If you’ve spent most of your life in the late 20th and 21st centuries, then you barely have any idea what purpose chamber pots served for people who lived before.
A chamber pot was a container that served as a portable toilet in the house so that people could relieve themselves at night and that they didn’t have to walk outside to an outhouse.
Some families didn’t have any outhouses, so they had to keep a chamber pot in each room so that everyone could relieve themselves without leaving their rooms.
An outhouse was a restroom outside the house where people eased themselves. Most of them had doors for privacy.
In this article, we will look at the history of chamber pots, how they were made and what antique chamber pots are worth today, if you have any.
What is a Chamber pot?
Back then, during the Middle and Victorian eras, people had to relieve themselves using a few methods before indoor flushing was invented.
Some people used the outhouse, a small structure created outside the building with a toilet. Others relieved themselves in bushes and different bodies of water. However, one common way was by using a chamber pot.
A chamber pot is a small, portable toilet made to help people, especially women, deposit urine and feces without having to leave the comfort of their bedrooms. A chamber pot is a close stool chair with a special hinged seat so you can close the lid after use.
The chamber pot is also known as the thunder pot or thunder mug.
Different styles of chamber pots have existed throughout history, from the ancient Greek chamber pot to the British and the Japanese chamber pot.
History of the Chamber Pot: Everything Before the Invention of Indoor Plumbing
Humans have been using chamber pots for a very long time now. Some estimates claim that chamber pots have existed as far back as 6 BC. In addition, archeologists have found pots belonging to the Greeks from that era.
They were initially created for women, and early chamber pots were called Bourdaloue, named after the French preacher Louis Bourdaloue. The legend was that his sermons were so long that many women brought the pots to the church to relieve themselves without leaving.
There were other forms of relief throughout history. For example, the Romans had a public bench toilet, which was essentially long benches with holes carved at the top People would sit on these toilets wholly naked and without any privacy.
The British also found good uses for chamber pots throughout history. They gave it many nicknames, like “the Jerry” (possibly from “Jeroboam”), the Jordan (possibly from the river Jordan), Oliver’s skull, and the Looking Glass (because physicians would give diagnosis by looking at the urine inside the chamber pots).
Although it was created for women, many men and children started to use the chamber pot instead of going out to the privy (another name for the outhouse) in the dark.
After using the chamber pot at night, a person could then go and deposit the urine and feces the following day in their private cesspit or at the general public cesspit. On this site, everyone in that village dumped the waste from their private bathroom.
Alternatively, people threw their waste out the window to the general drain on the street. Many have said that the word “loo” was derived from the French word “Gardez l’eau,” which means “watch out for the water.” People said this when they emptied the contents of their chamber pot out the window.
There were also carriage pots used in stagecoaches and carriages so that people who had to use the bathroom could relieve themselves and dump the pot’s content during the next stop.
Today, we still have chamber pots in hospitals for bedridden people who aren’t strong enough to get up and use the toilet. We also use them for potty training for children to teach them to use the toilet.
Making Chamber Pots: How Old Portable Toilets Were Made
People have made different chamber pots with different shapes, materials, and styles. Most antique pots were made of different materials with decorative surfaces. Some antique British pots even have
Many materials were used to design chamber pots, depending on your level of influence or affluence. For example, some ruling families used copper and gold.
However, the most common materials used were: ceramics, tin, earthenware, baked clay, wood, stoneware, china, and enameled-sheet metal. The latter was used in the 19th century, but not for long because it had some flaws. It got cracked easily, and the cracks harbored some bacteria.
Today, in many museums, you can find all kinds of chamber pots made in different ways throughout history. For instance, there is a type of chamber pot that is circular and has a handle, while there are others that are polygonal with no handle or two handles.
A lot of these differences come from differences in the eras these pots were created. Some pots were made to be stored under the owner’s bed and pulled out quickly when the owner needed them.
To buy antique pots for your collection, you must know the different kinds from different eras. Let us look at ordinary chamber pots from different eras that you can buy today.
Antique Chamber Pots From Different Eras
The first set of chamber pots didn’t have many decorations, but as time passed, people designed more pots to have beautiful exteriors. Some had handles and even words written on the side.
People often gave chamber pots as gifts during weddings, so they would write poems or messages of well-wishes on the side before giving them to the celebrants.
Some Victorian-style chamber pots are very similar to the modern toilets we have today, with close stool lids.
