The Barber's Saloon at Founders Park


The barber's saloon, recreated at Founders Heritage Park, contains a selection of items used for haircutting and shaving, and smoking memorabilia from Nelson's golden age of tobacco growing.

Tobacconist and Barber Store Founders ParkTobacconist and Barber Store. Founders Park Click image to enlarge

A Barber's Saloon was more than just a place to get your hair cut. It was a gathering place for men to read the paper, gossip, drink, smoke and generally enjoy the company of other men away from the needs of the wife and family. Another attraction was the gregarious nature of the Barber himself and this has given rise to a number of barber related jokes, such as "When one barber cuts another barber's hair, which one does all the talking?"

West's Shop. The Nelson Provincial Museum. Davis Collection 10278West's Shop. The Nelson Provincial Museum. Davis Collection 10278
Click image to enlarge

Pictured here is W.H. West's Hairdressing Saloon and Tobacconist store (Mid-late 1800s) in Bridge St. This is where the Nelson Suburban Bus station currently stands. The store supplied a range of products including toys, fireworks, gunpowder and shot for firearms, and offered shaves, haircuts and even hot and cold baths! W.H. West also imported a few unusual items such as a "Patent Mechanical Hair Brushing Machine" which he advertised in 1870 as "The Greatest Novelty of the Day!"

Before the invention of safety razors, a straight razor, often referred to as a "cut throat razor" was used. These required a steady hand not just to shave yourself but also to be able to shave someone else! These were sharpened on a leather strop, which also made a handy strap for disobedient children. A barber was judged to be good at shaving according to the number of his customer's shaving mugs he had on display.

Many barbers needed to offer more than just haircuts to prosper. The owner of the American Hair-Dressing Saloon in Trafalgar Street, Professor F.B. Joseph, advertised in 1873 that not only could he cut, shampoo and shave; he could also extract corns, cure head-aches, and give advice on ring-worm and other skin diseases.

The text of this story was written for an Interpretation Panel at Founders Heritage Park, 2010 (updated 2022)

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