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Varanus Snell was born in North Bridgewater (now Brockton), Massachusetts, where he lived and worked his entire life, on December 27, 1823. He worked as a bookmaker for nine years, straight from whatever schooling he had (and, we can presume, starting at an early age), until he began instead making hand tools for shoe and boot makers. In 1853, he took in Lemuel Atherton, and Snell & Atherton was born. When Atherton died in 1860, he was succeed in the business by his son, w…ho also died in 1867. Snell continued as sole proprietor until his retirement in 1907, when the firm was incorporated as Snell & Atherton Inc.

Back in 1862, Oscar E Dunham joined the company, and on January 13, 1880, US patent number 223,583 was awarded to Dunham for improvements in heel shaves. The primary improvement was that the blade, which wore down quickly, was easily replaceable. Dunham’s patent was assigned to Snell & Atherton, who produced it for many years in sizes from 1 through at least 7, and called it the OED shave.

I like everything about this tool – it is simple, robust, useable and well designed for a specific task and an extended life. This example, which is in great working condition, is of unknown date – however, the blade dates from 1907 or later, as it is marked ‘Snell & Atherton, Inc.’ It is also marked ‘Made in U.S.A.’ and ‘OED 5’.

 

Varanus Snell