A lot of folks remember the old catchy phrase, “shave and a haircut, two bits.” (Two bits is 25 cents, in case you were unaware.)
But setting aside the fact that the cost of male facial grooming has zoomed considerably higher than only a quarter, the accoutrements of barbershops are still attracting considerable interest from collectors around the country. That means shaving mugs, straight razors, leather strops, clippers, barber bottles, shaving brushes, and even barber poles and chairs are eagerly sought after by collectors.
Stephen E. Blenus, owner of www.stevescollectibles.com, thinks the reason many people are interested in such items are the great memories they have “of the trip to the barbershop on Saturday morning, reading the paper and waiting for your turn.” He continued, “Also, I think they like to keep around them what their grandfather used in the day, that is, straight razors, barber bottles and shaving brushes.”
Jeff Olson of Antique Mystique in North Platte, Neb., said he would “describe the barber shop as an iconic place that has transcended generations and probably changed the least of all retail service businesses today. You can actually walk in the door of a barber shop and find yourself stepping back in time 50 or 100 years with vintage chairs and backbars still in use.”
Olson said that without question, the razor is far and away his best selling barber-related collectible.
“I think the fact there is such a diversity of styles and makers is what puts them at the top of most collectors’ lists,” Olson noted. “Some were designed very basic while others were very elaborate with engraving or inlays.”
Blenus said he finds that early clippers, razors, strops, shaving brushes and cups attract the lion’s share of attention from collectors, along with nostalgic period photographs of early barber poles, shops and shaving.
Shaving mugs have become very desirable among collectors, said Graydon Sikes, director of paintings, sculpture and works on paper for Cowan’s Auctions Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the barbershop was a common social meeting place for men,” Sikes pointed out. “In addition to receiving regular haircuts, men received shaves with even more frequency. Shaving mugs, or the vessels that shaving cream was mixed into, were housed at the barbershop.”
In order to identify an individual’s mug, Sikes noted, men commissioned hand-painted designs for them that displayed their name in gilt lettering and the image of their profession.
“These are referred to as ‘occupational shaving mugs’ and they remain highly collectible today,” he said. “The more rare the profession, the more rare the shaving mug.”
Jerry Thompson, president of the National Shaving Mug Collectors Association, pointed out that all categories of shaving mugs have always been popular because they’re small, easy to display, and often very colorful.
Yet Thompson noted that “Barber bottles and straight razors are currently probably the most collected barbershop collectibles because they are cross collectibles. Barber bottles are sought after by bottle collectors in general and many knife collectors also collect straight razors,” he said.
Besides, he added, “wet shaving” with straight razors has come into vogue among young men during the last few years.
In addition to straight and safety razors, Thompson said that antique barber furniture has become popular among active barbers who use those collectibles to decorate their shops. Also, collectors with extra space often try to put together a complete barbershop in their home.
There are plenty of barbershop collectibles that a person can focus on that won’t break the bank, according to Olson of Antique Mystique. For instance, a shaving brush might run $10, a bakelite Midge straight razor $30, an Ever Ready razor stropper $25, a Bob White barber pole porcelain sign $265, and a Koken backbar barber wall cabinet $250.
The typical places people look for other general collectibles generally are where to find barbershop items, Olson pointed out. He recommended checking antique shops, estate sales and auctions regularly.
For those people with more expensive tastes in barbershop collectibles, there’s no shortage of goods.
“In 2007, 30 occupational mugs from the Henry Tolman collection sold for between $3,000 and $9,500 each,” said Thompson of the NSMCA. “In addition a horse-drawn ambulance (painted mug) went for $22,500 and a railroad porter and a carousel brought $11,500 each.”
The next year, he continued, “20 mugs sold for over $2,000 each at one auction, with the most expensive one going for $45,000 and a horse-drawn ambulance going for $29,500. Needless to say, there were multiple serious collectors (bidding) with deep pockets that had to have these specific mugs for their collection.”
Sikes from Cowan’s Auctions noted that “mugs with any kind of automobile or motorcycle — machines that were being produced at the latter end of shaving mug production — have been soaring to record prices.”
For instance, in January 2007, an automobile racer’s occupational shaving mug went for $8,250, well above its $1,500 to $2,500 estimate. In another auction, a mug depicting a World War I airplane brought $6,500, while a horse-drawn ambulance occupational mug, which Sikes characterized as “an exceptional rarity,” sold for $19,500.
Other rarities, Sikes said, were a railroad porter occupational mug selling for $10,000 and a ship painter occupational mug going for $4,750.
“Find another one,” he added.
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