History of the Barbers Pole

barbers pole outside shop
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We probably take this spinning sign or red and white (but usually red, white and blue in the United States) for granted and don’t understand the history.

The trade sign is, by a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. It is often forgotten that the Barbers of the past were not just there to cut hair and shave beards, they also performed minor surgeries, dentistry, and tasks such as bloodletting.  Each day, customers walk into my shop and as what the significance and symbolism of our pole is, so I thought I would share it with you all.

During medieval times, barbers performed surgery on customers, as well as tooth extractions. The original pole had a brass wash basin at the top (representing the vessel in which leeches were kept) and bottom (representing the basin that received the blood). The pole itself represents the staff that the patient gripped during the procedure to encourage blood flow.

After the establishment of the Barber-Surgeons Company in 1540, a statute was passed that required barbers and surgeons to distinguish their services by the colours of their pole. From that point forward, barbers used blue and white poles, while surgeons used red and white poles.

Men’s hairstyling has come a long way since the Middle Ages, but the barber pole still perseveres an iconic representation of the trade.

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