When the Invisible Hand of the Market picks up a shaving brush…
Sometimes I have a full-on “duh” moment. Today was one.
I’ve been working through a batch of samples of Honeybee Soaps shaving soaps, following this negative review by almightywhacko posted on Reddit’s Wet_Shavers subreddit . I was struck how much that review differs from my own experience with Honeybee Soaps shaving soap.
I was curious to see whether my own experience was indeed an outlier, so I tried collecting the experience of other HBS customers. I also ordered the set of samples I’ve been using this week. While in general I’ve had quite good lathers, but Tuesday’s shave produced a substandard lather: quite sparse by the third pass. In the comments to the post, Ron notes that he himself had had some bad results using the same model of Omega boar brush (the 11575) as I had used in that shave. That observation requires at least three more shaves:
- A shave with the same soap and a different kind of brush; and
- A shave with the same soap and a different brush of the same kind (boar, probably the 20102); and
- A shave with that Omega boar brush and a different soap.
Today I tackled the first of those: using the same lilac soap but with a badger brush—in this case my Rooney Style 2 Finest, a very nice brush indeed. The Rooney Style 2 Super Silvertip ($70 a few years back, $90 now) is an excellent brush, and I had one and loved it. The Finest is indeed somewhat better, but the incremental improvement resulted in a substantial increase in price. However, that’s a common pattern: it costs a certain amount to reach a reasonable level of quality, and incremental improvements beyond that are progressively more expensive. (Check out the price of Purdy shotguns to see how much incremental improvements can cost.)
So today I picked my Rooney Finest silvertip brush and worked up a lather—and wow! what a good lather! Day and night as compared to the lather from the same soap using that Omega boar brush (the Rooney’s lather being the “day” lather, just to be clear). Indeed, after I finished the (three-pass) shave, the brush was still puffy with stored lather (which this brush releases easily):
Not only was the lather better, the fragrance was much more noticeable and (to my nose, at least) very nice indeed. Fragrances, however, are like everything else in shaving, a matter of YMMV.
UPDATE: I’ve had a pleasant exchange with almightywhacko and wanted to clarify some things. First, I have indeed used better soaps than HBS soaps, but these are (for me) quite good given their price (under $5/puck). My thought is that HBS soaps work well for their price, but indeed there are soaps that work better—the Synergy soaps from Howtogrowamoustache.com and Strop Shoppe’s Special Edition soaps are two examples that spring to mind, but Arko ($2/stick) and various other artisanal soaps are also good at not much more. Still, I have no trouble getting a good shave with HBS soaps, and for those who want to minimize expense, it seems to me that trying a few samples would answer the question of whether it will work for them. /update
When I saw today how very much better the silvertip badger brush worked than the boar brush on the same soap, I had my “duh” moment. Silvertip badger brushes are much more expensive than boar brushes. That means that the invisible hand of the market is willing to pay (substantially) more for silvertip badger. The invisible hand of the market is considered by some to be pretty much an infallible guide: if prices that are artificially high (i.e., in excess of the benefits gained), then those prices must fall as “the market” turns to lower-priced alternatives to keep the cost/benefit ratio acceptable. So of course silvertip badger would perform better than boar—otherwise, everyone would buy boar, since the higher cost of silvertip would produce no benefit.
I personally am not that enamored of “the invisible hand of the free market,” particularly when Libertarians present it as a universal panacea. We see manifold failures of the free market: environmental degradation, refusal to develop medicines for which the market is small or poor (I’m looking at you, ebola vaccine, but many other examples exist), and in general all the government services undertaken for the general welfare that the invisible hand will either not address or screws up abominably (e.g., for-profit hospitals, for-profit schools, for-profit military units like Blackwater).
Still, given the undeniable major difference in lather quality from the silvertip badger brush and the Omega boar, one can certainly see how the invisible hand will pay more for silvertip badger than for boar. I do understand that boar is more readily available (more supply) and thus less costly to obtain, but the fact that the market is willing to value silvertip badger so much more highly means that (overall) the market recognizes the superiority of the brush in terms of its function: making lather.
The next shave will be that same Omega boar brush with a different soap—D.R. Harris, probably—and then a shave using a different boar brush and the Lilac soap. Step by step.
Three passes with the Standard razor holding an Astra Superior Platinum blade, resulting in a BBS result (no nicks), to which I applied a good splash of Pinaud Lilac Vegetal, now well on its way to a pleasant hint of fragrance.