Spitting in a BARBERSHOP

Why do men spit so much? What is it in their nature that creates the need to just lob one into the atmosphere? Sports figures, especially in baseball and football, are notorious for spitting. Each season as I watch football games and see players and coaches on the sidelines spitting I scream at the TV, “What’s wrong with you people?” I then immediately check to see if they’re playing on astroturf. Imagine being the poor underpaid soul who has to clean up the sidelines after a game. Now I know in baseball that a lot of the time they’re spitting tobacco. No excuse. Chew after the game. But at least they’re spitting on real dirt and grass. It will eventually dry up and disappear; not so on astroturf.

Spittoons were invented as receptacle for spit. Tobacco can be blamed for part of this. My maternal grandfather chewed tobacco and had coffee cans all over the house in which he spit. You didn’t want to be in the backseat of the car sitting behind him when he was driving if you both had your windows down. The side of his car…a brown streaked mess. But he’d been told by his doctor he needed to stop smoking and that chewing was an alternative. It was disgusting and my poor grandmother had a furrowed brow whenever you mentioned the cans.

Sepia Saturday this week features tobacco as its theme. I give you three men in a barbershop with a spittoon, the link to tobacco.

Click on image to see it larger.

I found the following historical information on Wikipedia which will help to put the photo in context.
The era of the common spittoon in the United States

In the late 19th century United States and Australia spittoons became a very common feature of pubs, brothels, saloons, hotels, stores, banks, railway carriages, and other places where people (especially adult men) gathered.

Brass was the most common material for spitoons. Other materials used for mass production of spittoons ranged from basic functional iron to elaborately crafted cut glass and fine porcelain. At higher class places like expensive hotels, spittoons could be elaborately decorated.

Spittoons are flat-bottomed, often weighted to minimize tipping over, and often with an interior "lip" to make spilling less likely if they tip. Some have lids, but this is rare. Some have holes, sometimes with a plug, to aid in draining and cleaning.

Use of spittoons was considered an advance of public manners and health, intended to replace previously common spitting on floors, streets, and sidewalks. Many places passed laws against spitting in public other than into a spittoon.

Boy Scout troops organized campaigns to paint "Do not Spit on the Sidewalk" notices on city sidewalks. In 1909 in Cincinnati, Ohio, scout troops together with members of the Anti-Tuberculosis League painted thousands of such messages in a single night.

A mass-produced sign seen in saloons read:

If you expect to rate as a gentlemanDo not expectorate on the floor

Spittoons were also useful for people suffering from tuberculosis who would cough up phlegm. Public spittoons would sometimes contain a solution of an antiseptic such as carbolic acid with the aim of limiting transmission of disease. With the start of the 20th century medical doctors urged tuberculosis sufferers to use personal pocket spittoons instead of public ones; these were jars with tight lids which people could carry with them to spit into. Similar devices are still used by some with tuberculosis.

After the 1918 flu epidemic, both hygiene and etiquette advocates began to disparage public use of the spittoon, and use began to decline. Chewing gum replaced tobacco as the favorite chew of the younger generation. Cigarettes were considered more hygienic than spit-inducing chewing tobacco. While it was still not unusual to see spittoons in some public places in parts of the US as late as the 1930s, vast numbers of old brass spittoons met their ends in the scrap drives of World War II. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
I really wish I’d been able to find out some information about the company that made the sign above the spittoon. Alas, all I can tell you is that it was the Bonheur Company, located in Syracuse, New York. They were a perfumer.

The following is all I found about the company. It is from The American Perfumer and Essential Oil Review, Volume 16; March, 1921—February, 1922.

Just imagine what this post would have been like if I'd focused on perfume instead of spit. Then again..."Budda" Oriental Odor doesn't really make it sound so great.


  1. Well I'm a man, and I don't spit - nor do I think it's acceptable to spit in public places. I feel the same way about sports figures doing it. The idea of a spittoon has always seemed absolutely disgusting to me.

    1. Indeed, I painted with a broad brush. I don't think these days most men spit, but it is something I've discussed with men. Why is it acceptable in some situations for them to spit, but not for women? The bigger question would be why spit in public?

  2. In addition to smokers in my family, we had our share of tobacco chewers too. Some of my brothers-in-law chew and carry those coffee cans around. UGH Thankfully they live at the other side of the state so we don't see them very often.

  3. A marvelous peek into the world of spit. I always worried about the guy who had to clean those spittoons.

  4. Yea, I hate to see folks spit (occasionally Ive see young lasses do it) I take it as a personal insult.
    I remember a pub in Halifax ,which up until the late60s had sawdust on its floor..in order to soak up the spit! Compared to this,I guess spittoons were a quite sophisticated development!

  5. I know I so hate that, especially when walking up to where some one clearly had just spit! It's horrible. As a child I remember asking my mother why? Then I learned that folks (like my father's uncle) had this gold object to spit into, right next to the dining room table! Yikes! But I also learned that many men chewed this stuff like chewing gum, but not!!! and once the flavor was gone they just put it in the gold thing! We have many an antique store that sells them today.

  6. Spitting in any form is a disgusting habit which we still see being carried out. I don't think I have ever seen a spittoon in use.

  7. Decades ago, my great uncle chewed, and every time we visited him in the nursing home we had to bring some empty catfood tins for his spitting habit. Keeping a cheek full of tobacco is still common here in the NC mountains, and last year when I had a garage built, the concrete workers made the foundation termite proof from all their spit.

  8. Eeeew. I agree with anyjazz above. I fee that emptying and cleaning an ashtray would be preferable to emptying and cleaning a spittoon.

  9. I hope those cut glass spittoons were at least a dark color. And now, of course, we know about the cancers caused by chewing tobacco.

  10. I was going to comment on this post yesterday but I forgot to press word verification and then left the page and moved on. So I just wanted to say that I really like your take on this week's meme. I loathe spitting too. Really loathe it. When we named our son Caspar my husband's best mate took great delight in telling us that a cuspidore was another name for a spitoon. All I can say is that he is the 'spit' of his Dad ;)

    1. It was the only photo I could think of for tobacco, and it was one I'd been dying to use.

      And how does your son like his name? What jokes did he hear in school?

  11. I am glad that I seldom see anyone spit anymore. I can remember that was more common back when I was grwoing up and thought it was strange. I asked my grandma once and she said that men spit to wash out their dirty mouths! Long ago,we acquired an old spitoon at an auction in one of those boxes. It's no longer with us. Interesting as always to read your posts.

  12. As a child and young adult, I never saw anyone spit on the street. Now I see men doing it all the time, and I am really disgusted by it. It reminds me of male cats marking their territory.

  13. As I mentioned elsewhere,
    my grandfather had one.
    Neither my grandma nor my mother
    wanted to clean this.
    Spitting to me is revolting
    and a clear show of bad manners.
    I would make them lick the sidewalk where they just spat on 'till it's clean.
    But that's just me!!!...