The humble, once essential chamber pot has found a new lease of life in modern households as an attractive object in its own right.
In Queen Victoria's day, only the wealthy could afford the new-fangled water closet
(Prince Albert had a portable one installed in his bedroom) - the average citizen had to be
content with a 'guzunder'.
This nickname for the chamber pot referred to the habit of sliding it
under the bed at night (guzunder 'goes under the bed'), but in fact chamber pots were used in other parts
of the house too.
They were sometimes hidden behind the panelling in the dining room or
smoking room, or were contained in a pot cupboard or purpose-built commode designed to
look like an elegant piece of furniture.
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
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
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
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
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.