Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Apple #560: Bathtubs

My apartment lacks a bathtub. I've got a shower, no bathtub. On cold, blustery nights when I'm tired or achy or just want to have a nice warm soak, I long for a bathtub.

So I'm going to ruminate about bathtubs.

Look, she's saying, "What would I do if I didn't have a bathtub? Oh, I'd be bereft."
(Photo from Home improvement blog)

  • The whole bathing-in-a-receptacle thing goes back thousands of years.
  • On the island of Crete, somebody found a 3,000 year-old, five foot-long tub-like deal on a pedestal. Some people say this is the ancestor of the modern bathtub.
  • Wealthy people in ancient Greece also had bathtubs in their houses. I'm not sure how the Greek baths were filled but they were self-draining.
  • The Romans had their public baths, but some wealthy Romans also had private baths in their houses. Their baths were more like enormous shallow swimming pools. Ah, that must have been the life.
  • Even when the Dark Ages came along and they snuffed out all sorts of advancements in engineering and philosophy and government and intelligence, they didn't entirely flush good hygiene along with it (oh, I am on fire with the puns).
  • In those days, for the most part, people were afraid of bathing. But a very few wealthy people had bathtubs. These ladies of the house had a special room where they had bathing parties. The water was heated and brought in by servants and scented with rose petals and herbs. Sometimes the ladies bathed by themselves or with other ladies.

Here, one of the titled lords of the house is having a bath -- they had a receptacle brought into their bedchambers -- and he's having food brought to him as he bathes. Now there's an idea.
(Photo from the Clawfoot Bathtub Warehouse)

    • Still, it was only the oddball wealthy who bathed. It took the bubonic plague before Europeans in general started to think about washing. Even then, bathing didn't quite catch on across Europe for some time.
    • By the late 1800s, Victorians were bathing in portable receptacles that were brought into their bedrooms in front of the fire and filled with hot water. These were considered "hip baths" and you were meant to sit in them with your legs hanging out.
    • Other bath tubs at this time had a shelf that jutted out into the interior of the tub, and that was where you were supposed to sit. I can't find any photos of bathtubs like that, but I know I've seen some at antique stores.

    This is a contemporary drawing, I know, but it's the best image I could find that showed how those hip baths were used.
    (Photo linked to from Discworld and Pratchett Paraphernalia)

    A variant method of using a Victorian hip bath
    (Photo from Venus Observations NSFW)

    • Eventually, as running water became available, Victorians started converting bedrooms into bathrooms. The bathrooms usually adjoined another bedroom and the now-bathroom still had the fireplace and stained glass windows and other bedroom decor.

    I don't know when this brown marble bathtub was made. I suspect perhaps it's Italian, 19th century? Or maybe it's older than that. The lady at the top of the tub is holding some kind of ewer which is actually a spout from which the running water would have emerged. So this marble tub would have been connected to pipes of running water.
    (Photo from About Chinese Antique)

      • In an interesting turn, as people became more concerned with hygiene, they stopped using the running water in the converted bedroom and went back to the free-standing tubs. They put tiles on the floor to make it easier to clean, and the brass and copper pipes were left exposed so that the owners could be certain they were clean and germ-free (hah). The free-standing tubs were more desirable than the tubs connected to pipes because the servants could move the tub to clean underneath it.

      English roll-top copper tub, popular from around 1890-1930. The handles on the side made for easy carrying. These were available in a wide range of sizes, anywhere from 4 feet long to 7 feet long. You could also have them painted in a color of your choice.
      (from Meryl's Short History of Antique Bathtubs)

      • At about the same as some people were going back to the free-standing receptacle, other people were trying out the clawfoot tubs. These could be connected to running water pipes, and it was possible to clean underneath them, swab down the bathroom tile and all that. The feet were practical but also decorative and sturdy.

