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Friday, October 23, 2009

For Tina, on Show and Tell Friday -- Slop Jars and Pots de Chambre

My mother, Tina, was the consummate home-maker.

She was no meek housewife; my parents' marriage was a true partnership and a true love story. They were firmly in charge of things -- together. We always knew that as much as they loved us kids, we came in second to their romance, and we were okay with that.

A few blurry pictures, from the 1940s. Dad was in the Navy,
Mom might have been expecting my oldest brother in some of these:

Theirs is still is a love story, but the partnership has been dissolved
by the insidious inroads of Alzheimer's Disease.

On Sunday, our family will gather at Van Saun Park in Paramus, New Jersey, to participate in the Memory Walk, the primary fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Association. We are walking as "Tina's Team." With so many families affected by AD, let's pray that through funding and dedication, the people who work so hard to solve this puzzle will be successful.

I'm showing and telling again this Friday, like last -- only this time it's a few things of my mother's, not a ginormous Craigslist mirror.

Warning: Click and enlarge photos at your peril. I recently brought these pieces home to That Old House from my parents' beach house, and I have not yet cleaned them. There's some major dust and schmutz going on here.


A question for those of you with children: What kind of wastebaskets are in your bathrooms? Plastic? Steel? Wicker? Something unbreakable? Something sane?

Do you know what were in our family's bathrooms when I was growing up?
Late 19th century slop jars, with lids. Ironstone or porcelain. Including this one:

This was the wastebasket in the small 1950s bathroom I used as a child, on a tiled floor, right next to a cast iron tub. There were four children using that bathroom. We were very careful climbing out of the tub.

Mom taught us to lift the lid slowly, and set it back by first
putting one side down and then gently lowering the rest of the lid.
It was excellent training for sneaking into the cookie jar silently.

At some point, the original lid was broken, but I thank my lucky stars that it was not I who broke it!
In fact, I think it was my mother.

There is a stamp on the bottom:

It reads: Warwick Semi Porcelain. The Warwick China Company
of Wheeling, West Virginia, used that stamp between 1893 and 1898.

Slop jars are big. This one measures almost 12 inches tall. They were fixtures in houses before indoor plumbing, serving as the waste buckets for bedrooms. You used the chamber pot overnight in chilly weather, you washed up with a bowl and pitcher in the morning, and the "waste" from both was dumped into the slop jar.

If you were lucky, a chambermaid came and dumped the waste
from both operations into the slop jar, and whisked it away to be emptied and cleaned.

If you were not lucky, you were the chambermaid.


Speaking of chamber pots, or pots de chambre which sounds so much snazzier,
or thunder pots -- not so snazzy -- they were also fixtures in pre-plumbing households.
These pots are much smaller than the slop jars, and have one handle instead of two.

This example (you just knew I'd have one, didn't you?) is less than 6 inches tall.
Even with a lid, it would fit discreetly under an old bed. Yes, it was my Mom's.

Chamber pots were a fixture in the bedrooms at my childhood house.
Lidded, so that dust wouldn't collect in them; Mama was a meticulous housekeeper!

Some chamber pots were made with lids, some without.
Most lids did not survive; these necessaries got some pretty rough use in the old days!

So, sometimes you make do with a lid from another collection,
and if it has beautiful old crazing, so much the better.

Sometimes my mother would tell the more squeamish of visitors that the chamber pots were ladies' spittoons. They are not ladies' spittoons, which oddly enough do exist but are smaller than chamber pots and don't have handles.

Honestly, I find the thought of a ladies' spittoon more unappealing than a chamber pot!

Slop jars have gotten quite expensive in antiques shops, especially the printed ones.
I bought a plain white one in Virginia years ago, but got a "buy" because it has a crack.
Hey, it's not as if I'm going to use it!

This chamber pot has a major old repair; at one time, the handle broke off.
(Did people back then eat burritos?)

It's mended with what looks like the old type of brown glue made from horse's hooves.

Chamber pots (from which we get the term "potty") are still not very expensive.
Golly, wonder why?

This chamber pot has a stamp on its backside: Vashti E.P.P.Co. That means it was made before 1910 by the East Palestine Pottery Company in Ohio, and the shape of the pot is the "Vashti" shape. Another good ol' American product for good ol' American bottoms!

My brothers thought it hilariously funny to put lemon-lime soda in a chamber pot.
And leave it for someone to find.
This is why there were no chamber pots in their room.

