Monday, April 28, 2014

Black Barbers and their other Services

During the antebellum era Kentucky's African American barbers not only offered their customers the traditional haircut and shave, they also offered a variety of products and services in order to generate additional revenue. 

For example, Frankfort barber Henry Samuel provided a bath house for his customers, which was open "from Monday to Sunday morning." Samuel also provided a laundry service at his shop. He claimed he had "the best kind of washer women," who could wash or scour customers' clothes clean quickly. 

At various times Henry Samuel also advertised his hair coloring service. Although "Just for Men" had not been invented yet, apparently Samuel was adept at fighting gray hairs, whether found on the head or in the beard. 

Samuel, too, offered artesian well water to customers. In an era plagued by waterborne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and cholera, fresh water - most often sold in glass demijohns - were popular in large towns and cities to those who could afford this luxury.  

Nat Sims, who barbered in his own shop in Frankfort in the 1840s, and then at the shop in the Capital Hotel in the 1850s, advertised "Gilc[h]rist's fine Razors" in the above 1855 notice. I found it interesting that Sims would sell razors. After all, why sell a product that would potentially cut into (pun intended) your own business? Gilchrist's razors, which were manufactured in Jersey City, New Jersey, were the top of the line at the time. Perhaps Sims thought he could earn enough through razor sales that it made up for lost revenue in shaves.  

Lexington black barber Daniel Fisher offered "Superior Eye Water." During the antebellum era various forms of hydrotherapy were thought to cure everything from arthritis and intestinal disorders to "sore eyes."  

Much like Henry Samuel in Frankfort, Oleaginous Gordon in Bardstown offered a bathing service. Gordon's customers could visit his barber shop to get a "warm or cold bath" in either a tub or in a shower "at any time of the day or night." Appealing to those needing his service Gordon's ad text included a biblical reference: "All ye 'unwashed,' call and be cleansed."

These ads, which offered products and services outside of traditional barbering work, show the entrepreneurial spirit of the Kentucky's antebellum black barbers and their willingness to try to find additional means to generate revenue and thus profits for their businesses.  

No comments:

Post a Comment