Old Fashioned Bedsteads
( Originally Published 1905 )
EVEN in the earliest times some attempts were made to have the resting-place soft and warm. The warrior, coming home from war or chase, threw his wearied frame on a simple couch laid upon the floor and covered himself with furs. Little by little the frame of the bed was raised from the floor, coverings grew more elaborate, greater ease was required, and gradually the elaborate structure we require to-day was evolved. As late as the fourteenth century beds were objects of luxury in England. Many a castle had but one, in which the lord and his lady rested, the remainder of the household sleeping on settles, chests, tables, or on the floor.
After Italy, France soonest had elegant and luxurious household belongings, and the palaces of royalty, as well as those of the great nobles, were rich in precious and costly things. Charles V and Jeanne de Bourbon were great collectors, and although the queen sold a set of plate of which she was very proud to pay the troops of Du Guesclin in 1369, she soon began to collect again, and the king had a list made of their valuables which still is extant in the French archives. From it we learn that they had statuettes of ivory and gold, sets of gold plates, basins and candlesticks of the same metal, drinking-cups, knives, and spoons, even if there were only three forks. There were sets of hangings for windows and beds, one being entirely of cloth of gold, another of green with stripes of gold, while a tent to put over the queen's bath was of white satin embroidered with roses and fleur-de-lis. The beds in use at this time were enormous. If only six feet square they were called couchettes or little beds, and they had to be eight feet and a half to twelve feet by eleven before they were called couches or beds. These beds were mounted on wide steps or dais, and hung with exquisite materials. The bedding mentioned in this same list seems to have been kept in chests in the bedrooms. A quantity of white silk sheets are spoken of as being in a coffer in the king's room, and in a gilded chest were towels, tablecloths, and sheets of toile de Reims, also richly embroidered pillows, one of which had on it a knight, a lady, two fountains, and two lions. There were couvertoers, or warm coverings for winter, and couvertures or sheets of fine material to be thrown over the beds by day. One of these is mentioned as being of ermine, fastened to an old sheet of marramas, from which the king had caused a breadth to be cut to make a chasuble.
There were bills from a Marie Lallemande for blue and white stuff for the window curtains of the royal bedroom, and for eighteen feather-beds with pillows. In the midst of all this elegance it is amusing to find duly set down : " Item, an old matrass all torn and a pillow the same which had belonged to King Jean."
There is also mention of two banners embroidered with fleur-de-lis and bordered with pearls which had been used to drive away the flies while the king was at table. The bedsteads which accompanied these rich belongings were of oak, carved, but there are none of them left now for us to gaze on with wonder and amazement.
The word " bed " in old deeds and records, in England as well as in this country, generally covers the bedstead and furnishings. Some of these ancient ones were very grand affairs of carved oak, with mattress of feathers, sheets of linen, rugs and blankets of fine down, and with coverlets of tapestry, damask, or " cloth woven of samite " and heavy with gold threads. Richard, Earl of Arundel, in 1392 left to Philippa, his second wife, " a blue bed marked with my arms and the arms of my late wife." In 1434 Joanne, Lady Bergavenny, devises " a bed of gold swans, with tapettar of green tapestry with branches of flowers of divers colours, and two pairs of sheets of Baynes, a pair of fustian, six pairs of other sheets, six blankets, six mat-tresses, six pillows with cushions and bancoves that longen to the bed aforesaid." The famous " Great Bed of Ware " mentioned by Shakspere in " Twelfth Night " is about twelve feet square. It is still preserved at Rye House, near to the Saracen's Head Inn, where it formerly was. The beds now in use in Hatfield House, the historic home of the Marquis of Salisbury, are built on the plan of the " Great Bed of Ware," and the sheets for them have to be specially woven in Germany.
