More than just a utilitarian piece of furniture, antique Koken barber chairs are actually works of art. Because of the gorgeous materials and craftsmanship in these chairs, collectors now seek them out and pay thousands of dollars for them.
Koken Barber Chair Company History
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Koken Barbers Supply Company crafted thousands of these chairs for barbers throughout the country. Located in St. Louis, Missouri, Koken was more than just the largest barber supply company in the United States; it was also the brand of barber chair. The company's founder, Earnest E. Koken, held patents for several important barber supply products.
- 1881 - Koken patented a barber chair that reclined, allowing the barber to shave clients more easily.
- 1885-1888 - Koken received patents for barber chairs that revolved and reclined, giving barbers even more flexibility in serving customers.
- 1892 - The company patented a hydraulic-powered barber chair, for which the Koken eventually became renowned.
- 1926 - The company opened the Koken Foundry, which allowed it to manufacture up to 100 chairs every day.
- 1950s - The Koken Barbers Supply Company went out of business. For a time, a Japanese company used the Koken name to produce barber supplies.
Identifying Koken Barber Chairs
You can identify a Koken barber chair because the company marked most chairs with the name. Examine the metal parts of the chair for the word "Koken." From there, you can learn more about it. Knowing the date it was made, the model, and the serial number can help you determine a chair's value.
Determining the Age of a Koken Barber Chair
One of the easiest ways to determine the age of a Koken chair is to look at the features it has. Reclining chairs without a hydraulic lift system may date to the 1880s and early 1890s. Koken became famous for the lift system, and many of the chairs made after 1892 have this feature.
You can also examine the styling for clues, since the company followed the trends of the time. Chairs made in the 1920s and 1930s have a distinct Art Deco look, and those made near the end of the company's history have a mid-century appeal.
Finding the Serial Number on Your Chair
Most Koken barber chairs are stamped with a serial number. To find yours, look under the seat cushion. The number may be stamped on the underside of the wood or on the chair frame.
Koken Barber Chair Materials
Craftsmen used only the finest materials to manufacture many models of Koken barber chairs. Many examples feature tufted leather seats, padded arm and foot rests, and frames constructed of quarter-sawn oak or walnut. The frames sometimes featured elaborate wood carvings. On these chairs, even the metalwork was ornate. The seat brackets, parts of the footrest, and the base all have beautiful scroll designs and high-quality craftsmanship. Some of the most valuable antique Koken chairs feature working hydraulic lifts for which the company was famous.
Value of Antique Koken Barber Chairs
These chairs have a wide range in value, which varies depending on the chair's condition, age, and features. They can range from a few hundred dollars to $6,000 or more.
Lower Value Koken Chairs
At the low end of the value spectrum, a complete Koken chair with major condition issues might sell for less than $500. A chair in this price range could have some rust, major upholstery issues, or poorly replaced upholstery, and would probably date from the 1940s or 1950s. It would likely not feature elaborate carvings or a working hydraulic lift.
For example, an unrestored Koken barber chair from the 1950s sold for about $400.
Higher Value Koken Chairs
A more sought after Koken chair could sell for as much as $5,000 to $6,000. This type of chair would be in perfect condition and would have a working hydraulic lift, beautiful wood carvings, and original leather upholstery in perfect condition. It would probably hail from the late 1800s through the Art Deco era.
A 1920s Koken barber chair in excellent condition sold for about $4,500. It had a working hydraulic mechanism and had been fully restored.
Where to Buy Koken Barber Chairs
Koken barber chairs make an attention-getting display at a salon or private home. While they are relatively rare, you may have good luck finding one if you look at the following sources:
- Local antique shops
- Online auction sites like eBay
- Craigslist and local newspaper classified ads
- Sales from old beauty schools and estate sales
It's important to note that an antique barber chair can weigh hundreds of pounds, so shipping these items across the country can be cost-prohibitive. If you can find a local option for buying or selling an antique barber chair, you will save on the cost of transportation.
Part of Hair Styling History
Koken barber chairs are an important part of hair styling history, but they aren't the only vintage and antique barber chairs you'll see. It's fun to browse the many options for these beautiful and functional treasures and learn about their history.