Friday, May 21, 2010

Two Bits

Mineral Ridge, Ohio, had just one barber and that barber was my grandfather, William Carl Robert Meinzen -- or Bob Meinzen to the adults who knew him. His daughter, Audrey, remembered that he had set up shop in 3 different buildings during the years that he was a barber in the Ridge. I remember only the last location, pictured above, on Main Street across from the high school.

Grampa worked long hours at the shop. He opened in the morning and remained there past dinnertime, into the evenings. He carried his lunch with him when he left in the morning, but Gramma always made dinner. When the grandchildren were old enough, one (or sometimes two) of them carried it to him hot and he ate it at the shop every night. From Gramma’s house, they walked up Furnace Street, turned left onto Main Street, and walked about two blocks. To me, carrying Grampa’s dinner was a great responsibility, a sign of trust conferred upon the grandchildren, and almost a rite of passage. Unfortunately, Grampa retired before I was old enough to have the joy of taking his dinner to him.

In the early years, before washing machines were easily available, Gramma washed by hand and hung to dry all of the towels and aprons for the barber shop. What a lot of laundry that must have been! I’m sure that one or both of them cleaned the shop, too.

I don’t remember Grampa’s exact method of cutting hair, though I believe he used a comb to raise the hair, then scissored off what was above the comb. It seems that there was one style of haircut in those days: short. The boys and men in the family had Grampa cut their hair. The girls went to Grampa only (and not willingly) on the rare occasions in which there was no money for a “beautician” or in an emergency. For me that emergency happened when I was about 5 or 6 and my sister persuaded me that she could give me a great haircut. It didn’t go so well and I was to be sent to Grampa for a haircut. However much I didn’t want to go, there was no way out. Despite the pleading cautions to Grampa not to cut my hair too short, it didn’t go so well with him, either. It grew back.

His accouterments of barbering included scissors, of course, plus razors and leather straps to sharpen them; water, shampoo, towels; shaving mugs and brushes. What else? I can’t remember, though I’m sure there were other instruments. I really didn’t spend much time at Grampa’s shop nor was I observant of his tools. I don’t remember a sign or a barber pole in front of the shop, but there were large front windows which gave a great view to the school and its playground and lots of light for his work.

Grampa learned barbering while a young man living in Steubenville with his parents, Henry and Elizabeth (Armitage) Meinzen. As far as I can remember, no one ever mentioned where he learned the trade. A search of Steubenville city directories of the time reveals no barbering schools, so perhaps it was through an apprenticeship that he learned. He was first listed as a barber in the 1911 city directory, at which time he would have been 18 or 19. In 1913 he was a barber working at 838 Sixth Avenue, Steubenville, listed as the shop of George Leo. By 1916 he was married with one daughter and was a barber at the shop of D. Herlinger in Warren, Ohio. The family moved to Mineral Ridge between 1918 and 1921 and he set up shop there.

I did not really appreciate this photograph until I scanned it and was able to view it enlarged several times. It was interesting to see the Spartan wall decorations: all of 4 advertising calendars and a painting of a horse! I always wondered what year the photo was taken. Now I know not only the year but the month, too.

I had forgotten that Grampa wore a tie and dress shirt to work. Looking at the photo also reminded me of how Grampa always rolled his sleeves up to the inside instead of the outside. It makes sense to do it that way: hair fell away and stayed at the shop instead of into the fold to travel home with him.

I have to wonder about the conversations at the barber shop, especially considering that Grampa didn’t really talk much. What were the topics of the day during those years? The U. S. was not yet at war, but no doubt there was discussion of what was happening in Europe. Did other topics include sports? Local news? Were his customers primarily from the Ridge or did men travel from other areas because they liked his haircuts? It looks like there’s a radio on the table at the back left. I wonder if it was tuned to a music station or if there were talk radio stations at that time. I wish I could jump back in time....

Oh, I almost forgot. Grampa did charge two bits, though I think by the time he retired the price for a haircut (without a shave) had gone up to four bits.

I hope one or several of the grandchildren will chime in on the comments to add the details I’ve missed or improve the accuracy of my memory.

Do you have barber shop memories or relatives who were barbers?

This is a Sepia Saturday post. I invite you to view other contributors' posts to Sepia Saturday.


  1. The date on the calendar says May 1941 so just 7 months later the US would have been at war. I love the old electric fan sitting on the towel dispenser. I can also see the resemblance between him and Grandma Doyle and her sister, Aunt D.

    It doesn't look like really big shop, I wonder if people just waited in the chair that is at the back of the photo...I would love to go back in time too.

  2. I wonder if the photograph was taken for a special reason? The man in the chair seems to have his head positioned to show a very neat hair-cut, indeed.

  3. Nancy,

    What a wonderful post! The image or the barber shop is one that probably most all of our grandfathers or great grandfathers experienced.

    Even though your grandpa didn't share the stories he heard, he probably felt the "pulse" of the community...menfolk usually tell a lot of stories at the barber shop.

  4. A wonderful picture and post! So nice to have the details.

  5. Very interesting. The photo certainly reminds me of a lifetime of visiting barber shops and getting my hair cut--short.

  6. What fun to look through an old fashioned barber shop! My brother recently retired from barbering. Actually his shop didn't look very much different than this. I'm sure the tools he used were quite different, though- except for the scissors. They never change.

  7. Great, classic photo!
    My mother took me to a barber once and he snipped the back of my neck with his scissors. He followed it up with a dab of rubbing alcohol. Yeow!


  8. Ah, that mysterious haunt of men! This is truly an interesting post, and I love how large the photo blows up so that we can see all the details too!

  9. Thank you all for visiting my blog and for your kind comments, observations, and memories.

    Natasha, there are actually 2 chairs at the back - one is partially hidden. I wonder how often men had to wait for their haircuts.

    Martin H., I hadn't thought about that, but you're absolutely right. And that makes me wonder if it was a posed photograph and if there were several taken and they chose the best to print. Thanks for sharing the observation.

    Dorene - Wouldn't it be interesting to have been a fly on the wall? Did you notice the calendar reflected in the mirror? If you can enlarge the photo enough (and I don't know if you can on blogger) tell me if you don't think it looks like a "girlie" picture at the top. Never would have thought it of my grandfather!

    Vicki Lane - Thank you. I should have collected more information from my aunt, brother, and sister, and I could possibly have added to the details.

    Barry - Yes, short seems to be the most frequent word for a haircut of that time period. I haven't looked through men's hairstyles for the changes over time but it would be interesting to learn how a barber was trained when the transition from men wearing longer hair to shorter hair happened.

    Barbara and Nancy - I find myself wanting to see the other side of the shop, too, and the front entrance.

    Poetikat - Yow! You probably didn't want to see a barber ever again!

    Leah - I'm glad you can see the details when you click on the photo. The original is 5" x 7", and I hoped it would be larger than it appears in the post. It's great to be able to enlarge and see so much detail.

  10. Wonderful Nancy. Such a rich mixture of well-told memories, photograph observation (I agree, you get so much out of a photograph once you scan and enlarge it) and historical research. Bravo.

  11. Nancy, I always enjoy catching up with your blog. It's such a feast of interesting stories and photos!

  12. What a wonderful story and photograph. How lucky you are to have those memories!

  13. Too fun and interesting!

  14. Hello Nancy, I found your blog via Alan. What a fascinating post. How wonderful to have the month and year that the photo of your grampa was made. I really enjoyed hearing about he and your gramma.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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