Men have been shaving since the time of the ancient Egyptians, but Jerry Carter is most interested in the customs practiced in the United States from about 1870 to the 1920s.

That was when getting a shave at the local barbershop was at its zenith, ushering in the use of personalized shaving mugs and straight-edged razors with fancy carved handles.

With the invention of the safety razor, shaving at home became easier and the barbershop custom faded. Shortly thereafter, mugs and straight-edged razors became collectible, part of what is known as "barberania."

Carter, of Hampton, began buying mugs and razors at flea markets and auctions in the 1960s, and it's good he did because they are mostly in the hands of collectors now.

"You never see them anymore," he said. "They've all been bought up."

The mugs contained soap that the barber would whisk into a lather with a brush, then apply to a customer's face. Men with personalized mugs left them in specially built shelves at the barber's to be used week to week. 

Carter's mugs fall into three distinct categories: "flowers and fruit," fraternal and occupational.

"Flowers and fruit" are those that are hand-painted with what many would consider feminine subjects. Yet, there they are. "Maybe the wife bought them," Carter said.

Fraternal are those hand-painted with organizational logos and names such as the Elks, Moose, Odd Fellows or Masons.

Occupational — Carter's favorites and the most sought-after — are those that are hand-painted with a scene reflecting the man's job and his name printed in gold.

Among his favorites: a blacksmith mug that shows a man shoeing horses and a farming mug that depicts a man plowing with horses. Others include a baker, a train engineer, a merchant, a bricklayer and a butcher. 

Turn the mugs over and you'll see by the marks on the bottom that most were made in Limoges, France, or Germany.


Straight-edge razors are the other big collectible, with the value increased by the material and embellishment of the handle.

Carter's favorite has a handle made of carved ivory depicting a stork eating a fish. He found it at a shop in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, still in its original (though rather beaten-up) box. The words on the top: Globe Cutlery Price: $3.

Other subjects for the carved handles are naked women, a windmill and animals.

In addition to ivory, handles were made of Bakelite, an early type of plastic. The most basic razor — the "plain Jane" — had an unadorned black handle.

Carter is a member of the National Shaving Mug Collectors Association, and he has attended shows in Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis.

"They're two-day affairs full of very rich people and Jerry Carter," he said. "No kidding. It's all doctors, lawyers and a few barbers. That's where all the memorabilia is. It's all in clubs. It's all been bought up."

Other categories in "barberania" include shoeshine gear ("Most fancy barbershops had shoe shiners, too," Carter said), pinup calendars, barber poles, spittoons, signs, chairs and various tonic bottles.

How it all began

Carter, a retired junior high school teacher, has been collecting since he was about 10 years old, picking up fossils, and Native American arrowheads and tools in area farm fields and woods.

Once bitten by the collecting bug, he branched into other areas, including kitchen items, sad irons that were salesmen samples, children's toys, mustache cups, glass coin banks, and antique fishing lures and tackle.

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