Old-Fashioned Bedsteads Part 5

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 mak ing 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 buttomvood, 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, un fortunately, they are missing. This bed has a plain Sweep, and is covered with the netting work, which was so much prettier than cloth drapery.

Fig. 214 Low-Post Bed.

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 ma hogany 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 fin ished 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, avIio is not very strong either in her arms or back.

 Fig. 215 Low-Post Bed is tM. Fig. 216 French or Empire Bed.

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 caiwed, and is as choice as one would expect, since it belongs in Salem, Massachusetts. I give this bed for the benefit of those low posts and wish them to be refitted. Either this style head- and foot-board, or the one shown in the previous figure, are appropriate.

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The Collector's Manual by N. Hudson Moore, Amy Richards. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1906.

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