Last week we looked at period washing facilities, this week it’s the turn of the humble, but essential, chamber pot. I love this patriotic one dating from 1815 with Napoleon strategically placed to get what he deserved on the home front.
Many Victorians would have referred to their pots as ‘the guzunder’ – because it ‘goes under’ the bed at night and would have been astonished to see them proudly displayed as the collectables or plant holders they are today.
Some were rather elegant like this genteel piece of Spode with lid.
Others offered a sea-side humour usually, featured on less expensive pots.
And, of course, they were not just confined to under the bed…
There are even collectables for fans of Clarice Cliff.
My thanks to the antiques and art collectibles website for their sound advice on collecting all things potty: http://www.antiques-art-collectibles.com/collectible/ceramics/chamber_pot.html
SHAPE AND PATTERN
The history of chamber pots can be traced back to pre-Christian times. The shape seems to have changed very little over all these centuries, but the decoration has varied greatly, reaching its height of inventiveness in the Victorian period.
Sometimes the decoration was moulded (in the form of shell patterns or ribbons and bow motifs, for example), but painted or transfer-printed ornamentation was more common.
Scenic designs were the most popular – you can find Italian ruins, panoramic views and even Indian hunting scenes.
The ‘Abbey’ pattern – a ruin surrounded by trees with a lake in the foreground was particularly popular and was used by several British and foreign manufacturers.
PLUMBING THE DEPTHS
Inevitably, the chamber pot attracted many humorous designs. A staring eye on the interior base was an enduringly popular motif, frogs were realistically portrayed climbing up inside the pot, and mottoes abounded. “Pass it this way my dear” was a favourite, often printed on two-handed pots made for married couples.
Victorian politicians were lampooned on chamber pots and, in the 1940s, Adolf Hitler was pictured inside and users were exhorted to “Have this one on old nasty”.
CHAMBER POT COLLECTOR’S NOTES
It is ironic that an object with such an ‘unmentionable’ function should now he so proudly displayed as an ornamental piece in so many homes.
Yet there is no doubt that the comfortable roundness of shape and the diversity of pattern make chamber pots highly attractive to look at.
They make marvellous plant pot holders either floor-standing or arranged up a flight of stairs, adding a touch of greenery to the decor.
Most potteries manufactured chamber pots, and you can find examples by many notable factories, among them Ashworth’s (manufacturers of Mason’s Patent Ironstone), Minton, Royal Doulton, Spode and Wedgewood.
In the 1930s Clarice Cliff, one of the most illustrious of designers of the time, produced an art deco chamber pot of conventional shape but with a geometric pattern.
Chamber pots bearing a manufacturer’s name will cost more than unmarked pots of comparable quality.
FINDING THE UNUSUAL
Anything that lifts a pot out of the ordinary will also tend to increase its value.
Lidded pots are not unusual, for example, but it is a bonus to find then as part of a complete matching toilet set. These sets typically comprised a pair of pots, a wash bowl, ewer, slop pail, toothbrush holder, soap and sponge dish.
Many such sets were made, but often one item has been lost or damaged over the years, reducing the value of he whole.
Large pots are rare, but miniature chamber pots were frequently issued as novelties, and small pots were made for the use of children.
These were sometimes decorated with suitable nursery scenes, and there is one at the Anglesey Toy Museum showing a design based on an illustration by Kate Greenaway, an artist famous for her children’s books.
Among the other types of personalized chamber pots are those made for barge owners. These earthenware pots were made in Derbyshire, but they are named after Measham in Leicestershire, their place of sale.
They are glazed a heavy brown and, like the barges, painted with bright flowers.
Not all chamber pots were made of pottery, of course. Pewter was once a common material for pots, but its use for this purpose had died out by the 19th century, so pewter examples are usually fairly early in date.
Silver chamber pots can be found, but they are very expensive, and the super-rich sometimes had pots enamelled and encrusted with precious stones. However, you are unlikely to see an example outside a major museum.
On the whole, the collector of chamber pots is not likely to have to worry about forgeries or doctored pieces. However, blue and white ware has been much reproduced, so you need to be careful when buying it.