Ancient Greek Chamber Pot
In ancient Greece, the chamber pot was made of baked clay. Clay was good material for this purpose in those days because it was cheap and could hold moisture.
Before this time, people in Greece availed themselves in forests and bushes close to them. This was before people started living very close to each other. However, when people started living close to each other, it became difficult to find accessible forests to avail themselves.
Clay chamber pots may not seem like a good invention to people in modern times, but it was much better than going to the forest during rains or cold weather to relieve yourself.
When morning came, the Greeks disposed of their pots in a general cesspit or by throwing the content in the drain.
Ancient Roman Chamber pot
Many archeological discoveries support the claim that the Romans used Terracotta chamber pots to avail themselves as far back as the 5th century. These ceramic buckets contained parasite eggs that show that they were indeed porta potties.
Men and women in ancient Rome did not use the same kinds of ceramic chamber pots. Instead, men used the ones that were called matella, while women used scaphium chamber pots.
Some studies show that Roman chamber pots were used in different ways. Some Romans had a chamber pot in a living room (called drawing rooms) or bedroom furniture, so when they felt the need to ease themselves, they could walk over to the furniture and do so.
Other studies show that some Romans placed the chamber pot under a chair in their room or other places in their home and put a hole in the chair. This way, they could sit on the chair just like you would on your regular toilet and avail themselves easily.
Generally, most chamber pots were placed under the bed, so they took them out and used them when they wanted to.
There were also larger chamber pots on the streets for men to deposit urine. These were collected and sold to people who cleaned fabrics. It might sound weird now, but ancient Romans used pee to wash stains off fabrics.
The night soil (as feces was called) also served as a good fertilizer for farmers. Some people collected them from chamber pots across town and sold them to farmers to use as manure on their farms.
Many Romans also had slaves. For a family with slaves, the slaves would be responsible for emptying everyone’s chamber pot the following day.
A typical Roman chamber pot is distinctive from other kinds because of its design and material. For instance, in one ceramic chamber pot found in an unearthed site in Sicily, two wavy designs were on the topmost and lower parts of the bucket.
Although we have only seen Roman chamber pots made of terracotta and clay, ancient Roman records show that some antique pots were also made of gold and onyx.
Antique Japanese chamber pot
It is impossible to discuss chamber pots without talking about the Japanese. The Japanese are known for their ancient wrought iron and steel antique kettles that everyone wants to use today. However, they are also known for creating beautiful chamber pots made of wood and porcelain.
The Japanese have used different lavatories to ease themselves throughout their long history. During the Yayoi period, they created what was called a sewage line. It is similar to the sewage system we have today, except this one was open, and people could empty their chamber pots +into it.
Also, during the Heian period, noblemen used chamber pots. This period still depicts ordinary people relieving themselves in the fields and forests, so the pots that existed then were probably for noblemen.
The wooden chamber pot was from the Edo period. This period was between the 17th and 19th centuries before indoor plumbing became significant. This chamber pot did not have the shape of a bowl like many others; it was oval with a lid.
Japanese chamber pots were highly descriptive. So it wasn’t surprising to find pots with paintings and images carved on the side.
You can sell your Japanese thunder mug for $140 or more.
Antique French Chamber Pot
The French, just like others in Europe, used chamber pots in their daily life. Walking down the streets in France was dangerous, as many people emptied their pots through windows in the morning.
The ancient French chamber pot was called the Bourdaloue pot, usually made of fine china. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a lid to cover it like close stools or Japanese pots.
The Bourdaloue got its name from the famous French orator, Jesuit Louis Bourdaloue (1632–1704), who preached sermons at the court of Louis XIV de Bourbon. His sermons were exciting but long-winded, so many women took sauce pots to ease themselves.
Faience (earthenware plates) manufacturers bought the idea and started creating chamber pots for women specifically for that purpose.
As time went by, the French also used chamber pots in inns and hotels so that guests could ease themselves without problems.
You can sell a Bourdaloue-type pot for $400 and above on eBay.
Colonial American Chamber Pots
You thought the great American state was exempted from using portable toilets? You thought wrong.
The United States had an effective waste disposal system, better than the open sewers in Europe. Still, they used chamber pots for most of their history before transitioning to the flush toilet.
Colonial American chamber pots were made from ceramics and stored under the bed. There were also close-stools, an ancient type of chamber pot with a chair over a bucket or bowl.
