An antique corner chair purchased for less than $700 turned out to be a rare form of early pre-plumbed toilet, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
A lot of confusion has arisen over the word ‘commode’. Some collectors in Preston think of antique chests, especially if they’ve seen the famous Harrington Commode (currently Britain’s most expensive piece of antique furniture). However, the word commode is simply the French for ‘convenient’ and while it can indeed refer to a handy form of low chest, it can also mean a type of antique cabinet and washstand, also used to house chamber pots. This explains why the word also describes a type of heavy antique chair used as a toilet, normally boxed and lidded for modesty.
Modern lavatorial commodes are widely used in hospitals and nursing homes, but as antiques they are rarely worth much – unless, that is, you find a pre-Victorian one. This is exactly what happened on the American version of the Antiques Roadshow, which airs on the PBS channel. Purchased with several other items for $700, the ornate, handcrafted piece looked like a normal low-back antique corner chair, sharing many of the features of Victorian dining chairs of the Chippendale Revival period, such as cabriole claw-and-ball feet, ribbon-back splat and over-padded seat. It lacked the skirting normally seen on such a commode, but a quick look under the seat revealed its true purpose. Probably made in New York, the rare piece was given an estimate of $250,000-$300,000.
If you’re potty about antique commodes – or, indeed, Victorian dining chairs in general – a Preston antique dealer should be able to show you a good selection.
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