Indoor plumbing with a flushing toilet was not commonplace until the 20th century, even though the first flushing toilet was patented in 1775. Queen Elizabeth I and other members of royalty had a type of toilet that emptied into a nearby body of water. Others used outhouses, chamber pots and holes in the ground.

In the 18th century the wealthy sometimes had a special chair altered to hold a chamber pot.

A period Chippendale commode corner chair was sold recently at a Cowan auction for $185, and at another auction a short Chippendale commode chair sold for $24,000. What was the difference? The expensive chair had a tooled leather seat, an intricately designed skirt, well-shaped back panels and arms, and original finish. It is one of the best of its type.

A regular chair was sometimes converted into a commode chair. A hole was put in the seat and a shelf below held the potty. The front panel on the chair that hides the potty was probably added when the chair was altered. Careful examination can show where it is attached to the original seat. And details of the style of the chair, the straight legs or curved legs with ball and claw feet, and the possible shortening of the arms all influence the price.

Collectors want original antiques and alterations lower the value. Today, more than in the past 20 years, the original finish adds much to the value.

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