Barbers & Barber poles

How many of you know this famous sign signifies a barbershop? They are not usually seen in India, but I learnt recently that there is plenty of history behind it!!

As a child, in places like Pallavur which we visited during summer holidays, we got haricuts from the traveling barber. He was summoned a few days in advance, and he would come by with his sheet and worn out implements. My grand uncles used to say that he did one hell of a job. But well, for me, as a kid, barbershops were terrifying. They say I used to bawl for years. Now of course I enjoy chatting with the barber. I came across the first female barbers in USA, later in UK. Man, they sure are chatty!! The one I have now is a Srilankan lady, so we talk about music, Bollywood and Muthaih Muralitharan or Jayasurya…

The best I have come across are in Turkey, oh! were they good. You don’t have to say anything, they knew precisely what to do, like my favorite ‘Balus’ at SM Street and now also located on Mavoor road. The Turks also give you a fantastic head massage, pulling your ears and snapping your neck. Not always for the faint hearted, so feel free to tell them NO, if you are terrified of a broken neck. I remember the barber at Saudi, he used to offer tweezing services (Arabs tweeze their eyebrows, beard lines and ‘above shave-line’ hair!!), horrifying my sensibilities and making me say a firm NO! The Turkish barbers always have a coat boy (he takes your jacket and hangs it) and you have to tip both when you are done. The boy at the place where I frequented graduated to full barbering duties by the time we left Turkey.

Once upon a time, the barber did not just cut beard or trim hair, they had surgical duties to perform too, and did you know that? It started with bloodletting, where a lot of blood was drained away to get rid of poisons and the such. Typically leeches were used and stored in the brass bowl atop the barbers sign. The red & white stripes on the signs represented the bandages used for the process! In some places you see a blue as well, typically in USA. People say it is part of the national flag color or some say red is arterial and blue venous blood! Nowadays, these signs are not favored, as they are ‘visually disruptive’.

Barber – now what doeth that mean in the first place? Barba in Latin is beard, in olden times; the headman of the tribe was the medicine man & barber!!

In the middle of the 13th century, the barber companies of Paris, known as the Brotherhoods of St. Cosmos and St. Domain, founded the first school ever known for the systematic instruction of barbers in the practice of surgery. This school was later enlarged and became the model for schools of surgery during the Middle Ages. Many of the foremost surgeons of the times were students of the School of St. Cosmos and St. Domain. Until 1461 the barbers were the only persons practicing surgery. In 1450, the Guild of Surgeons was incorporated with the Barbers Company by act of parliament. Barbers were restricted to bloodletting, tooth drawing, cauterization and the tonsorial operations. However the board of governors, regulating the operations of the surgeons and barber-surgeons, consisted of two surgeons and two barbers. Every time a surgeon was given a diploma entitling him to practice his profession, the diploma had to be signed by two barbers as well as two surgeons. The surgeons resented this, but the barbers were very much favored by the monarchs and preserved their privileges until the middle of the 18th century. The alliance between the barbers and surgeons was dissolved in June, 1745.
WOW look at them tools!!! That 'saw' alone explains it all....

Did you know that the red & white aircraft speed indicator is also referred to as a barber pole?

And I remembered Kim, my friend from Korea. We were walking around Seoul and here was where I first saw the Barbers pole. Upon seeing my surprise, he said ‘once upon a time, in Seoul, it also meant other services such as massage are available in-house’. Or if there are two poles, the possibilities go further than just a good massage!!

A nice article & the Barbers museum in Ohio

Pics - various sites, acknowledged with thanks


Pradeep said…
Interesting.. lot of facts I never knew.
harimohan said…
Which place is the barbers delight ?..........TIRUPATI

Name a person from barber community who become a chief minister ?.......M.Karunanidhi

Which malayalam actor was a barber in hit film mazhavil kavadi ?....Jayaram
Nanditha Prabhu said…
that was a very interesting post!never knew there was so much history behind barber shops!
Maddy said…
thanks Pradeep, hari & nanditha..
well yesterday i had my hair cut by the other girl in the salon. A chinese girl, she said she was an electrical engineer. when i asked her why she was doing this, she said that her accent was so bad that nobody was giving her a job...I could understand, it was very very difficult to follow her. She went on to add that at 35, it is not possible to work on changing the accent.

talking of films & barbers, have any of you seen kamal hassan's Varumayin Niram sigappu ?