      Clawfoot bathtubs are popular again now, so I had trouble finding an period image of one. Here, the feet are painted to match the tub. More often, the feet on the early clawfoot tubs were made of iron, and the tub itself was made of tin.
      (Photo from Elle Fowler's blog)

      • Right around this time, which is about the 1870s or so, is when a guy named J. L. Mott started making bathtubs. His products were all made of iron or cast-iron, and he made tubs of all sorts for various purposes. The first bathtub for people was promoted as a dual-use appliance. What you bought it for first and foremost was hog-scalding. Then if you felt like it, you could also use your hog scalder for your biannual bath.

      J. L. Mott's first bathtub / hog scalder.
      (Image from Clawfoot Bathtub Warehouse)

      • The problem with all these receptacles, whether they were made of cast iron or copper or zinc, was that they all corroded. If they didn't corrode, they turned color or rusted, or they were hard to keep clean at the welds. Who wants to take a bath in a bunch of corrosion? Not me.
      • In the 1850s, tub-makers in England began to experiment with various glazes. They tried various ceramics and glazes. They hit on porcelain and for a while, that was The Thing. A solid porcelain tub could be made with very smooth, rolling, sensuous curves that people found very appealing.
      • With the advent of porcelain, bathtubs and bathrooms became more luxurious. Tubs were made within very intricate cabinets or with lots of carving and decoration.

      J. L. Mott luxury bathroom featuring a combination bathtub and shower.
      (Image from Clawfoot Bathtub Warehouse)

      What could be in this cabinet?

      Why, of course! It's a fold-out bathtub!

      Manufactured by the Mosley Folding Bath Tub Company in Chicago in the 1880s, this bath system features an onboard ten-gallon copper water tank, which is heated by a kerosene burner. The tub is 76 inches long and 25 inches deep. The original advertisement boasts that this tub is "available at a moment's notice."
      (Photo from Tiny House Blog)

      • The porcelain was lovely and everything, but it had its problems. It scratched very easily. And those solid porcelain tubs were super-heavy. People who sell antique bathtubs today warn their customers that if they want to install a Victorian tub in their home, they'd better make sure their floors are thick and bolstered enough to hold up all that weight.
      • People still liked the porcelain, though, and nobody knew of another ceramic that worked better. So they coated tubs made of metal -- iron usually -- with porcelain.

      This is a clawfoot tub from 1899 coated in porcelain enamel.
      (Image from Victoriana Magazine)

      • Then in 1911, Kohler -- which had also marketed their early bathtubs as hog scalders -- came up with the idea for the built-in tub. They cast the tub all in one piece with an apron that didn't just roll over at the top but went all the way down to the floor. Homeowners liked these built-in tubs because the fact that it was built-in meant it had been shipped directly from the factory and no one else had used it first.
      • Since the standard bathroom was 5 feet long, the built-in tub was also 5 feet long. Actually, that made the well in which you sat less than 5 feet long (a source of some discomfort for many people who would like to be able to stretch their legs to their full length in the tub).
      • In the 1920s, as cars began to be available in other colors besides black, people started to want their house fixtures available in other colors. That went for bathrooms, too. So the built-in bathtubs started to be manufactured in all sorts of colors besides just the hygienic white.

      Bathroom suite in Spring Green sold by Kohler in their 1939 catalog. Note the separate, small dental sink.
      (Photo from Rejuvenation Archives via This Old House)

      • Here I must depart from my lovely chronology to debunk some bad history. In 1917, H.L. Mencken published a false, facetious article called "A Neglected Anniversary," in which he discussed various tidbits related to baths and bathtubs, and he said, revealing his poor opinion of Americans, that Americans did not use bathtubs until Millard Fillmore had one installed in the White House in 1842.
      • The whole thing was a lie. Mencken made it up. He even published a second article in 1926 admitting as much. "This article was a tissue of somewhat heavy absurdities, all of them deliberate and most of them obvious."
      • Obvious or not, people bought the story, hook line and sinker. In spite of the veiled mockery of Americans and their bathing habits, Americans and Europeans both were quoting his article as fact, apparently never bothering to find out if any of what he had said was true.
      • They continued to quote his article's "facts" even after Mencken revealed his trickery in 1926. In fact, people still assert that the first bathtub was installed in the White House in 1842 bathtub thing to this day. (It's still not true.)
      • One historian suspects, though she cannot prove for certain, that Mencken had a purpose in writing this fake article. “Through his hoax,” she said, “Mencken demonstrated to himself and to selected friends that the American public would believe any absurdity, as long as it appealed to their imagination or emotions.”
      • In recalling the success that politicians have had in convincing the public of this or that assertion, simply by stating it several times, I think that Mencken's supposed theory still holds water. Even if his bathtub tale itself does not.