The earliest beds which remain for the edification of the student are those which date from the Elizabethan period. These, like those of an earlier period, are of oak, and there are some in this country which have been brought here from England, and in the great public collections in the latter country there are other fine examples to be studied. In Figure 204 is a choice specimen that claims attention on more than one ac-count. It is of the Tudor period, with a canopy, and with four arched panels carved and inlaid, and with carved and inlaid borders at the sides. The canopy is panelled as well as inlaid and carved, and the low foot-board is also carved. This bed is but five feet two inches wide and seven feet high. It is in perfect condition, and once belonged to the poet Lord Byron, who gave it to his housekeeper, Mrs. Broughton. Her daughter sold it to the late Mr. Wilson of Tuxford Hall, Nottinghamshire, England, and within a few months, at the sale of his effects, it was purchased by a firm who deal in antiques. These beds, while sumptuous to the eye, were not very soft to lie upon, as they were laced across with ropes. Many beds of feathers were necessary to give them comfort, and as early as 1509 regulations were drawn up with regard to the quality of feathers to be used, and I quote the ensuing words from the Lansdown MSS.:
" Upholders forbidden to mix scalded feathers and flocks with dry pulled feathers and clear down, in beds, bolsters, and pillows; and also to use horse-hair for down, neat' hair, deer's hair, and goat's hair, which is wrought in lime-fats, in quilts, mattesses, and cushions, because by the heat of man's body the savour and taste is so abominable and contagious, that many of the Ring's subjects thereby become destroyed. They were to be stuffed with clear wool or clear flocks alone, one manner of stuff. For their own use however, and not for sale, persons might make, or do to be made, any of the aforesaid corrupt and unlawful wares."
These regulations had been called out by the increasing use of mixed materials in the beds. In the " Paston Letters," which are so interesting, is given the furnishing of the bedroom of Sir John Fastolf, in the year 1459. He was a rich man, and presumably could have had anything he wanted, yet, as will be seen, his mattresses were not both of pure feathers.
"In primis. I fedderbedde. Item I donge of fyne blewe.
Item I bolster. Item II blankettys of fustian. Item I payre of schetis. Item I purpeynt.
Item I hangyd bedde of arras. Item I testour. Item I selour.
Item I coveryng.
Item III curtaynes of grene worsted. Item I bankeur of tapestre warke.
Item IIII peces hangyng of grene worsted.
Item I banker hangyng tapestre warke. Item I cobbord clothe.
Item II staundyng aundyris. Item I feddefflok.
Item I chafern (brasier) of latten.
Item I payre of tongys. Item I litell paylet. Item blankettys.
Item I payre schetys. Item coverlet.
Item VI white cosschynes. Item II lytell bellys.
Item I foldyng table. Item I long chayre. Item I grene chayre.
Item I hangyng candylstyk of laton."
Not quite one hundred years later Harrison, in his " Description of England," discourses as follows on the improvement in comfort in the houses. He considers the first improvement was the use of chimneys.
" The second is the great (although not general) amendment of lodging; for, said they, our fathers, yea and we ourselves also have lain full oft upon straw pallets, on rough mats covered only with a sheet, under coverlets made of dagswain or hopharlots (I use their own terms), and a good round log under their heads instead of a pillow or bolster. If it were so that our fathers or the goodman of the house had within seven years after his marriage purchased a mattress or flock bed, and thereunto a pillow of chaff to rest his head upon, he thought himself to be as well lodged as the lord of the town, that per-adventure lay seldom in a bed of down or whole feathers, so well content were they, and with such base kind of furniture; which was also not very much amended yet in some parts of Bedfordshire, and elsewhere, further off from our southern parts. Pillows, (they said) were thought meet only for women in childbed. As for servants, if they had any sheet above them, it was well, for seldom had they any under their bodies to keep them from the pricking straws that ran oft through the canvass of the pallett and rased their hardened hides."
I have given the Elizabethan era as the earliest one from which we can hope to find examples of bedroom furniture. There was a reason for this, which Mr. Robinson in his " English Furniture " points out. Not even the royal palaces were proof against the changes of fashion, and beds passed on in their downward career from royal chamber to guard-room, and thence, one cannot tell where. Besides the question of perquisites came in, and in Sandford's " Coronation of James II " is the statement " that the Lord Great Chamberlain claimed to carry the King's shirt and clothes to him on the morning of the coronation, and with the help of the Chamberlain of the Household to dress his Majesty. For this service he claimed the bed, bedding, and furniture of the King's chamber, with forty yards of crimson velvet and other perquisites. The Court of Claims disallowed the furniture, but conceded the velvet and other things claimed, and compromised for the rest for £200."
Cardinal Wolsey, according to the records of Hampton Court, had two hundred and eighty beds, most of them hung with silk. It was not until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that much attention was paid to the woodwork of beds, since the hangings were the most important part, and concealed all else.
