Antiques & Collectables - Chamber Pots

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Upon a recent visit to a local saleroom, I noticed a very large collection of chamber pots coming up for auction.  Every shape, size and pattern from both British and foreign factories.  Some perfect, some chipped (I wonder how that happened?); 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 material, followed by porcelain, pewter, earthenware and wood.  Wooden chamber pots, being virtually unbreakable, were particularly in favour for children and they are known to have been 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 quite common objects for coach travel and very handy on long distance train journeys before they had corridors and toilets fitted.

 

Certainly during the 19th century, the Stoke-on-Trent factories were kept busy building up production for bedroom earthenware; to a point where, at 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 mechanical toilet became a reality and over the next 50 years the production of bedroom utensils declined to practically zero.

 

Well known factories produced these and 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 1920's, we can see that the jug, bowl, and pot sets were standard stock in trade.  A 6-piece set would cost 18s/11d (approximately 90p), or a deluxe set would cost 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!).  Certainly during the 1970' s/80's, there was an unprecedented demand for old jug, bowl, and pot sets.  Tens of thousands were exported to the USA.  This demand for the old coincided with the decline in production of the new.

 

A collection of chamber pots in the auction was entered by a vendor who had them hanging from beams in his public house for decoration; I am sure promoting many a joke and talking point for customers; never used in the pub, obviously?!

 

Chamber pots have always been a source of humour.  Some manufacturers would produce pots with an eye in the base, together with a lewd inscription.  Sunderland Lustre decorated wares occasionally have a fixed, concealed lifelike frog inside the body of the vessel which, I am sure, by candlelight gave 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 the better models was around £15/£20 each.  This certainly shows an increased value on the 1920 price when I suppose a single chamber pot would have cost around 20p!

 

 

 

Today, the younger generation, in the most part, would have no idea what these things were used for.  They may have seen them in auntie’s front room with a few geraniums in them or maybe in the springtime, a few hyacinths, for they are quite useful to carry the plants around with by holding the handle, little knowing that they spent more time under the bed in the past decades than ever they did on the sideboard, but they haven’t fitted in well in today’s young generation, and I’m afraid they have become a historic domestic utensil rather like the jug and bowl that has lost its place; this, therefore, means that their value on the open market has plummeted and you could take your pick for probably £10 or £20, but still good for the flower arrangers and the people who want to plant their early crocuses, but I doubt whether they will ever go back under the bed again.

 

 

Mike Hicks

16 June 2018