A fancy antique toilet bowl
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    Auction Finds

    Toilets too nice for their intended use

    I was watching one of those TV antique shows recently when one of its buyers-with-too-much-money-and-not-enough-smarts bought an old potty. It reminded him of the kind he had used as a child growing up in Brooklyn, NY, and he paid an insane amount of money for it.

    I thought he was nuts because his assignment was to find items he could sell at auction. Who’s going to buy someone else’s used toilet, especially if it was a plain and simple one worth nothing more than a few memories? He paid $105 for the wooden commode with the white potty, which sold at auction for $12.50.

    vintage toilet with chamber pot

    A peek inside the porcelain chamber pot in the toilet at auction.

    Vintage toilets don’t come up very often at the auctions I attend. I can think of only one – a lovely antique porcelain toilet bowl with an embossed design made by a company that was around during the turn of the 20th century. It had some rust stains and need a good scrubbing. Googling, I was surprised to learn how much toilets like it fetched on the web.

    So, when I saw two toilets and other vintage bathroom items at auction recently, I stopped to investigate. The portable toilets with white porcelain chamber pots hidden beneath lift-up covers sat on a table and the floor. A milk glass wash basin sat atop a wooden stand, while another in a brown Johnson Brothers-style pattern was on a table nearby.

    vintage toilet with chamber pot

    This wash stand looks as if it came from a luxury ocean liner. It was for sale at another auction a few months ago.

    The wash stand was the second I had seen recently. At another auction a few months ago, a wooden stand that stood just as tall as me was among some nautical items for sale. It looked like pretty standard furniture until I opened its doors, and found a metal face bowl in its middle compartment and a copper tub and pourer at the bottom.

    The stand had some age on it, and likely had been in an upper-class cabin on a ship or luxury cruise liner like the old White Star line.

    vintage toilet with chamber pot

    A milk glass wash basin with stand.

    I prefer the old porcelain wash basins in lovely patterns. I was so enamored with one such piece at auction a couple years ago that I bought it. Only cost me $5, and another buyer complimented me on how little I paid for it and the lack of competition for it. I’ve never used it; it’s still sitting prettily in my basement.

    The toilets at auction were about two feet tall with handles on both sides that resembled Eastlake hardware. There was a label on the bottom of each, but I didn’t want to touch the toilets without gloves.

    vintage toilet with chamber pot

    This wash basin is in a pattern similar to Johnson Brothers, an English china maker.

    They both also had removable chamber pots, recalling a time before indoor plumbing made way for more sanitary means of disposal.

    It has been said that a plumber named Thomas Crapper invented the modern toilet. Apparently, he did not (even the word “crapper” wasn’t named for him, according to several sites). English writer John Harington built the first water closet – called Ajax – that he used both in his home and that of his godmother Queen Elizabeth I in 1596. It had to be emptied regularly, just like the chamber pot.

    A London jeweler named Alexander Cummings patented the first flush toilet in 1775, followed by others who perfected it.

    vintage toilet with chamber pot

    The side of the toilet (left) with the Eastlake-style hardware and the covered chamber pot.

    Scott Paper Co. was the first company to sell toilet tissue on a roll in the 1890s, but the Chinese were the first to produce toilet paper itself in the 14th century. Here are some of the things people used through the ages in place of toilet paper.

    With a good cleaning and scrubbing, the toilets at auction could have been put to good use. A site selling one for $95 suggested using a vintage toilet as a trash can in the bathroom. You could also make it into a planter – for outdoors, of course.

    How would you use it?


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