In John Evelyn's Diary are many notes on the manners and customs of his times. In November, 1644, he mentions having seen a bed at the villa of an Italian prince. " But what," he notes, " some look upon as exceeding all the rest is a very rich bedstead, inlaid with all sorts of precious stones and antiq heads, onyxs, acates, and cornelians, esteem'd to be worth 80 or 90,000 crowns." In the next year he speaks of another gorgeous Italian bed, all inlaid with " achats, chrystals, cornelians, lazuli, esteem'd worth 16,000 crowns." He mentions another fact which may have had something to do with the disappearance of some of these huge wooden beds which is not always taken into account. He says, " The bedsteads in Italy are of forged iron gilded, since it is impossible to keep the wooden ones from the chimices." These are the same little pests with which the American housekeeper is called on to struggle occasionally, and which has rendered so popular in our day and generation these same forged beds of iron, or equally sanitary ones of brass.
The furniture of a bedroom at about the middle of the seventeenth century may be judged by the inventory of Mr. Sarjeant Newdigate, who left his goods to his son. The inventory is published by Lady Newdigate-Newdegate in her " Cavalier and Puritan." It runs as follows:
" A very large bedstead with embroidered curtains and valence of broadcloth lined with carnation-coloured sarsenet, and seven plumes of feathers in the bedtester. Also two embroidered carpets, two armed chairs, four stools embroidered suitable to the bed, a looking-glass, six flower pots, two stands and a hanging shelf, all gilt; a pair of brass andirons, a picture over the chimney and carpets :round the bed."
The fashion of putting a bed and the other bedroom furniture in mourning was not at all uncommon. It had prevailed in France and Italy, as well as England, and Catherine de Medici, while not conforming to the rules of mourning considered seemly in her person, had her bed draped with black velvet embroidered with crescents and pearls, and had all the room furniture' to correspond. This bed is mentioned in her inventory at her death, in 1589. In the " Verney Memoirs " there is mention of a great, black bed with hangings of the same colour at Clayton, England, about 1640, and it was lent to different members of the family whenever a death occurred. One would think that the sight of such a thing might induce suicide ; and perhaps it was such a monument of woe which induced the Lord Treasurer Clifford to try and hang himself from the tester of a four-poster on August 18, 1673.
Then there were the great, upholstered beds of about the time of Queen Anne. They were made after the French fashion, and completely covered with embroidered silk or velvet. Their chief claim to our notice is their extraordinary height, some of them being sixteen or eighteen feet tall, to keep pace with the great height of the chambers in which they were placed. The best place to see a collection of these enormous structures is at Hampton Court, London, where quite a number of beds belonging to royalty have been preserved.
In lower walks of life the bed continued to be an article of parlour furniture into the seventeenth century, and the will of Robert White, of Messinge, Essex, England, a long and elaborate document, has in it this item:
" Item. I give and bequeath unto my said son John White, the Ioyned' standinge bedstead wch is in the parlour, with the featherbed, flockbed, bolster coueringe with other furneyture thereunto belonginge. Alsoe the presse cupbord, the cupborde table and my newest chest, all whch are in the said p'loure to be delivered him after the death of my said wife Bridgett White, or instead thereof the sum of twenty marks of like lawful money."
This will is dated June 2, 1617.
The " ioyned standinge bedstead " mentioned was not probably as handsome a one as is shown in Figure 205, which belongs to about this period, and which is of the type known as " stump " from the fact that it has no foot-board. This bedstead is of oak, carved, with panelled head-board, and beside it is a joined table and stool. The pewter bell-candlesticks are also of this period, and the room is furnished as closely as possible as it would have been in the first quarter of the seventeenth century.
There are not many such beds as these already mentioned, and our interest centres on the beds which found their way to this country, some of which still survive, although the very earliest have gone the way of their owners. I find there were four styles of beds in use, say from 1660 to 1830, the high four-post bed, the field bed, the low four-post bed, and the " French " bed. In addition are shown a settee bed, stretcher, or day couch, as it was called, and a Dutch bed-chair, because rare specimens of these are still occasionally to be met with.
There was also the slawbank or built-in bed, which was a feature in so many of the houses built by the early Dutch colonists who settled about New York, New Jersey, up the Hudson in Albany, Schenectady, etc. I do not include these, because they were taken out of the houses when the bed was relegated to a room of its own and no longer was part of the furniture in kitchen. and best room.
