barber tonsorial artist

History Lesson: Barbers versus Tonsorial Artists

Did you know? Barbers used to be called tonsorial artists and barber-surgeons because they were considered skilled craftsmen who not only specialized in hair cutting, hair dressing, and hair styling, but who also dressed wounds, performed surgical operations and bloodletting, and pulled teeth. The term “tonsorial” comes from the Latin word “tonsurare,” which means “to shear” or “to shave.” In the 19th and early 20th centuries, barbers were known for their artistic ability to create intricate hairstyles and designs for nobility, and they were often seen as the go-to professionals for men’s grooming needs.

In 1745, a bill was passed separating barbers from surgeons. When the barber-surgeons separated, the barber kept the pole as its identification. The pole consists of red and white, or red, white and blue stripes. Red for blood, white for bandages and blue for veins.

The Barbers Protective Union was formed on December 6, 1886, in Columbus, Ohio. Then in 1897, the state of Minnesota passed legislation for a barber license. For the next forty years various states enacted legislation whereby barbers were licensed and inspected for sterilization to protect the public from disease. With the enactment of the licensing laws and stringent inspections, diseases such as impetigo, anthrax, ringworm and barbers itch are seldom heard of today.

The term “tonsorial artist” was used to highlight the artistic and creative aspects of barbering. It emphasized the skill and creativity required to create unique hairstyles and designs, and it also elevated the status of barbers to that of respected professionals.

While the term “tonsorial artist” has fallen out of use in recent years, the artistry and creativity of barbers continues to be recognized and appreciated. Today, barbershops remain popular gathering places for men and male-identified, and the skill and creativity of barbers continue to be valued and celebrated.