Southern Antiques/Chapter 18

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IT IS a well-known fact among collectors that there are no Southern bedsteads before 1700 to be found, but despite the failure of the beds to reveal themselves, no one disputes the fact that they were made in number. Inventories mention bedsteads and couches as local-made as early as 1659, but no bed of that date has survived to tell the story of what they were. An old bed of 1720-1740 is, however, presented. This scarcity of early bedsteads has been explained by the fact that they could not be utilized by the owners for making any other piece of furniture when discarded, and were doubtless done away with.

A study of conditions leads to the belief that early Southerners, as a rule, contented themselves with simple beds, although a few of the more costly carved oak beds were brought from England, but once conditions had improved, many Southern beds began to take on fine airs and lend themselves to decoration. Following the middle of the seventeenth century, Virginia gentlemen of high estate, when they could, sought their slumbers amidst draperies of much magnificence, as consorted with their dignity in manner and dress. Many spent lavishly for furnishings of a bed. The inventory of the estate of Colonel Epes, Henrico County, Virginia, in 1670, lists: "Feather bed with camlett curtains and double vallins lind with yellow silke, bolster pillow, counterpane, rodds and hooks, tops and stands, one curtaine and some fringe." Costs were more than twenty-five pounds. The bedstead is not mentioned. Beds were of first importance, and it was customary, during the early periods, when going on an extended visit, to take one's bed.

Some of the early bedsteads were built in the wall or placed in a niche in the wall,

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Chippendale bed fully draped

with two carved posts on the outside, the other two posts being plain. However, the greater number of beds had four elaborately carved oak posts, with a paneled and carved headboard. Some of them contained cupboards in themselves. Examples are known to have secret cupboards at the head to conceal weapons.

Wooden cornices, employed up to 1750, gave way to the valence, and the four-poster was in vogue. The draperies were to continue through the century, with the patriots of the Revolution sleeping in four-posters richly draped, but the tendency from then on toward more lightness, until 1800, when draperies were omitted.

As a rule, the majority of the beds that have been collected had plain headposts. Not until the Sheraton period do we find all four posts with carving. Headposts before this time, hidden by the draperies, were nearly always square, tapered posts. Fine Hepplewhite and Sheraton examples have been found. Beds of unusual beauty are shown in this book, one showing reeded posts and spade foot. The Empire beds were enormous, some with posts eight inches in diameter and nine feet tall; and in the early part of this period, some were elaborately carved with the leaf and pineapple motifs.


PLATE I. Queen Anne Bed—Walnut. (North Carolina—c. 1720-1740). A particularly fortunate find is represented in this piece, one of the earliest American beds found. While not one of the most beautiful of early American beds, it surpasses in interest many of those excelling it in the matter of good looks. No bolts are used in its construction, and it was held together with rope. The measurement of such beds, head to foot, was usually about six feet, and the mystery is as to how sleep was induced within such restricted limits. The type of foot used in the bed resembles the mule-foot. Octagonal posts, as shown here, are also found on later pine beds. This bed was found near Bath, and was at one time a part of the equipment of the home of one of the state's oldest and most representative families. (Property of J. K. Beard).

PLATE II. Hepplewhite Bed—Mahogany. (South Carolina—c. 1780-1790). In striking contrast to the old walnut bedstead is this finely carved and inlaid Hepplewhite bed, showing the reeded post and spade foot, typical of the period. Beds of such high quality as this were usually made with canopy top; but in most cases, due to so many of the beds having changed hands the tops, as a rule, have been discarded. In beds such as this, a top mattress was laid on a second feather-filled mattress, placed next to slats, which fulfilled, in some uncertain way, the purpose of the modern springs. The headposts of such beds were usually hidden and were plain in style until the period of Thomas Sheraton. This bed was found in South Carolina, where many such beds have been discovered, most of them, however, with the posts cut off and being used for other purposes. (Property of J. K. Beard).

PLATE III. Sheraton Bed—Mahogany. (South Carolina—c. 1800). This Sheraton bed carries the turned headposts. The spade foot is discarded in favor of the reeded and turned feet, which were usually bound with brass. The leaf carving is still found on the finer beds of this period. This is one of two beds, identical in workmanship, although one is slightly larger than the other. (Property of Mrs. T. C. Gower).

PLATE IV. Empire Bed—Mahogany. (Virginia—c. 1820). This bed of the Empire period is shown with the original tester of carved wood, which has been gilded. The hands, holding the rings at the corner, is a unique design. The pineapple, signifying "plenty in the home," which appears at the top of the posts, was used extensively on Empire furniture. The spiral twist, introduced as a motif at this time, was used on posts of beds, and was found on the legs of furniture. Leaf carving of a coarser type is found in this period. (Property of J. K. Beard).

PLATE V. Top—Sheraton Bed—Mahogany. (North Carolina—c. 1800). An exceptionally fine bed of a late type. The carving is of high quality. There evidently was an arched canopy on this bed. (Property of Joe Kindig, Jr.).

PLATE V. Lower Left—Empire Dressing Table—Mahogany. (South Carolina—c. 1820). An elaborately carved dressing table carrying all the outstanding characteristics of the period.

PLATE V. Lower Right—Sheraton Washstand—Mahogany. (South Carolina—c. 1800). Washstands appear in this shape from 1760 to 1810, taking the characteristics of the period.

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