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Ohio's sharpest museum

Published Sep. 27, 2005

A nostalgic collection of memorabilia, from poles to chairs to razors, is on display at the Barber Museum. You can even get a shave and a haircut.

Visitors come from all over the nation to see the Barber Museum, which features such exhibits as 58 barber poles, re-created barbershops from bygone eras, about 500 shaving mugs, razors dating to the 1700s, and bloodletting and tooth-pulling tools from the days when barbers doubled as surgeons and dentists.

The nucleus of the museum is a nostalgic collection of barbershop and beauty shop memorabilia assembled by the late Raymond Andrew and displayed for many years in smaller museums at barber colleges he founded in Toledo and Columbus.

Canal Winchester, population 4,200, was a port on the old Ohio and Erie Canal in the 19th century, midway between Columbus and Lancaster.

The Barber Museum "is the only one of its kind in the world," said Edwin Jeffers, the owner/curator and keeper of the Barbering Hall of Fame, which shares quarters in what was once a Knights of Pythias hall. "People have to see it to believe what we have," he said, pointing to a 1914 cash register that once kept a barbershop's money.

Jeffers, 71, has held a barber's license for 42 years. Although he retired three years ago, he occasionally demonstrates one or another of the long-lost barbering arts in the museum, which has a licensed shop within its walls.

For cable television's Family Channel, Jeffers showed how hair singeing used to be done. For the Discovery Channel, he demonstrated techniques of shaving with a straight razor. And on Japanese TV, he showed off his collection of more than 200 razors. He acquired many of the current exhibits from Andrew's original collection and by buying memorabilia from other barbers around the nation.

"I know barbers all over the United States," he said. "One barber's pole came out of Vermont. I've never been to Vermont in my life."

He said he paid $800 for that one, compared with about $500 for the average pole.

Andrew also started what he called the Library for the Hair Industry, and that collection, now the Barber Library, is at Jeffers' Barber Museum. It has such memorabilia as sheet music for Shave and a Haircut.

The museum's collection includes a rare all-wood barber pole, some of the first electric clippers, dating to the early 1900s, barber chairs more than 150 years old (before the chairs reclined), and seven barber poles that are spring-wound.

Jeffers got most of his shaving mugs from the Andrew collection. Many of them show the customers' occupations _ railroader, butcher, farmer _ and some show membership in such fraternal organizations as Shriners, Knights of Columbus, Odd Fellows, Eagles and Elks.

"Once upon a time, it was status to have your own (shaving) cup and leave it in the shop," he noted.

Visitors are also keenly interested in the display of more than 200 razors, now just collector's items. In fact, Jeffers himself was the one who gave the bad news to Ohio barbers in 1987 that they should abandon the use of straight razors. Then executive director of the Ohio Barbers Board, he issued a directive to the state's 4,000 barbershops recommending electric hair outliners and disposable razors because of concern that HIV and hepatitis could be transmitted by blood on razors.

Also in the collection are magazine covers depicting barbershop scenes painted by the likes of Norman Rockwell, a "violet ray" machine once used by barbers for face and scalp treatments, a folding barber chair from the Civil War era and a barbershop price list from 1935, when a shave was 25 cents (truly "two bits"), a haircut was 50 cents, and a shampoo was 50 cents and up.

A display of beauty shop equipment includes ancient hair curlers and hair dryers.

A wing of the museum holds the Barbering Hall of Fame, which has plaques for 33 stellar lights of the barbering world, as judged by the National Association of Barber Boards. Jeffers is enshrined there, as is Andrew.

Among the others memorialized are Ernest Koken, inventor of the hydraulic barber chair, and William Marvy, founder of the company that makes modern barber poles.

Jeffers has never collected admission fees, and he doesn't advertise or promote the museum. "I just don't want to keep the records," he explained. Yet his museum's guest book shows visitors from 44 states and five countries. Among recent visitors were the entire student body of a barber college in Atlanta.

If you go

The Barber Museum is above Zeke's Barber Shop and the Wigwam restaurant on High Street in Canal Winchester, Ohio, off U.S. 33 midway between Columbus and Lancaster. Admission to the museum is free, but it is open by appointment only. For information, call (614) 833-9931.