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Jean McClelland: Brass beds have an interesting history

Nov. 18, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Brass beds have been around since the beginning of the 19th Century. It was first patented in 1849 England and Birmingham became the center of production there. The beds were very popular, and so much so that the manufacturers could hardly keep up with the demand. There were many American factories as well, however England still exported a great number of them to the United States.

The beds were an innovation for those who were fighting woodworms, bedbugs and ticks. Because they were more open than a wood bed and air could circulate through the posts, it was thought that they were more hygienic. This particularly appealed to those who lived on farms and outlying villages. Pesticides from our day and age were not a factor they could consider.

There are several versions of the old brass bed one could possibly find in a treasure hunt for the shiny gold posts. The one found most is made of iron tubing that has been wrapped in heavy brass sheet metal. These will show a seam up the post where the brass is crimped around the iron tube. These can be quite ornate in appearance with cherubs and canopies. Those beds made of all brass are usually fairly plain in presentation, sticking to straight lines to assure stability. No seam will be found on this type of design. The least desirable brass beds were made of thin brass sheeting and the brass will often show wear down to the steel core.

The design of the bed can often predict the price in that the fancier more intricate designs will bring the higher dollar. To assure the bed is actually brass, pay close attention to the color - it should exhibit a yellow-gold, polished finish. The combination of zinc and copper bring about the brass color, and the more zinc involved in the process the lighter the brass color. Color will be the chief indicator of its authenticity, although there are other factors.

Beds made since the 1940s usually have a lacquer finish, so this would be another clue as to the era from which it was made. Prices for a brass bed can be all over the place - it all depends on the brass content, where it was made and most of all the condition. Brass dents easily and finding an antique bed that is perfect will be difficult.

Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.