The early records, inventories of property filed with wills, show us how our ancestors lived, and with what simple appliances many of them got along. The bed was generally the most costly possession, and comes first in the list.
In 1640 William Southmead's house in Gloucester, Massachusetts, was valued at £8 ($40) , and his feather-bed, bedstead, and appurtenances at the same sum. Cornelis Barentsen, in 1656, sued Cristina Capoens for payment for a bed he sold her, payment to be made in fourteen days. The price was six beavers, and Cristina seemed unable to meet her obligations; but payment was ordered by the court at New Amsterdam.
In June, 1666, the administrators of the late Jan Reyerson of Albany, New York, sold some " beasts " (horses, calves, and hogs), as well as furniture, at public sale. The payment for the beasts, " also the bed, boulsters and pillows," was to be made in " whole merchantable beavers, or otherwise in good strung seewant, beaver's price, at 24 guilders the beaver." (A guilder was worth about forty cents of our money.)
Nicholas Van Rensselaer, of Albany, New York, who died in 1679, was a wealthy and important member of the colony. There is a list of his entire household furnishings. There were two beds, two looking-glasses, two chests of drawers, two tables, one of oak and one of nutwood, also a table of pine with six stools of the same, a sleeping-bank or built-in bed, twenty pictures, a desk, and many brushes and kitchen utensils. These goods were distributed through four rooms.
In the South were found more luxuries than at the North. Captain Mathews, who died in 1690 at York, Virginia, had in his parlour both a bedstead and a truckle-bed, that is, a small, low bed which could be pushed under the large bed when not in use. It was generally occupied by the children of the family.
No matter where you turn, North or South, among English or Dutch, the " ffether," " feder," or feather-bed is always mentioned in the inventories. Sometimes they were not able to have the beds entirely of feathers, so flock beds were used, or, if not flock, the soft down from the cattails which grew so abundantly in the marshes. I have found lists where the bed was specified as part chicken feathers and part cattail.
Till quite recently in our history the feather-bed has played a part, and in New York State where many comforts found their way, these were not lacking. At Canandaigua, which was not settled till near the end of the eighteenth century, I find many records like these.
Isaac Colvin estate, settled 1796, had three beds valued at £10 each, and they consisted of bed, underbed, bolsters, and pillows.
Israel Chapin, inventory filed 1800. Among other things were three pink blankets valued at £3, feather-bed, bolsters, and pillows, £5, 1 copper kettle, £1 16s., and brass kettles, £3.
In 1809 was filed the inventory of Daniel Curtis. His " best bedstead and poorest underbed " were valued at $1.50, while " one old featherbed " was set down at $4, and one " turkey and hens featherbed was worth $5.
The inventory of W. H. Cuyler of the same place, filed in 1813, is interesting as it gives the value of so many household articles about a century ago. Among his wearing apparel was a plaid coat, and " Cherry valleys," whatever those were, valued at $2. His sword and belt were worth $25. Six pair of flannel sheets were $30, eight linen sheets, $30. One set of bed curtains, $7, one bed, bolster, pillows, straw bed, and bedstead were put at $27. Another bed, with rope to lace it, two feather-beds, two bolsters, and four pillows were valued at $42.37. One trundle bed and rope, also bolster, $8.50. One clock, $16, and one buffalo skin, $12. In a number of the inventories given, sheets of different kinds have been mentioned, and really, a chapter might be devoted to this part of the bed alone. Silk, fine and soft, linen of the choicest Holland make were none too good for sheets and " pillow-beres," as the cases used to be called. In the MSS. of the Countess of Pembroke there is this passage for the year 1676, in which she died.
" I saw George Goodgeon paid for 249 yards of linen cloth that he bought for me at Penrith, designed for twenty pair of sheets and pillow-veres [this is her spelling] for the use of my house. And after dinner I gave away several old sheets which were divided among my servants. And this afternoon did Margaret Montgomery, from Penrith, the sempstress, come hither, so I had her into my chamber, and kissed her, and talked with her; and she came to make up the twenty pairs of sheets and pillow-veres."
