A Barber's Pole

It was a fact that back in the 1500s and earlier the large majority of people living across Europe could not read or write. So a business or shop had a problem with how to make a sign so the public knew what goods, products and services they offered.

So many shopkeepers hung a metal emblem that was a symbol of their business or skill. For example, a person who could make locks and keys would have a large key hung outside their business shop. If a person was a tailor of clothes, they could have thread and needle or a large pair of scissors on display.

However, there was the profession of the local barbers who did not just cut hair or shave men but were also phlebotomy (drawing of blood). They were the dentists and healers of their day also. But a common treatment was bloodletting, removing excess blood from the human body and thought to be the best method to improve one’s health was to drain the body of any ‘bad’ blood. A barber would lance the vein in an arm, the blood spiraled down the staff wrapped with a cloth that the patient was holding and then collected in a bowl.

To let the public know that bloodletting was done in a shop, barbers had the blood-streaked staff outside. Over time, the bandages of a wind-dried bloodletting pole would unravel to reveal a macabre candy-cane pattern—the first true barber’s pole. Eventually, the barber had created on a pole the striped pattern of white, red and blue.

Law eventually changed over the centuries and medical surgeons were not to be barbers and barbers not to be surgeons. It was first suggested the barber pole for outside display be blue and white, striped but soon the red was added paying homage to the profession’s bloodletting past. The cap on the top was to represent the blood-catching basin with the spinning motion to represent the customer’s blood, gently swirling down the barber’s staff.

Take another look next time you go by a barber shop.

Photo: Swirling barber pole.

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< Return To Blog Very interesting!
Sara N Martin 5/04/22

Oh yes!
alice 5/04/22

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