My recent SOTD photos have included by Eclipse Red Ring razor.  This razor, and the company that made it have a fascinating history …

1889 James Neill, a successful accountant, turns to steelmaking and patents “composite” steel (steel-backed iron).
Grace’s Guide To British Industrial History

Of course, as an accountant by trade myself, I couldn’t just leave it there …

Eclipse Red Ring SOTD
Eclipse Red Ring Razor with Re-knotted Simpson "42" Shaving Brush


The Eclipse Red Ring is a rather interesting razor.

It was made in the 1930s by James Neill and Co of Sheffield England.  To straight razor aficionados Sheffield in the UK and Solingen in Germany are the spiritual homes of good quality steel.

Probably the most unique feature of the Red Ring was the inclusion in the base of the handle of a magnet to pick up blades, covered by UK Patent 344280.  This is probably not an unexpected innovation since the company was producing magnets since World War One following an urgent Government appeal to manufacture permanent magnets for magnetos to replace supplies previously obtained from Germany.  This thread has some great pictures of a boxed Red Ring with the accompanying leaflet highlighting the magnet in the base.  Still want more picture, see this thread.  Even more on this thread – it is a much loved razor.

It was also ‘adjustable’ based on the claim that you could use the ‘micrometer adjustment’ to tighten or loosen the head.

The ‘self centering device’ was also patented, UK Patent 380958, and consists largely or two pins that protrude through the top cap on the razor’s head.

Picture of Eclipse Red Ring with one form of case - clearly showing pins and corresponding holes in the cap.

James Neill and the ‘Eclipse’ brand

James Neill started his business career as an accountant, and later became the managing director of a brewery. It was not until he was nearly thirty years old that he entered the steel trade by founding the firm of James Neill & Co., Ltd., Sheffield in 1889.

At first he leased crucible melting furnaces, and under his control the firm grew rapidly. He made a speciality of “steel-faced iron” which was largely used for machine knives. Gas-fired crucible furnaces, permanent magnets for magnetos, and safety-razor blades were other products of his firm.

George Stubbs (1724-1806) Eclipse At New Market With Groom (British racehorses of the 18th century)
George Stubbs (1724-1806) Eclipse At New Market With Groom

The Eclipse brand was taken from the famous racehorse Eclipse, who was still famous at the time for his dominating success. The phrase “Eclipse first and the rest nowhere” was still in such common use that it was adopted as a marketing slogan.  The range of Eclipse products started with the world’s first composite steel hacksaw blades.

November 1932 Advertisement for Eclipse Hacksaw

By 1924 the company was also making saw frames; the company introduced the classic shape which all hacksaws now mirror.  The hacksaw blades are said to have lead to the initial success of the company, the frames built on that and complimented other developments such as the first permanent magnet chuck, for use on grinding machines and other machine tools,  developed and patented in the mid-1930s.

In 1929 the company was one of the exhibitors at the British Industrial Fair, along with A. Simpson brushes as discussed here.

James Neill died on 17 August 17 1930, at the age of seventy-three. His company lives on to this day, although not under his name.

In 1760, Alexander Spear and John Love formed a company in Sheffield called Spear & Love. In 1814, John Spear, the nephew of Alexander, took on an apprentice called Sam Jackson. In 1830, the partnership Spear & Jackson was formed.

By 1969 James Neill & Co., Ltd had acquired a range of other companies forming the James Neill Group,  which purchased Spear and Jackson in 1985.

In 1995 the company was renamed Spear and Jackson plc.  Spear and Jackson Australia details their history here.  Many of their products are still sold under the Eclipse brand, although unfortunately, no razors.

James Neill company history from a 1969 catalogue
James Neill company history from a 1969 catalogue
Spear and Jackson Timeline
Timeline for the history of the Spear & Jackson company from their website.
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