?: Tends to be better suited to creams due to the lack of scratch on the filament ends, although densely packed knots can work well with soaps.

Ageing Characteristics: Super grade tends to keep its look over Pure and Best. Colours tend not to fade as much as the lower grades. In some cases the tips can curl or ‘hook’ over time. This can be caused by the initial sterilising process that badger hair is put through by hair suppliers.

Simpson ’41’ – the beginning of the butterscotch brushes

A long time ago in a land far away …

OK, well maybe not THAT long ago, it was only five years or so ago that I saw this nondescript shaving brush on a large online auction site.

The description was vague and as you can see, the photo was of little help.  I was pretty certain though that it was a vintage, butterscotch Simpson shaving brush.  I took a punt a put a modest bid on – and won!  My first, vintage butterscotch brush 🙂

The butterscotch colour is the result of many years of UV radiation converted the outside, exposed layer of the catalin the handle is made of to phenyl alcohol with that distinct colour.  The butterscotch brushes generally started life as a sort of cream, imitation ivory.

Not only was it a nice, butterscotch coloured brush, when you turned it over it had a label.

In fact, that label looked familiar. I had not only a butterscotch coloured brush, but a vintage Simpson!  Simpson brushes have a long and proud history, since 1919.  The engraved lampe black markings are of the number ’41’ and ‘Pure Badger’ with the same written on the end of the box it came in.

After doing some research across some shaving forums one of teh descendents of the original Simpson family, Gary Young, responded to my questions about this brush at The Shaving Room. Here is what he said:

‘1950s Nimmer Mill made Simpson 40 series brush. And yep, Peter is right that it isn’t one of our old ‘top end’ brushes. Back in the 50s a lot of the 40 series were sold in quantity to the ‘high street’ chemists – eg. Boots.

This looks like it was a ‘private’ sale as the ‘high street’ models were lampblacked with the Boots logo of the day.

The badger hair has ‘bleached’ over the years – normally due to being left on a bathroom window. But, as with our own hair, it tends to ‘whiten’ out over time, especially the coarser pure grade.

Nice little brush from one of our most busy decades so I reckon you had a good little find there.’

I was very chuffed!

Unfortunately the knot was really not in great shape after being sun-bleached.  So I sent the brush off to Simpson for a reknot, in ‘Pure’.  The brush, with a new lease of life, remains in my regular rotation today!

State of My Collection – 2014

After acquiring my first razor in 2010 I quickly started acquiring a ‘few’ more! 🙂

To give you a sense of the scale of the collection when I ceased actively collecting a couple of years ago you can check out the slideshows of images of the collection below.

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I hope you enjoy the pictures!