I have other old toilet accessories from my mother, but they'll wait for another post. I'm late enough today as it is! Don't forget to visit Cindy at My Romantic Home for her Show and Tell Friday blog party. Click here! -- Cass

P.S. Reality check! Does anyone else's dog bring half the fallen leaves in on his coat? I do vacuum . . . but you wouldn't know it after Mr. Dion's been outside!


  1. What a great looking couple! Thanks for sharing your photos of your Mother and Father.
    You probably heard the "Ewwwwww!!" all the way to New Jersey, when I explained to my kids what a chamber pot was when they were young. :)
    Have a great weekend.

  2. What beautiful pots and a lovely "Tell". Your childhood home came alive in this lovely post about your parents, and your lovely mother. That is the kind of love my husband and I have for each other. It is a rare thing indeed.

  3. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your parents with us.
    Oh, does your post bring back almost forgotten memories of being at my great-grandmother's. There was always a "thunder jug" under the bed, but not as pretty as the ones you have. If I remember correctly it was plain white. I am very thankful it wasn't my job to empty it!

  4. I have an old chamber pot ~ from my husband's aunt's barn! Plain white ~ no stains. I didn't think it had ever been used. **((the following is not for the weak of stomach))** I wanted to use it for a soup pot, but my family vetoed that thought down! Hey, it's porcelain and it cleans up real nice ~ you can sanitizeand disinfect the thing, but they wouldn't go for it. So, it sits under the *commode* in the bathroom with potpourri instead of soup!
    Yours are so pretty! And how wonderful that you will be participating in the Alzheimer's Walk on behalf of your mother!

  5. Have fun on your Memory Walk, hopefully someone will find a way to rid of this insidious disease that kills with abandon. I lost a 40 something year old class mate a few years ago, she was a wonderful, intelligent and beautiful accomplished lady.

  6. I use to do the Memory Walk in Memory of my Mom so I applaud you for participating. I pray that you have sunny weather. Now the photos are wonderful showing your parents the way you should always remember them..young and in love and the future in their eyes. Those Chamber Pots are actually pretty but I am so happy they invented toilets that flush:)

  7. I have a couple of old chamber pots too, but not as pretty as yours. Can you imagine using one of those - oh no let's not. Can't believe your mother used the slop jar as a trash can and it survived.
    Great show and tell.

  8. Good Luck on the walk.

    Now onto the other ditty--Ijust don't know what to say. :)


  9. Cass, I konw how hard it must be to not be able to share with your mom like you used to. My sweet Nana
    that I featured on my blog a couple of months ago, was dignosed a year ago. Boy, it came on fast! She lives with my parents (has for about 10 years) so the last year has been very difficult for my mother. It breaks my heart for all of us. Such a cruel disease.

    I love chamber pots! I need one. Because of all my collections, not one chamber pot is amidst any of it!! Something new to search for in my travels of thrift stores and yard sales!

    Maybe you should start using the vac on Dion when he comes in. Just suck all those leaves right off!
    Have an awesome Saturday :)

  10. I was going to comment on how I snort with laughter when people see a chamber pot or slop jar in an antique store and think it is a soup tureen but the I saw that Lady Farmer was knowingly going to substitute one for the other. Aaack.
    I can't even get my family to use a set of antique spoons that came from an antique shop because they think it is gross.

  11. Oh my, Cass - - - those are the SWANKY beautiful variety!!!

    I have one too.

    Mine is white enamel with a red trip at the edge of the cover.

    Mine is called a "thunder bucket" for obvious reasons.

    We still use it in our camper, truth be told.

  12. Your parents - what a handsome couple. They look so happy, so in love.
    Potties were a fixture of my childhood - under each bed. We had a 'kinder madchen' who whisked it away in the morning, but I'll never forget the feel of that cold pottery on my bottom!

  13. yes, your parents, like mine, are a wonderful love story. my heart breaks for her and for you, but she will always live on in your memories and in mine. i love your mom, my second mom!

  14. Mom, thanks for the beautiful collage about my grandparents. You and Dad have a pretty good love story, too!

  15. Alida ... you come from a long line of wonderful love stories. :-)

    It's a nice heritage.

    We missed you at the Alzheimer's Walk yesterday -- it was an amazing turnout and we raised LOTSA money for research. Yay!

    Be good! Love, Mama


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