I was staggering around in the Upper West Side on a Sunday afternoon, nearly delirious from the insane 75-degree dewpoint, when I stumbled on a classic car on West 74th and Columbus with a sign in the window, “NYC Barber Museum.” Hm! Looking closer, I found out it was just around the corner…
…at #290 Columbus. Unfortunately the place was closed this Sunday, but the internet is a wonderful place for research, and I discovered that it’s relatively new, having opened earlier in 2018 by longtime UWS tonsorialist Arthur Rubinoff, whose family has been barbering for decades. (Note the ancient Last
Roundup” Woundup sign)
Comments: The old sign is from “The Last Woundup”. It was a shop which specialized in vintage and vintage style wind-up toys. They had a location on 1st Avenue in the lower 60s at one point too, I think.
According to NY Metro, Rubinoff’s collection includes vintage Wilkinson and Gillette blades, freestanding barber poles, a cushioned Koch barber chair complete with headrest. Best of all the museum is free of charge, but haircutting services, of course, will cost you.
The NYC Barber Museum is open “casual hours” Sat-Mon; Tues 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Wed 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Thurs 11 a.m.-11 p.m. and Fri 10 a.m.-7 p.m according to Metro.
I’ve always been fascinated with freestanding barber poles, which are no longer common around town. They are true medieval relics, dating back to the days when a trip to the barber and a trip to the doctor was the same thing. Bloodletting, often with the aid of leeches (bloodsucking worms) was considered a prime treatment for several ailments, and bloodletting wasn’t painless at times. thus, “customers” were given a wooden pole to grip as the barber did his work. It’s believed that the red in the barber pole represents arterial blood and the blue represents venous blood.
In South Korea, barber poles do double duty. They also signify brothels.
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