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    Auction Finds

    A fancy antique toilet bowl

    The male auction staffer heaved the ceramic bowl up onto a table top. The thing looked monstrous from where I stood back away from the auctioneer and crowd of bidders in the furniture room.

    I rarely buy furniture but I always do a walk-through before the furniture auction starts just to see what has turned up. I had missed this toilet bowl because it was hidden in a far corner behind some heavy furniture in a space near some neat old wooden tables painted lime green and white. Remove the garish colors and you’d have two wonderful pieces.

    This antique Victorian toilet bowl was made by a company called Ronalds & Johnson of Brooklyn, NY.

    I was actually waiting for the auction of a lovely Yamaha grand piano when the toilet came up for sale. For such a utilitarian item, it was elaborate, with a curvy embossed design along its side that likely made it a fashionable seat in someone’s equally nice bathroom. It probably had not been used for ages, for on the side was a wide cinnamon-colored stain that looked like rust. It needed a good long cleaning.

    At the angle it was sitting there on the table, I wasn’t sure what it was. From afar, it resembled a toilet bowl but it didn’t have a tank. It didn’t look like the bowl in my house nor the plain and simple ones you see at Lowe’s and Home Depot. Those are lightweight, not the heavy ceramic that this one was made of. Maybe the lack of a tank was throwing me off.

    An up-close view of the embossed design on the exterior of the bowl.

    When I moved into my home some years ago, it came with a lovely claw-foot tube in the bathroom on the third floor, with fixtures that seemed to be original. The house was built in the 1920s, so the tub was likely the same age. I’ve had to change its leaky fixtures as well as the toilet, and if I could have found a reproduction toilet like this fancy one, I would’ve gone for it.

    Toilets of any kind don’t come up often at the auctions I attend. Bathroom fixtures – most new and still in the box – are much more common, along with cabinets, lighting and glass shelves. At an on-site house sale once, several chamber pots or slop jars were auctioned.

    Searching the web, I found a similar toilet bowl on the site Vintage Plumbing – which also offered a page of questions and answers about such plumbing – that described it as Victorian. The site had a circa 1902 toilet bowl made by the John Douglas Co. (founded in 1887 in Cincinnati, OH, but no longer around, the site said) and a bowl marked W S Cooper Brass Works of Philadelphia, circa 1889. Vintage Plumbing was selling bowls for up to $2,600. A Victorian bidet was on sale for $1,500. Another site had a Douglas bowl circa 1890 that sold for $550.

    An inside view of the toilet bowl. It needed a good cleaning.

    Stamped on the toilet bowl at auction was the name Ronalds & Johnson Co. at the back and Vigilant on the front rim. This was a Brooklyn, NY, company, according to a 1902 book that mentioned its bowling team.

    Bidding on the bowl started high – as usual – then went low, but not low enough for anyone to readily speak up. To lighten the bidding, one of the staffers described the bowl as a garden planter. I suppose a lot of creative thinking could design it into a planter, but who’d want it in their garden?





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