Nor was it only customary to have the sheets and pillow-cases of fine materials. For centuries they were richly trimmed, so that their cost was enormous. Lace, embroidery, even of gold thread, was not considered out of place, and the household accounts of royalty in France and England are full of the amounts spent for bed furniture. In the "Creevy Papers," which consist of the Diary and Correspondence of Thomas Creevy, M.P., and which extends over the years from 1768 to 1838, he makes a mention of lace-trimmed sheets as late as 1827. This is the way it reads:
" Lord Charles Somerset complains that he could not sleep either of the three nights at Wynyard, never before having slept in cambrick sheets, and that the Brussels lace with which they and the pillows were trimmed, tickled his face so that he had not a moments peace."
Wynyard was the seat of Lord and Lady Londonderry, and the latter was fond of declaring that she could not use handkerchiefs which cost less than fifty guineas the dozen.
The amount of linen which was to be found in this country at an early date is rather surprising, till we take into account that the splendid Dutch housewives who came here soon grew flax and wove linen, not only the coarser kinds, but sheer and fine, suitable for their caps and kerchiefs. Holland furnished to the world many kinds of linen fabrics which have strange and unfamiliar names, and were used for various purposes, bed curtains and coverlets, window curtains and cushions, for it was the mode for many years to have all these match. In fact, all the world, or at least those ports at which trading vessels touched, contributed their quota of goods, which were not only to be found in the cities, but at the country stores as well. These stores, particularly in the Southern States, were most important institutions. They were attached to a plantation, or in some cases the plantation grew to be an attachment to the store. An inventory of the Hubbard store, in York County, Virginia, in 1667, shows what a vast stock of valuable goods could be found in one. There were, " lockrams, canvass, dowlas, Scotch cloths, blue linen, osnaburg, cotton, Holland serge, Kersey, flannel in bales, full suits for adults and youths, bodices and bonnets, laces for women, shoes, gloves, hose, cloaks, cravats, handkerchiefs, nails, hatchets, chisels, augers, locks, staples, sickles, bellows, froes, saws, axes, files, bed cords, dishes, knives, flesh-forks, porringers, sauce-pans, frying-pans, gridirons, tongs, shovels, hoes, iron posts, beds, tables, physic, wool-cards, gimlets, compasses, needles, stirrups, looking-glasses and-candlesticks, candles, funnels, twenty-five pounds of raisins, one hundred gallons of brandy, twenty gallons of wine, and ten gallons of aqua vitζ." These goods were valued at £614 sterling (equal to about $3,000 of our money) .
The earliest four-post bedsteads that were brought here were, no doubt, more or less carved, and made with valance and curtains. Often two sets of curtains were used, an outer and an inner, the latter to be drawn so that unpleasant draughts of wind could be kept out.
The materials of which these bed curtains were made might be perpetuana, kitterminster, serge, darnic, silk darnic, camblet, mohair, fustian, seersucker, camac, bancour, paly, printed calico, checked and striped linen, India and Patina chintz, corded dimities, harrateen, lute-string, moreen, French and pompadour chintz, " fine laylock and fancy callicoes," and muslins. A full-dress bed with " petticoat valance " and window curtains to match, trimmed with fringes and tied back with cords, was costly and handsome.
In addition to all these goods there were scores of others brought from the East Indies, with unfamiliar names and high prices. None of these materials were by any means cheap. Harrateen, a favourite stuff, cost, as late as 1750, four dollars a yard, and a set of curtains all made was worth two hundred dollars.
Camblet was another popular material, and as early as 1678 Colonel Francis Epes, of Henrico County, Virginia, inventoried " One large new feather-bed with camblett curtains and double vallins lined with yellow silke, boulster, pillows, counterpane, rodds and hooks, tops and stands, one curtaine and some ffringe damnified twenty-four pounds, five shillings."
But such curtains lasted years, and were passed down with the bed from one generation to another.
The well-known Peter Faneuil, of Boston, Massachusetts, died in 1742. He never married, but lived with his sister in great comfort and luxury. The list of belongings in his house and stables showed that he looked well after his own ease, and letters of which he left copies prove that his sister's appearance was a matter of moment to him also, for he ordered all her clothes from London, and was much annoyed because they sent six pairs of worsted stockings for her instead of " three prs. thread hose, one pair of Galons hose, and two pr. of thread ditto." The worsted stockings went back to London by return ship. Mr. Faneuil was dark, no doubt, for he chose yellow as the colour of his room, and beside " small arms," bottles, and a " looking-glass tipt with silver," he had a " yellow mohair bed counter-pane, feather bed, bolster, 2 false pillows, false cur-tains, 6 chairs, 1 great chair, 2 stools, window curtains, etc." Excluding the small arms, the furnishings of this room were valued at £245 (about $1,225 of our money). Many a house is furnished nowadays very prettily for about half that amount.
