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posted: 6/29/2013 5:51 AM

Potty chair will attract some collectors, repel others

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  • This "potty" chair would be slightly distasteful to some collectors, but its history may be interesting to others.

    This "potty" chair would be slightly distasteful to some collectors, but its history may be interesting to others.

By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson

Q. I have owned this "potty" chair since 1970. It has been refinished once to my knowledge. I can find no marking on it, but it came from the old Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts. Any information would be appreciated.

A. Over the years, this sort of device has had a number of names -- most of them euphemisms for what this really is: a toilet chair.

Indoor plumbing was not common in the Western world until the 20th century, and until that time, if someone had to "go to the bathroom" (another euphemism) in the middle of the night, it could be a long and somewhat unpleasant trip to the "little house out back."

Since at least the 16th century, people of means often had a "close stool," which was an enclosed cabinet or box at sitting height that had an opening in the top that was positioned above a removable pewter or pottery bucket-like receptacle. This hole had a cover of some sort to disguise the close stool's actual function.

The piece in today's question is a turn of the 20th century "toilet chair" or "potty chair." Peeking through the dark wood stain that has been applied to it sometime in the past, we believe we see oak grain. The pressed-in decoration on the chair's crest rail confirms this is likely to be an oak chair and of turn-of-the-century origin.

More precisely, this is a spindle-back, adult-sized potty chair that was probably manufactured no earlier than 1895 and no later than 1910 or so. Child-sized "potty" chairs were also made.

We have known a few people who collect this sort of thing, but most collectors find such devices distasteful and don't think they have a place in either their bedroom or living room. The chair in today's question may be a little more distasteful to many because it came from the notorious Bridgewater State Hospital near Bridgewater, Mass.

This facility was founded in 1855 as an almshouse. Later it became a workhouse for those with short sentences, and now is a facility for the criminally insane. At the turn of the 20th century, when this chair might have been used there, Bridgewater was not a pleasant place to be. This fact will attract some collectors while creeping out others.

This is an interesting piece, but its monetary value is relatively modest because of what it is and where it was used. For insurance purposes, this chair's value is between $100 and $150.

• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.

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