When my sister and I cleaned out our parents’ home, we had to make many decisions about what to do with all the stuff. Which things are truly “valuable” and which have only sentiment in their favor? Should we sell it, keep it, or throw it away? To help ensure a future for our family’s heirlooms, I plan to leave a booklet for my daughters telling the stories of what they will inherit one day. (Not TOO soon, I hope!) With this challenge I begin my book of Heirlooms.
is for wash stand and washbowl set. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the days before indoor plumbing, these were found in bedrooms, or at least among folks that could afford them. The washbowl set was the forerunner of the bathroom sink allowing people to wash themselves in the privacy of their own room. Usually water was carried by bucket to fill the pitcher and then poured into the bowl or basin where one could wash his hands and face. Afterwards the bowl was emptied either by throwing the water out a window or by dumping it into a “slop jar” to be carried away for more discreet disposal. Sets were made in plain white ironstone as well as fancy hand-painted china.
When my parents gave me and my husband a washbowl set for Christmas 1973, it was complete. The large pitcher was for cold water and the smaller one was for hot water; the bowl or basin was for washing. Completing the set are a small bowl with lid which held a cake of soap, a shaving mug, a toothbrush holder, and a chamber pot or “slop jar."
Unfortunately the toothbrush holder and lid to the chamber pot are broken thanks to little children throwing a ball in the house. (GRRR)
But back to the story. Washbowl sets were almost always placed on a small piece of furniture called a wash stand. Some had marble tops to protect the furniture from water stains.
Some had a rack for towels; some people used to hang a small quilt to protect the wall from water splashes. Almost all had a drawer for towels and a storage area large enough to hold the chamber pot.
In the 1970s and 80s, antiques were very popular but very expensive. On weekends Momma, my sister, and I scoured many a thrift store and antique shop in search of a bargain. Wash stands were high on our list, and we found quite a few.
Momma gave new life to an array of stands from the primitive to the more refined, although none with marble tops as those were too expensive. However, I inherited a walnut wash stand with marble top from my grandaunt Violetta Davis Ryan.
The wash stand currently in one of our guest rooms was in pieces when Momma found it. The top was separated from the rest and the doors were stacked inside. The towel rack was in pieces as well, and the rod for holding a towel was missing. The cost - $4. Since this project required quite a bit of gluing, Momma went to Sears to buy some clamps.
The clerk was surprised that a woman was clamping anything. He obviously had not met my mother! She owned a drill as well as a belt sander, jig saw, and a host of smaller tools like screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, chisels, saws, and hammers.
|Wash stand made of poplar in the family room is just big enough |
for a 52" tv. The drawer holds some DVDs, and the bottom part
of the cabinet holds the DVD player.
Our neighbor once said, “It wasn’t officially summer until the garage door was open, old furniture was in the driveway, and Mary E. was in her white work shorts.” Those shorts were so covered in paint and wood stain that they probably could have stood on their own.
Oh, how clearly I remember those summer days as Momma’s assistant, both of us in rubber gloves with putty knives, a wire brush, and paint remover scraping through layers of paint to find that beautiful oak or poplar. My clearest memory, though, is that flicks of paint and chemicals STING!
© 2018, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.