An essential item before the first flush of history
PUBLISHED: 14:39 16 June 2018
Collectables: Mike Hicks looks at a pre-loo item...
Upon a recent visit to a local saleroom, I noticed a very large collection of chamber pots. There were every shape, size and pattern from both British and foreign factories, and decorated with birds, trees, flowers, art nouveau, art deco - every fashion catered for to brighten up the bedroom.
Chamber pots, like most domestic objects, had their social gradings. Certainly in the 18th and 19th centuries silver would have been the ultimate, followed by porcelain, pewter, earthenware and wood. Wooden chamber pots were particularly in favour for children and were used certainly up until the early part of the 20th century in rural districts of Scotland and Wales.
These vessels were turned, with a slightly convex rim and normally made of sycamore. Even a child’s chair could be fitted with a chamber pot, again mostly in wood, earthenware or, in the late 19th century, enamel. There was also a travelling chamber pot, usually in a pine case which was painted black and fitted with leather straps and a carrying handle. These were very handy for coach travel and then on long train journeys before they had corridors and toilets fitted.
During the 19th century the Stoke factories were kept busy producing bedroom earthenware. By around 1890, almost every home in the United Kingdom would have had a jug and bowl and toilet set. At about this time the flush toilet became a reality and over the next 50 years the production of bedroom utensils declined to practically zero.
Probably the most sought-after were those made by Mason’s Ironstone factory. Some of their products were decorated with Imari patterns and lavish gilding. Looking back to a retail catalogue of the 1920s, we can see that the jug, bowl, and pot sets were standard stock in trade. A six-piece set would cost 18s/11d (approximately 90p), a deluxe set 69s/6d (which is about £3.50).
These became collectors’ items, particularly with the Americans who thought they were fascinating objects (which makes me wonder what they used!). Tens of thousands were exported to the USA during the 1970s/80s.
The collection in the auction was entered by a vendor who had them hanging from beams in his pub, which I am sure prompted many a joke from customers. For chamber pots have always been a source of humour. Some makers would produce pots with an eye in the base, together with a lewd inscription. Sunderland Lustre wares occasionally have a concealed ‘frog’ inside which, by candlelight, would have given one or two ladies quite a surprise!
Prices at the auction varied from £10/£15 for the lesser important vessels to £50 for a pair of Royal Doulton transfer-printed pots. The average price for better models was around £15/£20 each.
Today the younger generation will have little idea what these things were used for. They may have seen them in great-auntie’s front room with a few geraniums in them, little knowing that they spent more time under the bed in the past decades than ever they did on the sideboard. This also means their value on the open market has plummeted. You can take your pick for probably £10 or £20, but they are still good for the flower arrangers... but I doubt whether they will ever go back under the bed again.
Mike Hicks runs Stalham Antique Gallery at 29 High Street, Stalham (NR12 9AH). You can contact Mike on 01692 580636 or firstname.lastname@example.org.