We’ve been talking a lot about antique barber chairs in this blog, but one thing that shouldn’t be left out is the symbol. The barber’s pole has been used to indicate a barber’s presence since the Middle Ages (during the 5th – 15th centuries). Nowadays, when you see a sign with red, white and blue stripes, you know it’s where you want to have a haircut. In other parts of the world, barber poles are also used in prostitution. The reason for this isn’t exactly clear, but it’s probably because barber shops and salons are almost the same. Salons are usually associated with women, which could have been disguised as brothels. And the already famous barber’s sign would have been used to promote the brothel’s lineup of women.
In its early days, the barber’s pole was composed of a staff with bandages wrapped around it. The thing is, barbers didn’t just cut hair in the Middle Ages. They also acted as surgeons and dentists. In Europe, patients would hold the staff so that the veins in their arms would stand out. The surgeon can then put leeches on that part of the arm to extract blood. Bandages were used to stop the bleeding. When the procedure was done, the bandages were often hung onto the pole and left outside to dry. Incidentally, they also served to let people know of the surgeon’s presence. Due to the wind’s influence, the bandages would wrap around the pole. As a result, they form a stripe consisting of red and white colors. This became the foundation of the modern barber pole, complete with lights and spinning mechanisms.
In the United States, the barber pole with red, white and blue stripes are more common than the one with only red and white stripes. People say that red symbolizes the blood, white indicates the bandage and blue suggests the veins. The organization of colors was established during the early 13th century in Paris. Barbers were classified as academic surgeons of the long robe and barber surgeons of the short robe. Barber surgeons usually handled soldiers. They were also often seen providing medical assistance to monarchs and wealthy people. To distinguish between the two groups, they were required to use the different colors of the pole. One group would use red and white while the other would use blue.
The Minnesota-based William Marvy Company has been selling barber poles since 1950 and is now the one and only manufacturer in the US. During the heydays of the barber shop, William Marvy would sell more than 5000 poles on an annual basis. These days, it’s down to 500 per year.
Despite the decline in sales, the barber’s pole continues to be a popular symbol of the barber. www.antiquebarberchairs.net pays tribute to its long and rich history.