The Making of the 1803 Razor Kit

The Making of the 1803 Razor Kit

Penny Hanan is something of a gun when it comes to hunting down experts in esoteric, endangered crafts. 

Under her label 1803, Penny takes the naturally shed velvet antler and hides from her brother’s sustainable, top grade venison farm, and works with some of the country’s best artisans to create bespoke leather accessories, handbags and knives.

Bladesmithing, small batch leather tanning, linen printing… you name it, she knows the best guy.

But even she had difficulty pulling her newest product together.

“As you can imagine finding, then establishing, a strong working relationship with a team of proven bladesmiths in Australia to create a collection of hand-forged product was, and is, very challenging,” Penny says. “Most artisans develop their skills over many years and tend to work alone which makes it hard to craft a collection in commercial volumes.”

So it’s no surprise that her new six-piece deer leather and antler folding razor kit was almost six months in the development phase.

The daughter of a country vet, Penny grew up on a small orchard on the slopes of Mt Canobolas, ten minutes outside of Orange in northern New South Wales.

“We had a few blackberries, and Dad had heard that deer were great at keeping them under control, so he removed some trees and bought a small herd of fallow deer, which he loved,” Penny explains.  “They are delicate, graceful animals and the herd grew for several years.”

The herd grew to commercial size under the supervision of Penny’s brother Tim, who now heads up their family’s venison farm Mandagery Creek. The other natural biproducts of the operation, the deer’s naturally shed antler and hides, weren’t a part of the equasion until Penny went to New York and caught sight of a product sourced from a family cattle ranch in Oregon that immediately resonated with her. 

Upon Penny’s return to Australia she began work on 1803. Named after the year the first species of red deer were introduced to Australia, the 1803 range has encompassed everything from buttery soft deer leather bags and pouches, to knives and cleavers with handles fashioned from carefully selected pieces of antler, as well as soft hides and cushions.

Among Penny’s past and present collaborators are legendary Tasmanian cutler Tom Hounslow, leather craftsman Jarren Borghero in the Yarra Ranges, artist, designer and screen printer Julie Paterson in the Blue Mountains, and most recently, Karim Hadad - founder of the Thawar Valley Forge, a bladesmithing school just south of Canberra.

“Over the years [Karim] has supported and developed a team of great craftsmen - who are also sensational blokes - which allows me to work with many talented artisans in one place,” says Penny. “It is a dream come true for 1803.”

It was Karim who introduced Penny to traditional folding razor maker and fanatic Dean Jard, which led to 1803’s newest product: the 1803 folding razor kit.

Dean workrd on a prototype which, when it was finally ready, left Penny speechless and immediately convinced her to delve into unchartered waters and create a commercial number of them.

As any knife guy will tell you, folding razors are notoriously difficult to get right.  Their folding mechanism and blade angle requires an exacting attention to detail that’s not necessarily associated with traditional knife blade forging – and Dean met the extra challenge of finding and shaping appropriately shaped piece of antler for each handle.

To complete the kit, Dean also crafted a strop from recycled timber, using Penny’s deer leather suede for the alignment side.  Additional small batches of deer leather were tanned by Matt Courtenay in Geelong and sent to leather craftsman Jarren Borghero in the Yarra Ranges, who handcrafted carefully sized shaving bags and blade care kits.

“The soft texture of our deer leather is a wonderful contrast, both physically and idealistically, to the hard antler and steel of the razor,” says Penny.

 Every single one of the raw materials in the kit are traceable biproducts of deer farming.

“Everything we do and make at 1803 is designed to improve the sustainability of our family deer farming and processing operations by minimizing waste and using by products of production,” says Penny. “This lies at the core of who we are and every 1803 product.”

“As a family we also are committed to celebrating rare Australian artisan skills, supporting small batch Australian manufacturing and keeping integrity and purpose front and centre of every decision. They are choices we make every day and they make us proud.”

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The 1803 razor kit is available now.