The four-post bed shown in Figure 206 is at Mount Vernon. Upon it General Washington rested in his last illness, and it is supposed to stand in the spot where he had it during his life.
Many of these old four-post beds are very narrow, about four feet wide. This was the standard width in those days, and each extra inch of width was charged for. This size was the rule as late as 1795, when the second edition of the "Journeyman's Cabinet and Chair-maker's Philadelphia Book of Prices " was published. It says, " extra width or extra length shall be charged for at the rate of two pence per inch." This Washing-ton bed is of mahogany, of unusual width, over five feet, and no doubt was purchased by the General him-self, as he never missed an opportunity to add to the comfort and elegance of his home.
In 1774 Belvoir, the home of the Fairfax family, one of the most splendid mansions on the Potomac, was closed on account of the continued residence of the family in England, and its contents sold. General Washington (he was Colonel then) bought goods valued at £200 sterling, and among them was a " mahogany settee bed with Saxon green covers for same, 13 pounds."
This form of bed went by various names,-stretchers, day couches, or settee beds. The one I show (Figure 207) is still in perfect condition, yet it belonged to Joseph Bulkeley, and is mentioned in his inventory as a stretcher." He died early in 1700, and brought this to this country in 1690, or thereabouts. As can be seen, this stretcher is a very handsome piece of furniture. It is of oak, of Flemish workmanship, with handsome carved underbraces and the curved Flemish foot. The seat and back were originally of cane, and the back is yet perfect, but the seat has worn out with much service. Some of these single beds (for that is what they really were) had cords laced across and a mattress laid on them, and some had canvas seats also, with cushions or mattress. They were made as late as 1800, but not many of them have survived.
It is customary for people owning old furniture to always call it mahogany, which often is erroneous. Our native cabinet-makers (and Phineas Pratt of Weymouth, Massachusetts, was at work before 1630) used cedar, ash, elm, pine, maple, cherry, poplar, walnut, and nutwood (which was hickory) , so they had many varieties to choose from.
The legs and posts of these old beds varied greatly. Some were so high that when the feather-beds were added a pair of steps was required to mount into one with comfort. The width differed, as has been pointed out, and the decoration of the posts also shows much variety, some being plainly turned, others having the two foot-posts carved, the head-posts being plain, as they were concealed by drapery. Head-boards were often omitted, their place being filled with curtain stuff.
Ball-and-claw feet are sometimes come across, though these were usually confined to desks, bureaus, chairs, etc. There is a bed with such legs in the rooms of the Concord Antiquarian Society. It was part of the wedding outfit of Martha Tufts, who was married in 1774. The quaint old curtains are dropping with age, and still display men ploughing, cows and other animals in dull shades of blue and green. A choice example with ball-and-claw feet is given in Figure 208. The posts are unusually slender, and ornamented with brass balls and eagles on the tops.
Such beds had no springs, which were not invented till later, but were laced across with ropes, in many cases requiring the strength of the entire family to pull them tight enough. A mattress of straw was laid over the cords, and upon this was piled the feather-beds, as many as the household could muster.
The next Figure (209) shows a Dutch bed chair, very rarely found, and of which few were brought over here. This one is of maple, very handsomely inlaid in a floral pattern with satinwood. The hinges on the front of the chair show, and a piece comes from beneath the seat, the back lets down, arms and legs come together for its support, and the result is a long, narrow bed. They are occasionally mentioned in inventories, but this is the only one I ever saw. It is in the museum connected with the School of Art at Cooper Institute, New York City, and is in a state of perfect preservation.
Another style of bed made chiefly by the Dutch is given in Figure 210. As can be seen, it is nearly covered with a beautiful pattern in marquetry, the darker wood being maple, which contrasts very prettily with the light, inlaid woods. This bed is six feet six inches wide, but I have seen them in single widths also. One peculiarity of these beds, as well as many of French workmanship, is that the decoration is on one side only, the intention being that one side shall go next to the wall. Often the wood of the wall side is different from the rest of the bed, and recently I saw an exquisite, carved rosewood bedstead, with the wall side of deal, stained to match the colour of the rest. It seems a strange economy, and may be classed with making the lids of chests of pine, when the bodies of them were of oak.