      H. L. Mencken, American literary critic who made no secret of his annoyance with "American sham, pretension, provincialism, and prudery."
      (Photo from Helian Unbound)

      • Oof. Sorry to introduce that crusty guy into our discussion of lovely, relaxing bathtubs. I'll try to make amends forthwith.

      A present-day built-in bathtub with all sorts of decorative amenities
      (Photo from House Beautiful)

      • Today, bathtubs may still be made with a metal base that is then coated with some type of enamel, or they may be made entirely of acrylic or fiberglass. If you want to see how both types are made, complete with helpful diagrams, check out How Products Are Made - Bathtub.
      • There are a lot more options besides the 5-foot built-in tubs, though. Some people are going back to the old clawfoot varieties, as I mentioned, or they're buying newly made clawfoots that look like the old porcelain ones.
      • There are also scads of other variations that you probably never even considered. I'll show you a few of those here for your bathtub enjoyment.

      Free-standing clawfoot bathtubs are also very useful for giving your circus lion a bath.
      (Photo from Wisconsin Historical Images via Flickr)

      This solid copper bathtub looks like a free-standing antique, but it's recently made and considered very luxurious. It's 65 inches long, can hold 71 gallons of water, and when empty, weighs 154 pounds. I don't know what they do about the corrosion situation, but it's probably something clever and expensive.
      (Photo from Eastern Refinishing)

      Sunken whirlpool tub. I'd be too worried about splashing and getting water all over the floor. I guess you wouldn't have to fill it all the way to the top.
      (Photo from Modern House Designs)

      Illuminated bathtubs are a fairly new species on the scene. I'd like to get in this one and try it out.
      (Photo from Mix Possessions)

      Ovoid-shaped, for the nesting sort.
      (Photo from Home Design Gallery)

      If you're really into shapely tubs, perhaps you'd like the shoe-shaped tub. No joke. This is the Audrey tub, available in three styles, all with similar mosaic on the outside, from Mosaic artists in Italy.
      (Photo from Homedit)

      Or maybe you're more traditional, and you prefer the wooden bathtub. These are made to order by hand in Maine.
      (Photo from Bath in Wood of Maine)

      These are called Kali'-Art bathtubs. The sites that talk about these tubs don't explain that phrase, but they do say these tubs have acrylic interiors and wood exteriors (this one is oak) with leather finishing on the corners. The headrests -- the things that interest me the most -- are optional extras. These bathtubs cost between $7,400 and $13,400.
      (Photo from Trendir)

      In my super dream luxury home, this is the bathtub I'd choose, mainly because of that fireplace right next to it. The room looks warm and cozy, yet the tub looks long enough for stretching out. Yum.
      (Photo from Home Design Gallery)

      Old House Journal, Coming Clean: The History of the Bathtub
      About Chinese Antique, A Short History of Antique Bathtubs
      ClawfootTubs.com, Clawfoot Tub History
      Clawfoot Bathtub Warehouse, History of Bathtubs and Some More Things You Might Not Have Known
      Professional Bathtub Refinishers Association, The History of Antique Claw Foot Bathtubs
      Millard Fillmore's Bathtub
      Mental Floss, Notable Bathtubs in History


      1. I never would have guessed that fold-up contraption was a bathtub because I haven't seen a tub in a kitchen since Beaches. I find myself more relaxed after having read this Apple. I want to try the wooden one.

      2. Of these bathtubs you posted, I'd definitely wish to try out the wooden bathtub since most of the bathtubs I've tried are made out of acrylic and ceramic.


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