Unisex salons and spas where customers sip chai or wine while waiting to have their coif touched up have largely replaced the neighborhood barbershop. Part man-cave, part therapist’s office, the barbershop was the gathering place where boys became men and men could relax guilt-free. An important rite of passage for a boy was going for his first haircut in the chair that had a wooden horse head or looked like a fire engine. And when that boy grew up, he graduated to . . . the barber chair, that marvelous, comfortable invention that spun or reclined while a man got his cut or straight-razor shave.
Whether you’re seeking to enhance the vintage décor of your barbershop or salon, or trying to recreate for yourself the sound of the latest jokes and gossip and the smell of Barbicide and shaving cream on a Saturday morning, you’ll find you’re in good company among collectors of antique and vintage barber chairs. Koken, Belmont, Paidar, Koch; these names are spoken with reverence among those who collect these antiques.
Connecting with other enthusiasts on the Internet, you can participate through forums in an online version of the neighborhood barbershop discussions of days gone by. Facebook groups and blogs connect collectors and allow them to post chairs for sale or find a footrest to restore a 1909 Louis Hanson chair, as well as swapping memories and photos and learning more about the history and value of chairs. This passion comes with a high price tag: a sampling of chairs posted for sale on a collector’s forum includes two 1930s Koken chairs in need of minor repairs for $6000 and a Paidar chair for $1600. Add shipping costs for such a heavy item, and you may need to lie back with a hot towel on your face for a few minutes. Nonetheless, interest is growing and, in addition to the Internet, you’ll find bargains – and some great stories – at long-time barbershops closing, at antique shops and at auctions, if you’re lucky. If you’re looking for a specific chair or part, you can also post ads and notify dealers. Specialized restoration companies also work with antique barber chairs.
The barber chair as an icon of popular history and culture was recently recognized in the exhibition, “Arriving at the Chair: Shave and a Haircut?” at the Museum of Texas Tech University. The Koken Barbers’ Supply Company was the first to use the hydraulic chair lift, in 1892, and the museum prides itself on the Koken chair in its collection. The Mob Museum in Las Vegas displays the barber chair where mob boss Albert Anastasia was murdered in 1957 at the Park Sheraton Hotel’s barber shop in New York. The New York State Museum has an upholstered rosewood and mahogany Hogemann and Litzko chair with a copper plaque on the footrest depicting the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Finally, you may be fortunate enough to experience an antique barber chair in the best of all places: a long-running local barbershop where shoes are still shined and advice still dispensed, with the smell of Barbicide and hair tonic still in the air.