An unusually elegant four-post bedstead can be seen in Figure 211. It is of mahogany, richly carved, with a decorated frieze and water-gilt mounts. It is plainly of French make, and belongs to the latter half of the eighteenth century. The head-board and two head-posts are plain, and it was intended that they should be covered with drapery.
Another four-post bed, very much simpler but pleasing for its very simplicity, is given in Figure 212. I am inclined to believe this to be of American make, since the posts are all finished alike, and the fluted posts were favourites with our own makers. I have seen beds of the same pattern which came from Charleston, South Carolina, during the first half of the nineteenth century, and which were made of very choice curly maple. They were foolishly cut up by their owner into hall chairs and goodness knows what other fripperies !
Another style of four-post bedsteads was called " field beds," of which an example is given in Figure 213. They were in use early in the eighteenth century, for about 1730 Governor Montgomery had a sale of his effects at the Fort " in New York City. Among the articles enumerated were " a fine yellow Camblet bed, lined with silk and trimmed with fine lace, which came from London. A fine field bedstead and curtains."
These field bedsteads were popular for at least seventy-five years. Where they have all gone it would be hard to say. I know of but two, - the one given in Figure 213, which is in the old house in Ipswich, Massachusetts, now called the Whipple House, and one at Washington's Headquarters, at Somerville, New Jersey.
Since the above statement was first published, about a year ago, I have received letters from three people who own these field beds. In two cases the old curtains are with the beds, one set being netted and one of chintz, with a design of peacocks on it. None of them are of mahogany, and the owner of one specifies hers as being of maple.
They were fashionable in England as well as here, for those great makers Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton designed patterns for them, each making the curve of the " sweep," as the frame which held the netting was called, a little different.
There is no doubt that many such beds were imported, and it was from these that our native makers copied. In the " Journeyman's Cabinet and Chair-maker's Philadelphia Book of Prices," 1795, which has been before quoted, I find the cost of making " a field bedstead of poplar, the roof sloped each way, one pound. If of buttonwood, two shillings extra." " A field bed of mahogany, one pound, four shillings, six-pence." As a matter of fact, the field beds cost a little more than the four-post mahogany, these latter being listed at one pound, four shillings, sixpence. Probably the extra work on the sweeps was the cause of the extra price.
The bed shown in Figure 213 is of mahogany, with ornaments at the top of the gracefully turned posts. The ornamental brasses that covered the holes through which the screws were put to hold the bed together are all in place, two on each foot-post, one on each head-post. They are in most cases of pressed brass, in a rosette pattern, and should be found on high and low four-post beds, and on field beds. In many cases, unfortunately, they are missing. This bed has a plain sweep, and is covered with the netting work, which was so much prettier than cloth drapery.
The coverlet is of the blue-and-white hand-woven material, which was a favourite with housekeepers on account of its durable character and neat appearance.
The furniture in the room is all of appropriate age, and it is interesting to note the tiny size of basin and pitcher. This handsome old house was built probably between 1640 and 1645, and the original oak beams and floor joists show in every room. It is supposed these beams were sawed by hand in a pit, as they bear no signs of axe or adze, and there was no water saw-mill in Ipswich till 1649.
The low four-post bed seen in the next Figure (214) is restored. It has had a stormy career, but has once more renewed its youth. Hundreds of these beds were made and carved in this country, of choice mahogany as well as of other woods. It is not generally known that mahogany was used here as early as 1700, and was quite freely on sale a few years later.
These posts are richly carved with the acanthus leaf, which, after all, is much like our familiar dandelion, a plant that lends itself readily to decoration, leaf, flower, and bud all being beautiful. Each post is finished with a pineapple. These low four-posters date from about 1800 to 1835 or 1840. They may or may not have foot-boards, but always have head-boards.
This particular bed was found in Central New York State, in a barn, where for many years it had furnished a more than usually handsome roost for chickens. I say the bed was found, but, to be quite correct, there were but the four posts,the sides and head- and foot-boards had long since passed out of sight, perhaps through the kitchen stove ! The posts in their dilapidated condition, though fortunately there was not even a nick in the carving, were bought for three dollars. The man who got them for that price turned quite a neat penny, for after holding them for a week he sold them for fifteen dollars.
