Designs Bedded Firmly in History

Article excerpt

Beds are made for comfort and health. Today's beds are large, and their mattresses are made to be comfortable, firm and good for the back. In past centuries, mattresses were made from cornhusks, straw or other lumpy materials that were stuffed into a cloth bag.

Tightly strung ropes that had to be re-tightened regularly supported the mattress. By the mid-1800s, wooden slats were used. It was not until the 1860s that box springs were used. The single bed of the past was much smaller than those seen today. A 19th-century double bed now seems far too narrow. Kingand queen-size beds are a mid-20th century idea.

In the 18th century, our ancestors were certain that night air caused disease. Beds were made with posts that ranged from 8 to 9 feet tall and with testers that could hold curtains.

The heavy curtains were drawn to keep out the night's impure air, gases and contagious effluvia. By the 1870s, the four-post bed was going out of style, and the half-tester replaced it. The tester top covered only the top half of the bed, but curtains still could enclose the bed. Sometimes the half-tester was attached to the ceiling.

By late Victorian times, scientists had convinced the housewife that the old rules were wrong and that the bedroom should be a model of cleanliness. Carpets and drapes held dust and disease, so they were removed. Open-work or plain, metal beds that could be washed and cleaned more thoroughly than high, carved, wooden beds were used. Bric-a-brac, pictures and extra furniture also attracted the bearers of disease and were kept out of the bedroom.

By the 1930s, scientists had again revised their ideas of a healthy sleeping room. Open windows, attractive furniture and carpets were back in style. Even the high-post tester bed returned for those who wanted an old-fashioned look.

Q: About 35 years ago, I inherited my grandmother's pendant necklace. In the box with it was a note describing the pendant as "apple green jadite." What's the difference between jadite and jade?

A: Jadite is one of two minerals called "jade." Carved pieces of jadite, which is found chiefly in Burma, are more valuable than carved nephrite, the other mineral called jade. Many think jade is always green, but it can also be white, red, brown or blue. Bright green is the most valuable color.

Q: I collect old medicine bottles. One of my veterinary medicine bottles is labeled "Dr. Hess Distemper Fever and Cough Remedy. …