Monday, January 21, 2013

History Of Koken Barber Chairs

Antique collectors love Koken barber chairs due to their remarkable style and superior quality. They were state-of-the-art in their hay days, being the first to feature a hydraulic lift for easy handling. The technology wasn't only convenient for barbers, it got the customers engaged too. Overall, it was good for business.

In the 1890's, Ernest Koken had already began working on his hydraulic lift barber chair design. Ernest, a German citizen, was already a reputable individual since 1874 (at age 19). But back then, he worked for a factory selling custom china shaving mugs. When he was just a young boy, Ernest would look at prototype designs as a pastime activity. He was an engineer by heart. It's no wonder that in 1881, he patented his reclining chair design. A decade later (in 1892), he patented his hydraulic chair. If you notice the modern barber chairs these days, most of them are hydraulically powered. This is all thanks to Ernest Koken.

At The Top
When Ernest died in 1907 due to heart failure, his son, Walter went on to run Koken Barber's Supply Company based in St. Louis. Not long after, the company had become the leading barber supply business in the United States. They didn't just sell barber chairs. They provided just about any barber supply as well, including lather brushes, razors, scissors, mirror cases, tool cases and many more. The building still exists today, bounded by Ohio, Sidney and Victor Streets, and alley of Texas Avenue. The National Register of Historic Places in St. Louis, Missouri lists the location as a historic district.

The company went bankrupt in the 1950's due to stiff competition. There were a lot of competing brands that claimed to have similar or better features at discounted prices. Add to that, the times were changing. In the early 60's long hair was all the rage, thanks to John, Paul, George and Ringo. Barbers didn't exactly know how to cut long hair. It turned out that the guys wanted a hairstyle instead of a haircut. In 1969, the Takara Belmont Company acquired Koken along with its numerous patents.

Up to this day, the Koken brand is still being endorsed by Takara Belmont. In 2011, they released the Koken Legacy Barber Chair with prices starting at 4,700 dollars. The brand has come a long way. It definitely wasn't priced that high in the early 1900's, but it goes to show how reputable these chairs are. The antique units are even more pricey, selling for nearly 7,000 bucks for a fully restored chair.

Koken is unquestionably THAT antique barber chair.


  1. Anonymous06 July, 2013

    How much are they worth to antique collectors?

  2. Anonymous15 July, 2013

    I wonder what ever became of the company's business ledgers. It would be interesting to see all the barbers or shops that purchased supplies and equipment in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.