Friday, April 18, 2014

Wise Barber Advertising

Lexington African American barber Robert S. Taylor demonstrated savvy business sense when he advertised in the March 6, 1861, edition of that city's Observer and Reporter newspaper. In that issue, Taylor wisely did not post a sole advertisement asking customers to come to his shop(s); instead he ran two notices that attempted to appeal to customers staying at two different downtown hotels to come to his shop(s) for his services. 

Subtly, the advertisements appeared on different pages of that edition. The first ad, which appeared on page two, offered shaving service for customers staying at the Curd House hotel. Although the ad's headline boldly claimed "Curd House Shaving Saloon," the ad notes in finer print that Taylor's shop was "immediately opposite" the Curd House. It also stated that "expert barbers" were on hand to attend to customers' needs. In addition, it claimed that the shop was "open at all hours."

The Curd House was apparently located on West Vine Street between Mill and Upper Streets.  

Taylor's ad marketing to the customers staying at the Phoenix Hotel was on page three of the newspaper. The 1859 Lexington business directory lists Taylor's shop as being on the southwest corner of Main Street and Mulberry Street (now Limestone), which corroborates this location. Like the Curd House ad this ad boldly stated "Phoenix Shaving Saloon." In the ad Taylor claimed that he employed "none but the best barbers" and that his shop was "kept in a style to suit the most fastidious taste."

Looking at an 1855 Lexington city map, it appears that Taylor likely operated two different shops at this time. While both shops appear to be within relatively close distance to each other, they don't seem to be at the same exact location.

I have not been able to confirm whether the Phoenix Hotel or the Curd House employed their own in-house barbers at this time (many hotels and inns did in this era), but I would suspect that they did not and Taylor was attempting to capitalize on that fact with these ads. I would be surprised if the proprietors of these hotels would have let someone advertise for their hotels' customers if they had in-house barbers.

Robert S. Taylor must have been somehow been missed by the census taker in 1860, but is noted as a 17 year old mulatto barber in the 1850 census.  A Henry Taylor, who was a 19 year old  barber, and also described as mulatto, was living in the household of noted Lexington black barber Samuel A. Oldham in 1850. I would not be surprised to find that the Taylor men were brothers or cousins.

Taylor's advertisements show that antebellum black barbers were entrepreneurial in thinking. They clearly understood their amount of business - and thus their income - could be increased by marketing to white customers that read newspapers daily, stayed in nearby hotel establishments, and needed daily grooming services such as shaving.

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