The last purchaser had the posts rubbed, scraped, and hand polished, the sides and head- and foot-boards made from patterns of similar beds, the brasses to cover the screw holes reproduced, and the result is this very hand-some bed. The price, in the meantime, has mounted into the hundreds, since the cost of restoring was heavy. Many beds like this are tucked away out of sight; some, alas, have been painted. I was shown one the other day that was painted a lively green. Carefully scraping it with a bit of broken glass, the original wood came into view. It was curly maple, grown a splendid golden-brown with age. If you wish such a piece done over, you should put it in the hands of a skilled work-man. Sometimes this is not possible, and I have seen pieces which looked extremely well treated as follows at home: Bits of broken glass, or a knife with a rounded blade, can be used to get off paint or varnish, care being taken to hold the glass or scraper so that it will not scratch the wood. If there is carving, the varnish must be got out with alcohol and a pointed stick, which will get into the crevices. After the varnish is all off you may feel that the worst of the job is over, and then rub carefully down with fine sand or emery paper.
If your piece is veneered, you must be particularly careful not to catch your scraping tool in the joints, and it is always safe to scrape with the grain of the wood. When you have scraped and thoroughly dusted and wiped your treasure, go over the entire surface with a coating of boiled linseed oil, applied with a bunch of waste or a flannel rag, never with a brush, and whatever you do, apply no varnish; it is an abomination. After the oil has soaked in for about twenty-four hours, begin to rub with more oil on waste or flannel. Then rub and rub and rub; rest a while and rub some more.
The longer you rub the higher polish will come on your wood, but just at the present time the fancy is for rather a dull finish. I know of a pair of card-tables, beautifully inlaid and with twisted, carved legs, which have been entirely done over, a little at a time, by the small owner, who is not very strong either in her arms or back.
Another low-post bed is shown in Figure 215. This one is perfect, and has a roll-over head- and foot-board. It is of mahogany, elegantly carved, and is as choice as one would expect, since it belongs in Salem, Massachusetts. I give this bed for the benefit of those who own posts and wish them to be refitted. Either this style of head- and foot-board, or the one shown in the previous figure, are appropriate.
The last style of bed shown (Figure 216) is often called " French " bed. The more correct name is really Empire, for it was this style which prevailed in the early years of the nineteenth century, when France, having passed through the throes of the Revolution, emerged as an Empire under the great Napoleon. It was his wish that styles of dress and furniture should be altered. All the exquisite furniture of the times of the three Louis' was banished, though much had been destroyed in the looting of the royal palaces. The Empire style sought its inspiration from classic models, though after it had passed through the hands of a French artist like David it could scarcely recognise itself. There was little carving, but the chief ornamentations were " ormolu mounts," that is, beadings and decorations made of carved or pressed brass applied to the surface of the wood.
During the reign of Louis XV this style of work, under the hands of masters of their craft, had reached its greatest excellence and beauty. Under the Empire it became but overloaded ornament. After the Egyptian campaign chairs and tables, stools and commodes blossomed out with carved sphinx heads, and Egyptian ornaments, and though the furniture is poor, artistically, it is interesting as the memorial of a man who impressed his personality on everything with which he came in contact.
The bed illustrated is an excellent example of its class. It was imported from France, and stood for many years in the bridal chamber or guest-room of the Van Rensselaer mansion at Albany, New York. The mounts are carved from solid brass, each smallest piece being made with the beauty of goldsmiths' work. The figures of Fame, with her trumpet, repay the closest examination. Indeed, this bed has been reproduced several times for different members of the family, each reproduction costing a thousand dollars, owing to the work in copying the brasses. The carved dolphins' heads are also fine, the usual foot being a plain bracket or round foot, rarely carved.
Empire style became very popular in England, where it was poorly carried out by the use of pressed instead of carved brass. Of course, we followed European styles, and our rendering of Empire is both handsome and solid. We did not use the brass ornament, but much wood-carving, keeping only to the general lines of this style. I have seen Empire beds made in Massachusetts which were elegant and patriotic as well. The wood was solid mahogany, and the sides of foot-and head-boards ended in very' spirited carvings of eagles' heads, our own national war eagle. These were the only ornaments, the bed relying otherwise on the rich grain of the wood for its beauty. Much of the best furniture to be found here now is of the so-called Empire style. It is either in solid or veneered wood, in which latter process our native makers were very successful.