Museum Talk

Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Antique barber chair at BI Museum was donated by Johnny Jones.

An interesting item at the Buffalo Island Museum in Monette is the barber chair, donated by Johnny Jones. It is believed to be from the early to mid 1800s. It was made by the Vittors Cuttery Company of Atlanta, Ga.

Chairs of this era were wooden, elaborately carved and with decorative plush upholstery. The chair at the museum is of a lovely rosewood with wooden arms, legs and sides with a blue patterned upholstery.

The first factory manufactured chairs date back to 1850. In the 1900s, barber chair styles and materials changed. Slowly the beautiful ornately carved wood gave way to chairs made of porcelain covered cast iron.

In earlier times, the one-chair barbershops were small, usually independent barbershops that had only one barber chair available to customers. This older tradition is fading out as these generations of barbers retire and younger barbers step up. Now barbershops and salons have multi chairs. The chair needs to be comfortable and relaxed.

The chair at the museum swivels and has a footrest. The headrest can recline. One of the earliest manufacturer of barber chairs was Eugene Berninghaus who opened his business in 1875. Another pioneer of the chairs was Ernest Koken, a German immigrant, who became responsible for the growth of the industry. He developed a hydraulic-operated chair and his chairs were of the highest quality.

Although the steel and vinyl chairs of today are comfortable to sit on for awhile, they are no match for the comfortable plush upholstered wooden chairs of yesteryear. The barber chair at the museum gives us a glimpse of the past when the local barbershops on Buffalo Island were a place to get a shampoo, shave and haircut, and also a place to visit with friends, and maybe play a friendly game of checkers while you waited.

The Buffalo Island Museum is open on Friday and Saturday 12:30-4 p.m.. Admission is free. Visit our Facebook page for more information and pictures and to enter our monthly BIM Mystery Artifact Contest.

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