Wash stands have broad collecting appeal

September 16, 2018

Each morning as you wash your face, brush your teeth and go through your preparations for the day, you might count your blessings for the conveniences all centered around today’s bathroom sink. Water readily appears when a lever is turned and just as quickly disappears when a plug is pulled.

This has not always been the case since indoor plumbing hadn’t been common place in America until the 1930s. Up until that time, someone would have to tote the water in and out of house.

Once folks got over going to the creek bed to wash up they began to create furniture inside the house to take care of their morning “toilet.” One such helpful item was the wash stand or washhand stand that was created to hold a bowl and pitcher of water, a towel and a chamber pot.

At first, it was just a utilitarian piece of furniture made up of two shelves, later additions would add a mirror. The bottom shelf near the floor was to hold the chamber pot and the upper more waist high shelf was circular to hold the bowl and pitcher.

As time moved along, the simple stand became more of a cabinet. One way to tell the age of wash stand is the size of it — the smaller ones are older and the larger more ornate cabinets are from a more recent period.

The cabinets would often have a compartment with a door for the chamber pot and drawers to hold towels and soap. A towel bar would be attached either on the back or side and the more elaborate ones would have mirrors as well.

Many of the cabinets that date from the early 20th Century could have marble tops that were used to avoid water and soap marks. A French marble called “St. Anne’s” was preferred in that it didn’t interact with the alkali in soap. Oak seems to be the most often used wood though others like mahogany, walnut and rosewood can be found. They come in all sorts of furniture styles from Empire to Sheriton.

Wash stands have been around since the 16th Century and were very popular in the 18th and 19th Century. This makes for lots of washhand stands for antiquers to find in today’s market.

Like all antiques, value will depend on condition and rarity but even so the cost of this utilitarian cabinet usually is less than $500. The more unique and aged ones could reach much higher in value and cost.

Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.

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