May 2, 2012 Edition

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Vintage barber pole
refurbished in WR

Terry Heard, who has been a barber for 42 years with 21 of them spent at Whiteway Barber Shop on Abbey Road, shows off the shop's barber pole that Charles Snapp recently restored. The pole dates back to the early '50s and was built by the Marvy Company in Minnesota, the only company in North America who still makes barber poles.
TD Photo ~ Gloria Wilkerson

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

The barber pole at Whiteway Barber Shop on Abbey Road in Walnut Ridge has been refurbished, and the age of the pole was discovered during the process, along with some interesting facts about barber poles.

"After removing years of paint and tape from the pole, I discovered a serial number on it and managed to locate the company that built it," said Charles Snapp of Walnut Ridge, who owns the building and has spent about 40 hours restoring the pole.

According to Snapp the pole was built between late 1953 and the middle of 1954 by the William Marvy Company of St. Paul, Minn.

Snapp said the two parts he needed for repairs came from Cache Beauty Supply in Jonesboro, a huge distributor of Marvy products and pole replacement parts. The pole Snapp repaired has a type 'A' motor mount that was only used in the first 5,000 poles the Marvy Company built.

"It is all original except for the inner colored sleeve and the motor," Snapp said. "We have the original motor and it is being repaired. We also have the top and bottom metal plates of the inner sleeve and are working with the Marvy Company to build a paper inner sleeve using our original sleeve."

Once they are repaired, those two components will be stored in case they are needed for future use.

William Marvy began producing barber poles in 1936, and the Marvy family now owns the only company in North America that makes the poles. After Marvy hit the 1950 barber-supply trade show in Chicago with his "six ways better pole" - a pole The Wall Street Journal called the first real improvement in the barber pole in a quarter of a century - his competitors began dropping off, one by one.

It is one of these poles that adorns the outside of Whiteway Barber Shop where Terry Heard has worked as a barber for the past 21 years.

The barbershop's close proximity to Beatles Park is somewhat ironic since Marvy once said that when The Beatles came along, they drove a lot of barbers crazy.

"They made "crewcut" a nasty word," he said.

"The old barber was accustomed to just plain haircutting," Marvy added. "The fellows who were on their toes knew that the only way to stay in business was not to fight their customers. Some of them began calling themselves hair stylists, and the ones who used their noodles remained in business."

Marvy made his 50,000th pole in 1967. He died in 1993.

The modern barber pole originated in the days when bloodletting was one of the principal duties of the barber. The barber's necessities for that procedure were a staff for the patient to grasp so the veins on the arm would stand out sharply, a basin to hold leeches and catch blood, and a copious supply of linen bandages.

After the operation was completed, the bandages would be hung up on the staff and sometimes placed outside as advertisement. Twirled by the wind, they would form a red and white spiral pattern that was later adopted for painted poles. The earliest poles were topped by a leech basin, which in time was transformed into a ball.

One interpretation of the colors on the barber pole was that red represented the blood, blue represented the veins, and the white was representative of the bandages.

Those colors have been retained by modern barbers/stylists.

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