When Mike Naegele thinks about the number of posteriors that have graced the barber chair now occupying the second station at his Ralston Barbershop, he’s humbled.
“Probably thousands of people — hundreds of thousands.” he said. “It’s crazy to even think about.”
This spring, Naegele was the sole bidder on the chair, a 1909 Kochs model that appeared in an auction of a whole barbershop’s worth of fixtures and furnishings from a shop in Red Cloud, Neb.
For the most part, the chair is entirely authentic. The leather upholstery of its seat is new, but its chrome and ornate woodwork have been well cared for and are nearly immaculate.
Naegele, who installed the chair in April, demonstrated that its hydraulics and swivel mechanism are still operational.
“Handcrafted and fully functional,” he said. “You don’t see many of these around, especially in this kind of condition. And they don’t make them like this anymore, that’s for sure. It’s an original. It looks simple, but it’s effective.”
The chair’s footrest gleamingly trumpets the Kochs name and the word “HYDRAULIC,” both in 4-inch chrome lettering.
Naegele isn’t certain of the chair’s provenance before its Red Cloud stop, but he imagines it was probably in the south-central Nebraska town for a significant amount of time.
If that’s the case, the chair may very well have served as a point of repose for any number of Nebraska luminaries — historical or fictional — who orbited the literary world that was Willa Cather’s. Cather and her family moved to Red Cloud from Virginia in the early 1880s.
On the back of the chair’s seat is a small metal nameplate bearing the legend “A.L. Undeland, Omaha, Neb.” Undeland, a Norwegian immigrant, was a dealer in barber supplies in Omaha in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Another plate on the chair’s headrest reads “UNIVERSAL” and lists a patent date of Oct. 5, 1909.
On the television show “Pawn Stars,” a 1909 Kochs chair was appraised at $8,500. Naegele said he saw a website listing his exact model at $10,000.
“Neither of those were in the kind of shape mine’s in,” he said.
Naegele said while many have asked, he hasn’t cut any hair in the antique chair, and only a handful of people have sat in it since he bought it.
Speaking of having a seat in the chair, the piece generates plenty of conversation over its narrow seat.
“We were a little skinnier back then,” Naegele said. “People were walking to the barbershop from the farm a few miles away.”
Eventually he’d like to have the chair in his basement at home.
“It’ll be my Husker football beer-drinking chair,” he said. “It’s my baby and I’m holding on to this one, even if I have to have an arm removed. It’s a family heirloom now, a one-of-a-kind.”