They also had a lead glaze that turned the internal part of the pot red as oxidation occurred. The American colonial era also saw the rise of Staffordshire potteries, mass-produced and exported to countries and colonies worldwide.
One great place to see an example of American chamber pots is George Washington’s ferry farm; a museum made using George Washington’s childhood home.
British Chamber Pot
There were different kinds of British chamber pots, depending on the era it was created. One style was made with china and other metals, with colorful inscriptions and designs all over the body.
There were different kinds of chamber pots that came during the Victorian era. This era in British history is the period of Queen Victoria’s reign, from June 1837 until January 1901, when she died. This era brought the wooden commode, used with a china bowl.
A commode was built like a chair with a lid and a chamber pot. You could keep your commode in a bedroom and empty the container the following day.
The British were very creative with their use of chamber pots. They wrote poems on the side, gave them out as gifts, and even drew caricatures at the bottom of the pot, where the sewage would land.
The pot manufacturers made extra by drawing these designs. Many people would want to buy pots if they made a popular or contentious character and put their drawings in them.
Some people came along every morning with wheelbarrows to different buildings to take filled chamber pots and empty them or sell them to farmers. Back then, people didn’t know that human waste was dangerous to farm produce, so they did it a lot.
Fortunately, today we know better.
If you have a Victorian art chamber pot, you can sell it for $150 or more.
How to Know What Your Antique Chamber Pots Are Worth
If you have an old chamber pot, it might be worth some good money if you can identify it correctly and determine its worth. To know that your old pot is worth anything, there are some boxes it must tick.
Let us look at some factors that make chamber pots worth some good money.
The Kind of Pot
As we have mentioned in this article, there were different kinds of chamber pots throughout history. Some of them had lids, and others didn’t. Some had a handle, and others had two handles or none.
Some special commodes, like the extremely rare Italian Rococo “Lacca Comodino” from 17th-18th Century Venice, could fetch you up to $15,000.
The Condition of the Pot
If your ancient pot is in excellent condition, you can ask for some good money. Usually, because most of these ancient pots have lasted for many years, they tend to be in terrible condition.
If you can provide your buyer with an ancient pot in pristine condition, they can repurpose it for use in other ways. They can use it as a garden planter, pitcher, or flowerpot.
Some people want to put the pot on their table and admire it or keep it in their collection. Either way, a chamber pot in good condition will last longer than one in terrible condition.
If you have a chamber pot in good condition, you can sell it on 1st dibs for $600 or more.
The Decorations on the Pot
Ancient chamber pots are not ordinary pieces where people eased themselves when they wanted to. They also contained decorations and inscriptions that give us an idea of how people lived and did their business in those days.
As we have mentioned, some people wrote poems on chamber pots they gave as gifts to their friends or loved ones. Other people drew funny caricatures of famous people in those days and gave the pots out. These decorations and designs are essential.
If you have beautiful decorations or inscriptions that mean something, collectors would be willing to buy and pay more for your pot.
A pot with flowery designs would look much better than a bland-looking pot in your garden. If you have an ancient pot with excellent flowery decoration, you can sell it for about $300 or more.
Also, a pot with an exciting caricature is often worth more than ordinary pots. For instance, there is an ancient chamber pot with the caricature of Napoleon that is considered priceless.
Where You Can Buy or Sell Antique Chamber Pots
If you have beautiful antique chamber pots in your house, you can sell them to collectors and make some good money. If you have read this guide, you already know how to identify chamber pots. What’s left is to learn how you can sell them.’
You can sell your ancient pots in any of these listed places:
Auctions are the best places to sell antique goods. You can buy and sell everything from cars to furniture and kitchen equipment for the best prices at auctions.
Auctions are also good because the buyers are often collectors who understand the value of items and are willing to pay you their worth.
Some cities have shops where they sell collectible items to interested people. Check if there is one in your city and find its location.
Besides helping you buy and sell antiques, online marketplaces help you identify and adequately estimate the value of your items.
Most of them have elaborate search features so you can see similar items and how much they are worth. This way, you can accurately estimate how much to sell your item.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you correctly identify chamber pots and helped you understand the history of these old antique pieces.
Fortunately, we don’t use these items like we used to, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth much to us again. So if you have a beautiful and well-maintained chamber pot, you can sell it for good money in some of the places mentioned in this guide.