Ladies have always had those special gathering places that, by their nature, are for “women only.”
In the Victorian era, ladies of means gathered in the home to decorate porcelain at painting parties. A common pastime in the early part of the 20th century was the quilting bee. In the 1960’s many of our mothers enjoyed an afternoon of Bridge with “the girls.” And on Wednesday evenings, my daughter and her friends all pull on their Spandex and head out for a night of Zumba. Yes, we gals have always found our ways to get a few moments away from the men.
To balance the scales, there exists an oasis of masculinity that has remained pretty much a “boys club” since it’s inception in the mid-1800s. A place to relax, read the morning paper, share political views and catch up on all the local gossip – yes, men gossip too. A place where a man always felt welcome, even catered to, no matter what his social position. No membership dues or scheduled meetings here, just a chance to escape from the worries of the day at the neighborhood barbershop.
From the striped pole at the entry, to the basic tools of the trade, barbershop memorabilia is attracting an ever-growing audience of collectors. Whether it be a barber chair for $1700 to a shaving brush for $10, the memorabilia from the glory days of the barbershop are in high demand.
Shaving mugs, from 1860 to 1930, have long been a popular collectible.Collectors watch for “occupational mugs.” When a man was a regular at a barbershop, he would be assigned his own personal shaving mug. These commissioned mugs,with the name of the owner in quilt lettering and a hand-painted illustration of his profession, added a touch of individuality and prestige to the daily grooming ritual. Prices vary greatly with the rarity of the profession dictating the value. Recently realized prices at a noted Mid-west auction included a farmer’s mug at $20, a seaman’s mug at $200, and an early baseball player’s mug for $2,500.
Perhaps the most common barber shop collectible are the razors from 1860 to 1930. Manufactured in many styles, they are easy to find and come in a variety of price ranges. Late 1800s examples are often elaborate with inlays, precious stones and engraving. Early 19th century straight razors will commonly have ivory, bone or horn handles. Handles made of the early plastics include celluloid handles from 1880 forward and Bakelite from 1900 to 1930.
Bar bottles were used in the home as well as barbershops. Many of these were personalized with a customers name and were passed down from generation to generation, making them harder to find than mugs and razors. They were produced in a wide variety of colors and can vary in quality from hand blown art glass to mass- produced press glass. Those sought by serious collectors will be from 1860 to the early part of the 1900s. Prices will range from a few dollars to several hundred. The food and Drug Act of 1906 made it illegal to refill bottles for public use, and and soon after production of of barber bottles ceased.
Porcelain advertising signs and barber chairs are among the most prized finds in this field of collecting. Two words to the would-be buyer... condition and authenticity. Signs have been widely reproduced since the1950s. Old signs will have a mounting hole, the rust will be an orange-red color, not black or brown, they will have considerable weight for their size, and you should see several coats of thick paint rather than one single coat. Both adult and children’s chairs, while usually authentic,are often in poor condition and can cost a small fortune to have restored. It is usually best to buy a restored chair from an established sales/restoration company. If you do buy a chair that needs work, give as little as possible for it.
In this field of collecting, as in so many others it is a case of, “know before you go.” Reproduction and poor restoration abound, so do your homework! Two of the best sources for research I have found are “Barbershop: History and Antiques” by Christian Jones and The National Organization for Barbershop Memorabilia’s web page (www.nsmca.net).
Until next time,
Linda Hamer Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-429-7887 or firstname.lastname@example.org.